Can "retour" be employed as a synonym for "réflexion"?

I looked into the dictionary and I found these examples:

1662 - retour sur soi-même « réflexion sur sa conduite » (Pascal, s. réf. ds Lar. 19e[pas ds les Pensées ni ds les Provinciales]: lorsque nous voulons juger les autres, faisons un retour sur nous-mêmes);

What's the difference between "faire un retour" and "faire une réflexion"?

  • Do you have examples other than from 1662? faire un retour sur soi-même is merely go back and look at oneself, in this context. In that sense, it is, therefore, to think about or reflect on one's behavior.
    – Lambie
    Jul 27, 2021 at 17:21
  • I'm afraid you didn't answer my question, though, which is: Can "retour" be employed as a synonym for "réflexion"?
    – user24617
    Jul 27, 2021 at 17:24
  • 1
    You write: "I've seen, indeed, "retour" being empoyed as a synonym of "réflexion" ". No retour can never be a synonym or réflexion. It's retour sur soi-même which is synonym of réflexion sur sa conduite, in this case you cannot extract the words from their contexts.
    – None
    Jul 28, 2021 at 9:59
  • 1
    See? I told you the same thing. They are definitely not synonyms at all.
    – Lambie
    Jul 28, 2021 at 17:42
  • 2
    @MichelT No again, totally impossible. No one would understand what you mean with such an ellipsis. Writers who use "poetic licence" do want to be read and understood.
    – None
    Jul 28, 2021 at 18:50

1 Answer 1


"Retour" is used figuratively to describe in the dialogue between two persons that in response to a certain verbal stimulus a speaker says something in their turn, usually something related to what was said to them; the word is sometimes found in the figurative expression "retour cinglant". As seen in this particular example below, this "return" can be realized several years after the words that prompted it were pronounced.

(ref.) Et, alors qu'il a qualifié Mitterrand d'« homme du passé », il doit encaisser ce retour cinglant : « Il est fâcheux qu'entretemps vous soyez devenu l'homme ...

(ref.) Le jour j, à Giscard qui l’avait qualifié en 1974 d’ "homme du passé", ciblant sa longue carrière dans les ministères de la IVème République, François Mitterrand joue sur les mots pour mieux dénoncer l’immobilisme du septennat écoulé. "Vous avez tendance à reprendre le refrain d’il y a sept ans, ‘l’homme du passé’, c’est quand même ennuyeux que vous soyez devenu dans l’intervalle, vous, l’homme du passif. Cela gêne un peu votre démonstration d’aujourd’hui".

"Faire une réflexion" means to say something of a particular sort to someone, something that is not pleasing to hear, something that is sufficiently critical to offend them.

(TLFi) Faire des réflexions à qqn. Faire des remarques désobligeantes.

It follows that there is no context of reply involved in the the concept "faire une/des réflexion(s)" and that the comments are always unkind, which is not the case in the figurative use of "retour" as it applies to dialogue.

In conclusion, it cannot be said that the two forms are synonymous, although "un retour" as applied to verbal exchanges can have something of the nature of a "réflexion" (unkind, of a nature to make someone feel guilty).

Do not confuse "faire une/des réflexion(s)" and "réflexion sur soi-même ou sur sa conduite" in the sense of thinking about oneself or one's behaviour ; those are totally different things.

  • I think when it's about thinking, you'd better say "Avoir une réflexion", but still with some context there's sometimes no ambiguity in using "Faire". For example is someone tells me "Je vous conseille de faire une bonne réflexion sur vous-même" I will understand they're expecting me to think about myself, not to say something nice about myself.
    – Laurent S.
    Jul 28, 2021 at 8:36
  • @LaurentS. « Avoir une réflexion » est apparemment devenu très courant récemment (Google Books). Cependant d'autres verbes sont utilisables selon le contexte: mener (réflexion en groupe), rédiger, amorcer, engager, aborder, avoir recours à,… et je crois que d'autres encore pourront se trouver.
    – LPH
    Jul 28, 2021 at 9:12

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