What's the semantic field of soit? What notions underlie these 3 significations that look completely unrelated to me?

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Alain Rey, ed. Dictionnaire historique de la langue française, 4th edn. 2 vols. Paris: Le Robert, 2016 (1st edn. 1992). Anyone know the page number?

My local library has merely 2 of the French etymological dictionaries listed on Wikipedia. "soit" was overlooked in Jacqueline Picoche [fr]. Dictionnaire étymologique du français. Paris: Le Robert, 1971.

I used interlinear glossing in the title. 3SG PRS = 3rd person singular present.


2 Answers 2


They are all related to the verb être and can eventually be translated to "be".

  1. Qu'il soit coupable ou pas, je m'en fiche.
    → Whether he is guilty or not, I don't care.
    Be he guilty or not [...].

  2. Je partirai soit lundi, soit mardi (I will leave either Monday or Tuesday.) means under the cover Je viendrai que ce soit lundi, que ce soit mardi.
    → I will leave whether it is Monday, whether it is Tuesday
    Be it Monday, be it Tuesday

  3. Soit c la vitesse de la lumière dans le vide, ... : means Admettons que c soit la vitesse de la lumière dans le vide
    → Let's posit that c is the speed of light in a vacuum, ...
    → Let c be the speed of light, ...


Le champ lexical (semantic field) du mot soit est le verbe être.

Les mots d'un même champ lexical peuvent être des noms, des adjectifs qualificatifs ou des verbes.

champ lexical, or semantic field in English

champ lexical

The three meanings in French are derived from the third person singular present subjunctive of the verbe être.

  • the either /or use: soit x, soit y can be literally translated as "be" as in "be it this or be it that", which in English is usually rendered as either this or that.

  • the use in math, it "let x be".

  • the use of soit at the end of a phrase as an explanation, which is translated as: that is, which is the same as "c'est à dire" or "à savoir", as cited in the question: Alain Rey, ed. Dictionnaire historique de la langue française, 4th edn. 2 vols. Paris: Le Robert, 2016. That source cites the three uses explained in this answer.

  • @EylaChu-Generis No matter what I say or how I say it, there are those determined to downvote. The main point of my answer was not translation.
    – Lambie
    Sep 23, 2021 at 18:20

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