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In conversation, I just said:

Tu es sans pitié, dis-moi... En même temps, elle n’aurait pas autant envie de nous rattraper si on n’était que douceur avec elle.

Essentially, I wanted to express the idea of:

  • {literally}: You give her no quarter. Then again, if we were nothing but sweetness/gentleness towards her, (she would just content herself with the current 'her' without looking to improve herself and) she wouldn't be so keen on catching up with us.

  • {more naturally}: You give her no quarter. Then again, if we were treating her with kid gloves all the time, she wouldn't be so keen on catching up with us.

The context is: "In training the residents at our hospital, we can't afford to be constantly indulgent and lenient towards them, as if we don't have an ounce of strictness in us. Little pep talks here and there wouldn't go amiss."

I'm concerned that the phrasing "n’être que douceur" might not get across the intended meaning but rather be interpreted as "être (tout sucre), tout miel" with the meaning of "se donner une apparence de douceur" – which is effectively the equivalent of "be all sweetness and light" with the meaning of "behaving in an overly pleasant and friendly manner that doesn't seem genuine".

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    @suiiurisesse It's often not easy to keep up with your train of thought, your logic you put forth. I don't see where you got this idea, as if this post revolves around some English idioms, while it actually doesn't. Those idioms just happen to be the ones that convey my idea most concisely. They ARE paraphrased (defined, as you put it) so that their meanings are clear to non-native English speakers. English idiom-related questions are commonplace here, so why start raising your eyebrows now? If you are still not convinced, sorry, I give up once and for all. Constructive comments only, please. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jun 19 at 5:54
  • It's easy, idioms from a foreign language must be defined or explained because no expertise other than the French language one is required from the site's French native speakers: treat X with kids gloves wasn't in any way, shape or form. Selecting which of two English language idiomatic expressions translate a French language expression is not a question about the French language in my opinion, but rather about the English language. – suiiurisesse Jun 19 at 17:18
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So, I asnwered this question which was linked to this one.

AS I said, the sentence used with noun instead of adjective are negative sentence used to express how someone is and only is (something like the main characteristic of someone, which overcome all others he can display because it is too strong).

In your context "n'être que douceur" with someone mean that you are only soft/kind with her and never have another behaviour. With the conditional (si), it mean that you have other behaviour. Without much detail, it could be that you are never kind to her, only sometimes or maybe you're really soft with her but you know to be strict when needed.
But you said "you give her no quarter". So the sentence now clearly mean that you make her work a lot. The other part means that if you weren't making her work a lot and if you were only soft, she wouldn't try to catch up with you.

On the other hand, to be "tout sucre, tout miel" is a common idiom, meaning as you say "se donner une apparence de douceur". With the previous sentence, from my point of view it can't be understand like this. This idiom is mostly used to describe someone as it has a pejorative connotation.

Someone wouldn't talk about himself this way. So the sentence being interpreted this way when you talk about you (or a group you include yourself in) is unlikely.

Moreover, from my point of view, the 2 sentence doesn't work together: why giving the appearance of being kind change from being kind (ie being only softness). Being all sweetness and light or treating her with kid gloves doesn't make any difference in the way she see it, you would be kind to her and that's all. And being really kind, or acting without really thinking it isn't relevant to the subject.

Of course the rest of the conversation, the tone used, and the general ambience are others factors that can influence the understanding, but still

  • I see. So it looks like my phrasing came across the way I'd intended. By "Someone wouldn't talk about himself this way", you mean you can't say "si on n’était que tout sucre, tout miel avec elle", right? I mean, as opposed to, for instance, what I described in the 4th line of an old post of mine: french.stackexchange.com/questions/27035/… – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jun 19 at 13:30
  • @Con-gras-tue-les-chiens you don't often denigrate yourself. And this particular sentence is used to talk about someone acting kind. It's often used when you think someone is acting and don't mean it, or to describe someone who is really kind/soft (and who isn't usually). It isn't intented to be used to describe yourself and there isn't a lot of situation where you will talk about yourself like this ("yeah I was nice with her, but I was just waiting to backstab her"), I see it more being used like "Il était arroguant, mais quand il a eu besoin de moi il est devenu tout sucre tout miel". – JackRed Jun 19 at 13:46
  • However, it can be used to describe yourself. But it doesn't sound natural/there will most likely be better choice – JackRed Jun 19 at 13:47
  • @Con-gras-tue-les-chiens if I come back to the subject, here your sentence "si on n’était que douceur avec elle" can't bring the bad meaning you tought it could because of the way it's used and it doesn't fit i the conversation (or in a sentence about you) – JackRed Jun 19 at 14:01

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