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?

  • 3
    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
  • 5
    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

3 Answers 3


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



Puis je me suis souvenu qu'avant de me conduire chez le directeur, il m'avait parlé de maman. Il m'avait dit qu'il fallait l'enterrer très vite, parce que dans la plaine il faisait chaud, surtout dans ce pays. C'est alors qu'il m'avait appris qu'il avait vécu à Paris et qu'il avait du mal à l'oublier. À Paris, on reste avec le mort trois, quatre jours quelquefois. Ici on n'a pas le temps, on ne s'est pas fait à l'idée que déjà il faut courir derrière le corbillard. Sa femme lui avait dit alors : « Tais-toi, ce ne sont pas des choses à raconter à Monsieur. »Le vieux avait rougi et s'était excusé. J'étais intervenu pour dire : « Mais non. Mais non. » Je trouvais ce qu'il racontait juste et intéressant.

Because of the hot weather there, burials are done as soon as possible. To give Meursault time to have a viewing, the burial wasn't on the first morning after her death, but delayed for a day.

To avoid the heat of the day, it had to happen relatively early, and "En principe" by 10 in the morning, before the sun's heat became too intense. Even then, the procession had to move unusually quickly.

All three meanings of "En principe" are appropriate here, and "As is usually the case, the funeral is set for ten o'clock in the morning." seems like the best translation.

  • Merci pour l'ajout du contexte qui intéressant. Cependant, si cela était une règle générale lié à la chaleur dans cette région, la phrase serait : "en principe, les enterrements ont lieu à 10h du matin". Ce n'est pas le sens ici pour moi.
    – XouDo
    Feb 13, 2023 at 8:26
  • @XouDo I'm with Ray for the context and explanation of the 10 o'clock rule. But the complete answer has already been given by Greg in his comment to the Q in my opinion: "in principle... [but you can change it]" Feb 13, 2023 at 9:25
  • @guillaume31 I've read Greg's comment. My points is, even though "As is usually the case" makes perfect sense because of the context (heat etc.), it's not what a french native would spontaneously understand when reading or hearing "en principe, l'enterrement est fixé à 10h".
    – XouDo
    Feb 13, 2023 at 10:51
  • Not in a vacuum, but with all the context, I believe it is. "En principe, l'enterrement" implies "comme tous les enterrements" in this particular paragraph of this particular book. Feb 13, 2023 at 12:59

Gaétan Ryckeboer has already given the correct answer, but I wanted to expand on that a little.

Looking it up, I was surprised to see that the meaning of en principe as used in the quoted sentence was missing from all the dictionaries I was able to consult. That meaning is none of “1. ‘in principle/ideally’; 2. ‘normally/usually/generally’; or 3. ‘as a rule’”. Instead, it’s the one given by Gaétan, namely ”unless something changes”.

One possible translation is therefore: “Unless something changes, the funeral will be at 10 tomorrow morning.”


  • In French, enterrement can be either ‘burial’ or ‘funeral’. It seems to me that the latter is at least as appropriate here.
  • It is made clear that the funeral/burial is to take place the following day, so “at 10 tomorrow morning” is one way of translating à dix heures du matin.
  • It is extremely close to that definition of the English idiom in principle though: "if something can be done in principle, there is no good reason why it should not be done although it has not yet been done and there may be some difficulties" oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/principle Feb 14, 2023 at 15:26
  • 1
    @guillaume31 — Yes, but there is a subtle difference, illustrated by the example accompanying that definition: “In principle there is nothing that a human can do that a machine might not be able to do one day.” This refers to a hypothetical situation, whereas the example from Camus refers to a real one. I contend that the use of en principe to refer to a real, already decided, situation isn’t adequately reflected by the seemingly equivalent in principle. That is why translators tend to avoid it, see for example Stuart Gilbert’s version: „We propose to have the funeral tomorrow morning.“
    – Segorian
    Feb 14, 2023 at 16:08

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