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When I use the phrase "A, sous peine de B", the focus is on trying to avoid the risk B; in other words, if you fail to do A, you will suffer the unfavourable consequences B.

As to the phrase "A, quitte à B", on the other hand, you are willing to do A, knowing full well the risk B involved – even if you end up with B as a consequence.

But what about the phrase "A(,) au risque de B"? I wonder if and how the presence of a preceding comma affects its meaning?


1) On ose le rouge si l’on est très sûr de soi, mais attention toutefois à ne pas en abuser, au risque d’agresser votre interlocuteur.

In the 1st example, does "au risque de" with a preceding comma mean "sous peine de"? That is: "Be careful so as not to offend the eyes of your interlocutor", or "Be careful, otherwise it will prove to be an eyesore for your interlocutor"?

2) Mais cette couleur lumineuse serait-elle réservée aux brunes piquantes au risque de faire passer les blondes pour fades ?

In the 2nd example, does "au risque de" without a comma mean "quitte à"? That is: "..., even if it makes blondes look like the odd ones out"?


Another question remains, though, as to whether "au risque de" sounds ambiguous in speech, where it is not always clear whether a comma is intended or not.

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I don't think the usage of a comma here makes any difference in the meaning of "au risque de" itself (or I don't get the point).

But:

1) On ose le rouge si l’on est très sûr de soi, mais attention toutefois à ne pas en abuser, au risque d’agresser votre interlocuteur.

"Au risque" is referring to "On ose le rouge" (the risk is due to the color).

1-bis) On ose le rouge si l’on est très sûr de soi, mais attention toutefois à ne pas en abuser au risque d’agresser votre interlocuteur.

"Au risque" is relative to "en abuser" (the risk is due to the excess of the color).

2) Mais cette couleur lumineuse serait-elle réservée aux brunes piquantes au risque de faire passer les blondes pour fades ?

In the same logic, it is referring to "piquantes"... but the meaning is (could be) weird. The "risk" aspect itself is less obvious and could be replaced by "au point de", "jusqu'à", or simply "à faire passer...", and, yes, "quitte à". But this meaning is not depending on whether there is a comma or not.

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When I use the phrase "A, sous peine de B", the focus is on trying to avoid the risk B; in other words, if you fail to do A, you will suffer the unfavourable consequences B.

As to the phrase "A, quitte à B", on the other hand, you are willing to do A, knowing full well the risk B involved – even if you end up with B as a consequence.

This is not quite exact.

In fact, "au risque de" and "sous peine de" are pretty much interchangeable, the sentence "A, au risque de B" means that if A happens or is done, B might happen. B tends to be passive in this formulation, although you can overcome this by making B an obligation to do something : "au risque de devoir revenir...". It's not necessarily the most elegant way to express a passive consequence, but it's perfectly correct.

When you use "quitte à" in "A, quitte à B", however, B will tend to be more of an action than a passive: If A happens, you might have to complete it by doing B, ex. : "quitte à revenir demain". But again, you can turn B into a passive by using, for instance, "quitte à risquer une exclusion", where B is the action of taking a risk. Again, probably not the most elegant, but absolutely correct.

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