How to correctly communicate or express these timely sayings in French? "Do something while the conditions are right" or "Seize the opportunity when it presents itself"

Is this acceptable? Faites-le tant que vous le pouvez

  • 1
    For those that aren't into metal-working, this phrase (and the equivalent French phrase below) relates to welding two pieces of iron using a hammer and anvil. Hammer-welding requires working with iron at a critical temperature - it must be hot enough to be workable but not so hot that it bends under its own weight. Not hot enough and you get a "cold weld" that may have a slight surface bonding but which will fail under any load. Too hot and...well, let's just say that being spattered with semi-molten iron does not improve one's day. And you get one strike with the hammer - no second chances. Nov 30 '20 at 15:13
  • I know it's not French, but would I be right to assume that 'Carpe Diem' would be recognised by French speakers?
    – JeffUK
    Dec 1 '20 at 11:35
  • @BobJarvis-ReinstateMonica No worries, metalworking is within all of us. Very interesting btw. //JeffUK, see this. Dec 1 '20 at 20:59
  • @JeffUK - well, a lot of English speakers recognize "carpe diem" because knowledge of bits of Latin is pretty common, so I would expect that French speakers would as well. Dec 1 '20 at 23:12

The very same metaphor exists in French since at least the 14th century and is still in common usage:

Il faut battre le fer tant qu'il est chaud.

The preposition might be tandis, quand, pendant, or tant.

Pendant was most common in the 20th century but tant seems to take a small lead in recent years.

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Your attempt Faites-le tant que vous le pouvez doesn't convey the same meaning. It's more like "Do it as long as you are able to do it."

You might say instead:

Faire quelque chose lorsque les conditions s'y prêtent.

Profiter d'une / saisir une occasion2 quand elle se présente.

1 Instead of occasion, the word opportunité is often used to translate "opportunity" but is sometimes considered an anglicism even while this meaning already existed in French (See the OQLF).

  • 3
    The most idiomatic version of this expression is "battre le fer pendant qu'il est chaud". That's how I have always heard it or used it myself in France.
    – Evargalo
    Nov 30 '20 at 18:00
  • @Evargalo The preposition is indeed not fixed in the idiom but tant, pendant and quand are all definitely equally idiomatic while tandis is behind.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 30 '20 at 20:09
  • And the same metaphor exists in German, too. Although I had hoped for something more romantic from the French, like "Kiss the girl while the night is young" or so ;-). But then it's probably just that we are watching Mrs. Maisel ... Dec 1 '20 at 14:50
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica This metaphor exists in Italian, Spanish, Polish, Bulgarian, Russian, Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, Chinese... Perhaps would it be shorter to list the languages that do not use it ;-)
    – jlliagre
    Dec 1 '20 at 16:23

The dictionary Le Petit Robert 2006 gives a French idiom (under the entry "battre") that corresponds exactly with the English "strike the iron while it's hot":

Battre le fer pendant qu'il est chaud: profiter sans tarder d'une situation propice.

In other words: taking advantage of a favourable situation without delay.


Also, "l'occasion fait le larron" is what is as close as "Do something while the conditions are right" I can think of. The meaning is to seize opportunity while it stands

  • 2
    That expression does not mean what you probably think it means; it is more specific since larron means thief. See e.g. linternaute.fr.
    – Tsundoku
    Dec 1 '20 at 11:36

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