How do you express "I see what you did there", which is used "to point out that another person's joke [or witty remark] has been understood, either to praise its cleverness or to clearly communicate a lack of amusement" (Wiktionary: more examples; tFD, Dictionary, Urban); do you use something different depending on whether it's praise or lack thereof, so to speak?

ROLL your way in with some BUDS on 4/20. I see what you did there @[well known ice cream business] (@Morgan_Balderas, Twitter, April 18, 2017, on dictionary.com) [praise]

A: "Grin and bear it! Because you're dressed in a bear costume!" B: "Oh, I see what you did there. Now will you stop making such dumb puns?" (tFD) [lack thereof]

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    Who said it is the only meaning or usage of that phrase ? The question mentions the context, links to clear references, and some examples. Dictionaries are full of phrases that may have a very specific meaning in a particular context and should be translated differently than the "standard" literal translation. Of course it does not mean it is the only usage. Ex : dictionary.com/e/slang/thats-what-she-said .It would be a bad idea to merely translate it by "c'est ce qu'elle a dit" when used as a crude innuendo, just because this would be the usual translation in most contexts.
    – Greg
    Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 5:07
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    It wouldn't, ever, occur to me to react in such a situation with "I see what you did there."; it seems utterly out of place as I perceive the situation and the language. I might say something as "I get the idea.", or "I see.". I have the feeling those recent additions to the language do not improve it, to say the least.
    – LPH
    Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 19:40

2 Answers 2


You can express your admiration for the cleverness of a joke or a pun with those short words or phrases:

Bien vu / bien trouvé (neutral - for puns)

Pas mal (mildly enthusiastic)

Elle est bonne / elle est bien bonne !

J'adore ! Génial ! Excellent ! (clearly positive)

Beau, ça ! Bon ça ! C'est beau, ça ! Joli ! (clearly positive - for puns)

lol / mdr / ptdr (used in texting or Internet chats)

If you want to convey your lack of amusement or appreciation, some phrases are:

C'est pas drôle.

Ca ne me fait pas rire.

Nul / c'est nul ! C'est nuuuul ! (less aggressive than it may appear. It can even be said if you laugh a bit at the same time: the joke is lame or not very clever, but yet you may acknowledge it is a bit funny)

C'est tordu / ça va chercher loin / tu vas chercher loin (means a pun is really far-fetched)

Tu sors ! (for very, very bad jokes: recent phrase, now getting a bit out of fashion, meant to mimick what a teacher will say to send a pupil out. Often said with a gesture pointing to the door. One can also add "ok, je sors" immediately after their own joke, as a humorous self-disparaging acknowledgment that their joke is not so good)

Some phrases can be used as ironic reactions: they seem positive at face value, but the tone or the context will convey that it is clearly a sarcasm:

C'est fin !


Bravo ! / Bah Bravo ! / Ben bravo !

La classe ! / Classe ! (esp. if the joke is deemed too vulgar)

A popular saying, used not only for jokes but for commenting anything you rate as stupid or lame:

Mieux vaut entendre ça que d'être sourd (literaly "it's still better to hear such things than to be deaf")

Not so common and more elaborate, but maybe the closest to "I see what you did there" if you want to express you have understood the joke, but you clearly don't want to laugh about it anyway:

Je vais faire comme si je n'avais rien entendu/lu (ie "I'll pretend I have never heard/read that")

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    More natural phrases I heard and say everyday: "(Bah) bravo", "Super" for sarcastically congratulating a vulgar joke; maybe "C'est bon, ça" for good puns. In lieu of "C'est tordu", one might say something along the lines of "Tu es allé chercher loin" (to find it), or "Il faut chercher loin" (to get it). I'd add that "Tu sors" sounds a bit dated, but on the other hand, "(C'est) nul !" made its come-back quite recently and, with the right tone, sounds pretty funny and somewhat cute, while "Tu sors" is rather violent.
    – Right leg
    Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 7:26
  • Thanks, I'll add all of those.
    – Greg
    Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 7:42
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    And now that you mention it, it is true I picture my own sons and their friends (teenagers) reacting with "c'est nuuuuuul !" to jokes, and it is not agressive at all.
    – Greg
    Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 7:49
  • About the "Mieux vaut entendre ça que d'être sourd", its mirrored expression "Mieux vaut être sourd que d'entendre ça" enhance the stupidity of the previous comment, as being deaf would seem preferable as to hear such baloney.
    – Lyzvaleska
    Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 13:58
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    On pourrait imaginer plein de traductions pour rendre le ton un peu provocateur du dialogue, par ex: "salut, créateur de l'univers. J'ai bien compris ton petit jeu. Pas mal." ou "Je te vois venir (= I see through you, I see what you are up to) Bien joué."
    – Greg
    Commented Apr 27, 2019 at 7:41

A) Personnellement, en parlant, je dirais:

Je vois ce que tu fais là.

ou bien:

Je vois ce que t'as fait là. [en parlant, on parle vite, et cela donne t'as fait au lieu de tu as fait].

Quoiqu'anglophone, j'ai fait ma thèse de maîtrise sur le discours du français parlé.

Je connais bien The Big Bang Theory. Et c'est aussi du langage parlé, l'anglais américain.

The joke here is neither that the speaker is praising or criticizing the maker of the universe. The reason it is funny is because: The main characters are all scientists (physicists to be precise). If one scientist is talking to another about an experiment, one of them could say this phrase to the other about a real, visible aspect of the experiment or a paper. "What you did there" means "how you created the world". The word there refers to the actual experiment or referring to it in a written paper. It is deictic. The deictic in French here would be "là".

In this case, the implication is that God is a scientist (the maker of the universe) like characters and he is saying: Yeah, I get it what you did. It is actually ironic, right? It is the idea of scientist talking to God as if he were a scientist, a peer and that God's experiment (making the world) is a "good one". It is very sarcastic.

"You, God, are a scientist like me and I see how you made the world": expresses irony due to the positioning of the speaker on the same level as God, and implying that God is a scientist like himself.

On dit bien: Dieu a fait le monde en x jours. Alors, le verbe, c'est faire.

Le personnage parle à Dieu et lui dit: "Je vois ce que t'as fait là. Bien joué."

Je ne pense pas qu'il faille chercher midi à quatorze heures par rapport à ce dialogue.

La traduction resterait la même dans toutes les circonstances locutoires. Il n'y a rien dans le sens de "see what someone is doing here or there" qui serait d'emblée: praise or lack of amusement.

Cela est également vrai pour la traduction.

Si dans la question, il s'agissait de chercher des expressions pour exprimer le fait d'avoir bien fait quelque chose ou le sens contraire, cela aurait du être signalé.

B) Il y a des expressions dans la culture populaire qui viennent des séries télé ou bien des filmes, voire de l'Internet.

"I see what you did there." en est une, souvent donnée par: ICWYDT, entre autres.

Origin "The expression had been used in pop culture previous to the internet, first seen in a March 1996 episode2 of the television comedy Friends titled “The One Where Dr. Ramoray Dies.”1 In the scene, Joey (played by Matt LeBlanc) is explaining to Phoebe (played by Lisa Kudrow) how he writes his own lines on the television show he works on. He tells her that he took the original line "If we don't get this woman to a hospital, she's going to die" and changed it to "If this woman doesn't get to a hospital, she's not gonna live." Realizing he just rephrased the script and did not do any actual writing, Phoebe responds with "I see what you did there" as a method of patronizing him." [bold text mine] [ICWYDIT]1

Quoqu'il en soit, le sens ne peut pas être reinterpreté et la phrase doit rester telle quelle est dite dans le language courant pour ne pas perdre son lien et sa référence à la culture populaire.

Un autre exemple de ce genre de phrase s'entend pour la première fois dans la série télé Jeu des Trônes: Winter is coming. Cette phrase est devenue très rapidement célèbre. La traduction est évidente: L'hiver arrivera bientôt; le "is coming" ici étant un futur. Le sens? La situation deviendra grave dans un futur proche ou assez rapidement.

Ces phrases donnent lieu (le plus) souvent à des mèmes et se trouvent dans divers "lieux" où se propagent la culture populaire.

Il y même quelqu'un qui a créé une boisson nommée "I know what you did there."

The ‘I see what you did there’ is inspired by the TV series Magic City. [...] Recipe: 40ml J&B Scotch Whisky 25ml Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge 7,5ml Pernod Absinthe 25ml Lemon Juice 10ml 2:1 Sugar Syrup 1 egg white (medium sized NL measured at 30ml)

drink: I see what you did there

[A noter: la question a été changé. Mais cela ne change en rien la traduction de la phrase. En pensant bien au problème, je me suis rendue compte que ces phrases sont en fait des phrases toutes faites venant de la culture populaire américaine. Une fois prononcées, elles deviennent célèbres par je-ne-sais quel mécanisme et se répandent à tous les coins de cette même culture populaire.]

Pour conclure, les phrases toutes faites doivent se traduire par référence à leurs sens primaires, et non pas par d'autres termes qui par la suite pourraient s'y associer.

  • Je vois ce que t'as fait là is not very idiomatic in French. It does not apply to jokes or puns in any case, and is certainly not a praise... Maybe just if someone has done a blunder and has tried to hide it. ex: Je vois ce que tu as fait là. Il n'y a pas de quoi en être fier. J'espère que tu vas réparer ce que tu as fait.
    – Greg
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 9:22
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    Dans le contexte qui est celui de la question (commentaire positif ou négatif sur une blague, c'était très clair depuis le début), ce n'est pas idiomatique. Personne dont le français est la langue maternelle ne commentera une blague par "je vois ce que tu as fait". Cela serait totalement hors de propos et incongru. Essayez: la prochaine fois qu'un francophone vous raconte une blague, réagissez d'un "je vois ce que tu as fait" et vous aurez un regard dubitatif en retour. Et remarquez qu'on dit généralement que Dieu a créé le monde, pas fait
    – Greg
    Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 4:51

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