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The other day, I was trying to convey the meaning of the

Last nail in the coffin.

The literal translation

Dernier clou dans le cercueil.

seems to be unknown to natifs. (Some students didn't remember/know the word cercueil but that's another story:-)!).

Trying to find other possible translations we encounter "coup fatal" et "sonner le glas". The former was understood, the latter considered a bit archaic.

What are some common colloquial ways to express the meaning of the original English sentence?

As an example of usage:

An employee keeps arriving late for work. His boss gives him a first warning. The employee is late again. His boss gives him a second warning. The employee is late again. His boss gives him a third warning, and says, “If you’re late again, you’re fired.” The employee shows up the next day 2 hours late. The boss says, “Your late arrival today is the final nail in the coffin. You’re fired.

  • I am surprised your native interlocutors did not understand, or at least make a link with another phrase: the idiom "le clou de mon/ton/son cercueil" exists in French, albeit with a somewhat different use and meaning. It means "to be something painful that will torment presumably until the death of the person (or ending of something)". Ex: "mon fils est un bon-à-rien, il est le clou de mon cercueil". – Greg Nov 19 '19 at 6:53
  • The translation would be different depending on the case, but on some of them you could use "ça a fini de l'achever", "ça a fini de l'enterrer", something like that. – Teleporting Goat Nov 19 '19 at 10:56
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En français cela se traduit très bien par la phrase idiomatique « la goutte qui fait déborder le vase ». Le cas d'usage trouvé ici rend cela certain.

Exemple

For example: An employee keeps arriving late for work. His boss gives him a first warning. The employee is late again. His boss gives him a second warning. The employee is late again. His boss gives him a third warning, and says, “If you’re late again, you’re fired.” The employee shows up the next day 2 hours late. The boss says, “Your late arrival today is the final nail in the coffin. You’re fired.”

                     Traduction des deux dernières phrases
[…] Le patron dit « Votre retard encore aujourd'hui est la goutte qui fait déborder le vase. Je vous mets à la porte.».

L'idiome qui est discuté dans cette question ne doit pas être confondu avec "nail in the coffin of (something)" or equivalently "nail in (sb's/sth's) coffin". La partie déterminante de « nail » est libre : "the last nail », « a nail », « a few nails », « the final nail », etc.

Dans ce cas la traduction ne sera pas unique car il y en aura au moins une pour chaque partie déterminante.

  • the last/final nail in the coffin of the very poor
    ce qui a rendu intolérable la situation déjà précaire des très pauvres

  • a decisive nail in the coffin of the company
    un coup important dans ce qui contribue à la destruction de la firme

  • a nail in the coffin of his project to build a house
    une étape dans ce qui a amené la fin de son projet de construire une maison

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  • Merci ! Sonner le glas est désuet ? – Dimitris Nov 18 '19 at 21:34
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    @Dimitris « Sonner le glas » ne correspond pas bien ; c'est une expression qui veut dire que la fin se fait sentir, qu'elle est proche, mais pas que c'est la fin. Loc. Sonner le glas de qqc. Annoncer sa fin imminente. Sonner le glas d'une espérance, d'une défaite, d'un régime politique, d'une institution. — imminent : qui menace, qui est sur le point de se produire. – LPH Nov 18 '19 at 21:41
  • Doesn't "last nail in the coffin" convey the idea that someone is doing something against someone else? Like saying "you are putting the last nail in my coffin"? If so you can't say that with "la goutte d'eau". – Destal Nov 18 '19 at 21:43
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    And "last nail in the coffin", to me at least, conveys the idea that it ends something, like this political decision was the last nail in the coffin of the very poor, where cette décision politique était la goutte d'eau qui fait déborder le vase pour les plus pauvres means that now they are very angry. If you say Cette fois, c'est la goutte d'eau qui fait déborder le vase !, that means it is war, but with the coffin expression, I understand the opposite, they are now unable to fight back. – Destal Nov 18 '19 at 21:50
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    @LPH I agree with Destal, "La goutte d'eau" is analog to "The last straw on the camel's back", NOT the last nail in the coffin. – Teleporting Goat Nov 19 '19 at 8:54

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