I'm watching a TV show with English audio and French subtitles. It translates "This does not mean anything" to Ça ne veut rien dire in the subtitles.

What is the logic behind Ça ne veut rien dire? A literal translation would seem to be "This does not want to say anything." But I think I am getting the literal translation wrong, as it doesn't make all that much sense.

2 Answers 2


It's just that where English ("mean") or German ("bedeuten") have one word to express "to intend" / "to signify", French does not have one single word and uses a periphrasis.

Here are two different uses of vouloir dire:

Ça ne veut rien dire.
(It doesn't mean / signify anything. / Das bedeutet gar nichts.)

Qu'est-ce-que tu veux dire ?
(What do you mean? Note that German in that case also uses the periphrastic: "Was willst du damit sagen?").

  • A third common context: Que veut dire X ? / What does X mean?
    – Luke Sawczak
    Oct 1, 2017 at 12:36
  • @LukeSawczak It doesn't sound to be a different context to me. Depending on if X is a thing or a person it's either my first or second example, isn't it?
    – None
    Oct 1, 2017 at 12:46
  • If X is a person in my example I guess it aligns — but I was thinking of it as word or phrase. That is, I understand your second example as « Qu'entends-tu par ça ? » and mine as « Quelle en est la définition ? »
    – Luke Sawczak
    Oct 1, 2017 at 13:19
  • @LukeSawczak Still can't feel the difference. Probably need to ponder more over it. Que veut dire cette chose? = Qu'est-ce que ça veut dire ? → Ça ne veut rien dire. In my second example the subject can only be a person.
    – None
    Oct 1, 2017 at 17:31
  • Indeed, whereas in my example the subject could be a word. "What are you trying to say?" is your second example, and "What does this word mean?" is my example. The one is about intention, the other about definition.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Oct 1, 2017 at 18:23

The verb is actually vouloir dire together, which means to mean, to signify. In other words, literally "That's meaningless", "That means nothing", or more idiomatically, "That makes no sense".

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