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The WordReference page for "perte" tells me that "à perte" means "at a loss", and "à perte de vue" means "as far as the eye can see". (It also tells me that "perte" means "loss").

If I try to translate "à perte de vue" literally, then, it would mean "at a loss of sight" or "at sight's loss" or "at the loss of the panorama (panorama = landscape that we can view)". I don't see how these translations can suggest "as far as the eye can see"! (If anything, I would have expected an expression that translated to the opposite of loss (such as "to the full degree of possible sight") to mean "as far as the eye can see"!)

Is there a way to understand "à perte de vue" as made up of "à perte"?

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    Compare with "I watched him sail away, my eyes following him until he was lost to sight.". Dec 8 '21 at 14:12
  • Bear in mind that à perte de vue is a noun phrase. The verb is: perdre de vue.
    – Lambie
    Dec 8 '21 at 22:58
  • @Lambie It's a noun phrase? I thought à perte de vue is instead a prepositional phrase?
    – silph
    Dec 9 '21 at 1:41
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"à perte de vue" is just an idiomatic expression on its own. (= as far as the eye can see)

It is not composed of the other idiomatic expression "à perte".


à perte de vue can be interpreted as something like: until the ability to see gets lost in the distance (jusqu'à ce que la vue se perde dans le lointain)

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In the phrase à perte de vue vue we could refer to vue as the ability to see as well as to l’étendue de ce qu’on peut voir d’un certain lieu1. Sticking to a noun to understand perte can be misleading as well. Try to think of it as an action. It literally means "until (à) your eye loses the capacity to distinguish the landscape", i.e. as far as your eye can see. What you are losing is the ability to see far, not your eyesight.

We must never try to translate phrases word for word. The example that is often given (and probably the most extreme) is that of "cats and dogs" that don't come with rain in French: It's raining cats and dogs → Il pleut des hallebardes (ou des cordes)

1 Wiktionnaire.6.

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