I just sent an IM in English:

This is just a short message, as I'm outside now at a fireworks festival in Nagaoka city in the Niigata prefecture. I could wrap up today's work at 15:30, so we decided to hop onto an express train to Niigata and just a few hours later made it to one of the most famous fireworks festivals in Japan. I wish you could've joined us, but it just so happens that it is broadcast live on YouTube, so go ahead and enjoy it. ;)

In English, the verb "hop X / hop on X / hop onto X" comes in handy to express the idea of suddenly deciding to get on some public transport on a whim. The focus here is on the unplanned nature of the train/ferry/plane trip. I was wondering how I would idiomatically say this in French.

Given that the fundamental meaning of "hop" is "jump", I'm half tempted to use "sauter". Then again, when I say "sauter sur/d' un train", I rather associate it with the reckless manner in which you jump onto/out of a moving train:

Qu'est-ce qui t'a pris de sauter sur un train en marche ?

How do French speakers commonly express this idea?

  • If you say "sauter sur", it means on top of the roof, not inside (see the more detailed answer from Jeremy Grand).
    – Martigan
    Aug 2, 2018 at 15:30
  • 1
    @Martigan That's because we English speakers are silly and say we're on public transport, when really we're inside it. French is much more logical about this.
    – CJ Dennis
    Aug 3, 2018 at 10:04
  • Indeed, "sauter d'un train" means you are jumping out of a moving train.
    – Random
    Aug 3, 2018 at 17:01
  • 1
    @Random Hi. Welcome back. Aug 3, 2018 at 17:03

5 Answers 5


The french language indeed has the same idiomatic expression, with a slight modification from your suggestion :

J'eus à peine le temps de sauter dans un train que ...

The choice on using either sur or dans depends on the vehicule :

Monter dans un(e) train / voiture / avion

Monter sur un(e) moto / vélo

The rule of thumb is whether the vehicule has an interior or not.

To expand on the several nuances you consider : Sauter dans un train can mean both jumping within a train and litterally jumping onto a train.

But a french speaker will probably understand from context that it was a figure of speech and that sauter dans meant you were in a hurry. The hurry may come from simply being late or, in your case, a last-minute decision.

  • As a comment, I would like to add that in some expressons this is exactly the meaning that is being conveyed here: "Nous avons sauté dans le premier train en partance pour Nagoya - ou de Tokyo" . It means this is unplanned, sudden, either to go somewhere or to leave from somewhere.
    – Martigan
    Aug 2, 2018 at 15:28
  • Why did you use passé simple ? @JeremyGrand Aug 2, 2018 at 16:00
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    @Aerovistae err, I dunno, I use it by reflex when narrating something, even in IM. But I guess the passé composé should be more common. Aug 2, 2018 at 16:07
  • 2
    I didn't know that. People use passé simple in IMs? Wow, totally news to me. Aug 2, 2018 at 16:12

Alternative to express how rushed you are: "Nous avons sauté dans le premier train pour Niigata".


Another option would be attraper le train ("catch the train").

[...] on a attrapé le train express vers Niigata [...]

Qu'est-ce qui t'a pris d'attraper le train en marche ?

(The second one doesn't sound as good though.)

  • 2
    Hi. With the verb "attraper", the focus, to my mind, is more on managing to catch a train in the nick of time than on the unplanned nature of the train trip. e.g.: "On a perdu 30 mn dans les bouchons mais attrapé de justesse le train de 16 h 35 à Nagaoka." What's your take on this? Aug 2, 2018 at 14:02
  • @Con-gras-tue-les-chiens It's true, but I think it also fits in your sentences.
    – N.I.
    Aug 2, 2018 at 14:23

as a native french speaker i would use the verb "prendre",

qu'est-ce qui t'a pris de prendre le train en marche

that sounds genuine, despite having the disgracious use of the same verb aside two times in a row.

  • 1
    +1 for "prendre," but I (granted, a non-native speaker) wouldn't add "en marche," mainly because it might be confused with the figurative notion of "hopping on the bandwagon", but also because the OP seems to want to avoid the impression that s/he's literally hopping on a moving train. However, I think your "prendre" has the potential of being the best way to capture what the OP wants, especially if used in the past tense (eg, "Comme ça/sans grande réflexion, on a pris le train le plus rapide vers Niigata").
    – Papa Poule
    Aug 3, 2018 at 21:41

Let's not forget that when the slightly vulgar French speaker says "sauter dans un express" it is not at all a question of taking a train abnormally or as a hobo, that is without a ticket; this phrase connotes only the urgency that compels the person doing the action; a person whose action corresponds to the phrase almost always performs that action directly after a situation or happenning that motivates the hurry. That being said, a speaker of standard French would say rather "prendre immédiatement un express" or "prendre le premier express vers" according to case (and there are variants), but as Bob Dylan could once say, "Times, they're a changing!".

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