I was reading L'Étranger by Albert Camus and came upon the following text:

En principe, l'enterrement est fixé à dix heures du matin. Nous avons pensé que vous pourrez ainsi veiller la disparue.

I'm having trouble understanding the meaning of the phrase "En principe" as used here. I found that it has three possible meanings:

  1. In principle/Ideally
  2. Normally/Usually/Generally
  3. As a rule

Based on this, I came up with the following translation: "In principle, the burial is set at ten o'clock in the morning." which means we have set the burial at ten o'clock in the morning but this is only true in principle, which is to say that the burial may or may not actually take place at ten o'clock in the morning.

However, when I referred to the English edition of the book, I found the sentence translated as

As is usually the case, the funeral is set for ten o'clock in the morning.

Here, the second meaning of the phrase is used.

However, the next sentence says "We thought this way you'd be able to keep vigil over the departed." which implies that the burial timings were set up specifically so that Meursault may stay beside his mother all night. Perhaps, they wouldn't have set this timing if Meursault had arrived one day earlier and decided to stay there for two days. So, I think the second meaning "usually/generally/normally/usually" is not appropriate here. However "in principle/ideally" fits well here since it means that the burial timings have been set by us for this case at this ten o'clock in the morning, but this might change if something unexpected happens.

So, what is the phrase actually conveying here? Could someone please clarify the usage for me?

  • 2
    Your understanding of the phrase "en principe" is correct. It simply seems that the translation in the English edition deviates a bit from the French meaning. I don't think you should pick up a single word or phrase translation from a book and compare how it is translated in an English edition: translations of literary works are not bilingual dictionaries, and focus on delivering a text that conveys the general meaning but also the style, the tone, etc. It does not mean the translator is right or wrong if he chooses for such a trivial deviation.
    – Greg
    May 10, 2020 at 4:58
  • @Greg But, which one of the two mentioned meanings was actually intended by the author? May 10, 2020 at 5:20
  • 4
    I am not Albert Camus : ) but I rather understand it as "in theory, and as per our current schedule and our habits or usual rules". The general meaning is "we have scheduled the funeral at 10, as per our habit or our rules, but we can still change that if it does not suit you - or just beware that it can still change if the priest cannot be there, etc."
    – Greg
    May 10, 2020 at 5:29
  • @Greg You have combined the two meanings by using "and". May 10, 2020 at 5:32
  • 2
    True, I don't think these meanings are exclusive.
    – Greg
    May 10, 2020 at 5:42

1 Answer 1


Ici, « en principe » signifie « s’il n’y a pas de contretemps ». Here, « en principe » means « if no event changes this decision »

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