Can someone explain the meaning and common usages of this phrase? I hear it often and am not entirely sure I always understand it. Does it mean something like English's “whatever” or “bullshit”? Is it said flippantly? Angrily? I would love to see some examples of situations or usages of the phrase so I can get a better grasp on it.

  • 2
    Just for the record, it is very often abbreviated in slang or casual contexts (C'est n'imp' ! / Il a fait n'imp'.). – RomainValeri Mar 22 '13 at 11:34
  • @RomainVALERI I haven't heard n'imp that much but more common casual/slang derivatives are nawak and portnawak. – jlliagre Jun 10 '17 at 20:34
  • @jiliagre I guess we can agree slang terms often have a strong local component (depending heavily on areas/countries) and probably also age. Sometimes even siblings with a few years gap don't use the same slang. In Lorraine during a decade or two you couldn't walk 3 meters without hearing n'imp' and many variants around it, where nawak was just unheard (different thing today, it has gained usage here also). And I would be surprised that the contrary isn't true somewhere else... – RomainValeri Jun 13 '17 at 15:01
up vote 22 down vote accepted

Bullshit

N'importe quoi can mean Bullshit.

Les poules peuvent voler.
N'importe quoi !

Could be translated in (without sounding as rude as in English in my opinion)

— Chicken can fly.
— Bullshit!

But you can also use it for all wrong

— Tu as fait n'importe quoi!

Meaning

— You did it all wrong!

(Literally “You did whatever randonmly occurred to you”)

Whatever / I don't mind

If you want to use it as whatever or I don't mind, you shall use peu importe or n'importe

Que veux-tu manger ?
Peu importe.

Tu veux t'asseoir devant ou derrière ?
N'importe.

Meaning

— What do you want to eat?
— Whatever.

— Do you want to sit at the rear or at the front?
— I don't mind.

What a nonsense

As suggested by RomainVALERI in the comments, n'importe quoi can also be used for pointing out how nonsensical / shameful something is.

Ils ont réussi à faire de la pub dans les écoles ! C'est n'importe quoi...

which could be translated as

— They managed to put advertising material in schools! What a nonsense...

  • Great answer. However "Whatever/I don't mind" is not using N'importe quoi :) You missed the meaning "anything": I will add it. – Jean-Francois T. May 12 '17 at 1:49

The "basic" translation is whatever.

For the more idiomatic use I guess almost literal translations like:

  • Nobody is thinking about what it is like
  • (almost) anything possible
  • Whatever (you can imagine)

can give a hint. Moreover the expression is ueds in a negative way, meaning that someone is making almost all he/she can to achieve his/her worst :)

Some other translation could be

  • All the worst you can think of

even if it is a bit too strong, since "N'importe quoi" can be used also in an ironic/joking context.

"N'importe" basically expresses a "non-choice". Il ferait n'importe quoi pour elle : He'd do any/everything for her. Donne lui n'importe quoi et il est heureux : Anything you give him makes him happy.

Note that "n'importe" can be used with other words, with the same "non-choice" meaning :

  • N'importe où

    Il irait n'importe où avec elle. He'd go anywhere with her.

  • N'importe comment

    Elle s'habille n'importe comment. She can't dress.

  • N'importe quand

    Venez n'importe quand, on est toujours là. Come by whenever you feel like, we are always home.

  • N'importe qui

    À qui veux-tu parler? — N'importe qui. Who do you want to talk to? To anyone. On ne va pas engager n'importe qui. We can't hire just anyone.

    Idiomatic expression : Ce n'est pas n'importe qui. She/He is an important person.

  • N'importe lequel/laquelle/lesquels/lesquelles

    Quelle voiture veux-tu? — N'importe laquelle. Which car do you want? — Any car will do.

  • N'importe quel/quelle/quels/quelles

    Ça ne se vend pas dans n'importe quel magasin. They dont sell that just in any shop.

  • 1
    Ça ne répond pas à la question posée. – Laure Jun 9 '17 at 19:15
  • @Laure: Ah bon? Il me semble que si. – Stéphane Gimenez Jun 10 '17 at 6:28
  • @StéphaneGimenez L'expression "n'importe quoi" sert à exprimer de façon très familière une réaction pour dire qu'on ne croit pas ce qu'on nous dit (que c'est des « bêtises »). La réponse acceptée le dit très bien d'ailleurs, je n'ai rien à y redire. – Laure Jun 10 '17 at 6:38
  • @Laure: Mais quel point de vue limité ! Comme indiqué dans cette réponse et les autres, n'importe quoi a beaucoup d'autres usages. – Stéphane Gimenez Jun 10 '17 at 6:49
  • @StéphaneGimenez À moins que j'ai mal lu, ce qui est toujours possible, je ne vois pas où cette réponse donne le sens de l'expression "n'importe quoi". – Laure Jun 10 '17 at 6:54

The actual meaning is meant for someone who doesn't know what he or she is talking about. 'N'importe quoi' literally means 'Anything' or 'Whatever.' You would normally use it to indicate to a person that they sound ignorant or like an idiot.

Example: When someone gives a ridiculous explanation for something, you would answer: N'importe quoi.

Another example would be if you had no preference for something, then you would answer, N'importe quoi, as in 'whatever' or 'anything.'

I hope this helps.

  • Welcome to the site. Although this answer is fine, please keep two things in mind: (1) Very old questions with accepted answers are probably better left as they are. (2) Even if an answer is correct, if it mostly covers the same ground as another answer, it might be better to add any extra material as a comment to an existing one. Thanks! – Luke Sawczak Feb 25 '17 at 22:43

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