I came across this phrase in a Le Monde article, and it appears to be an idiomatic French expression because the literal translation doesn't really make sense:

Toutefois, ce dont les gens veulent être sûrs, c'est que vous ne passez pas une partie importante du pays par pertes et profits.

My literal translation of that is:

However, what people want to be sure of is that you don't pass an important part of the country to losses and profits.

This clearly seems to be idiomatic as the literal translation makes little sense. What is a good translation for this, and how did the idiom "par pertes et profits" come into being?

3 Answers 3


Passer quelquechose par pertes et profits literally means "to write something in the balance sheet", or in the "profit and loss account sheet".

This means you accept a loss or failure and you admit you can't do anything about that, or that the problem is not worth the effort needed to solve it. So you have to move on.

It's still in use in the accounting language, and the proper translation would be "to write off".

  • OK, so in this case, "don't write off an important part of the country".
    – Jez
    Sep 19, 2012 at 11:21

Passer par pertes et profits means something like accept that you have taken a loss and continue without mourning it, it has a sure accounting flavor. I think write off would be the correct term in English.


I think I could answer, being an "Expert-comptable" in France = Chartered Accountant in UK.

Ordinary gains (e.g. what you sell) and expenses (e.g. what you buy) go to the "compte d'exploitation".

But you may have an unexpected loss (some parcels of goods being destroyed by accident, etc.), or profit (a debt you cancelled in your books, having no more hope to recover it, and the written as "pertes" on the previous year, but is finally settled) ; they go to the "Compte des Pertes et Profits".

The first case unfortunately happens more often, since the general meaning "too bad, forget it".

  • I'm not sure I understand your sentence; what you mean by “and the written as”? Is that a typo? Oct 7, 2013 at 18:28

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