On dit souvent « Comment vas-tu ? » ou « Comment ça va ? ».

Mais à quoi fait référence le ça ? De quoi parle-t-on en disant ça ?

“How do you do?” may be translated to “Comment vas-tu ?” or “Comment ça va ?”.

What does ça (this) mean? What are we speaking about, when speaking about this?

  • 4
    How is it going?
    – Kareen
    Jan 26 '13 at 19:41

On dit que le médecin demandait au roi si cela se passait bien quand il allait aux toilettes. « Comment allez-vous ? » ou « comment ça va ? » font donc référence aux selles ou à la défécation. L'anglais « how do you do ? » aurait la même origine.

Edition : Comme indiqué dans un commentaire, il s'agit sûrement d'une légende urbaine, et il est difficile de trouver des références fiables. Une autre explication plus sérieuse est la suivante :

Dans le dictionnaire historique de la langue française, il est dit que le verbe aller est employé depuis le XIIème siècle pour décrire les états de la santé ou de la vie d'un personne (aller bien, ou mal). On demande alors à la personne Comment va la santé ? Ici, le ça fait donc référence à la santé ou à la vie en général de la personne.

Some say that the doctor used to ask the king about his defectation. "Ça" refers to the stool or defecation. The origin of "how do you do" is probably the same.

Edit: As noticed in a comment, it may be a urban legend, and it is difficult to find reliable source about it. Here is a more serious one:

According to the "Dictionnaire historique de la langue française", the verb aller (to go) is used since the 12th century to describe a state (good or bad) in a person's health or life (aller bien, aller mal). So we ask comment va la santé ? or comment va la vie ?. Ça, may refer to health or life.

  • Urban legend? I've find this but don't find solid references. ( Some comments about this, here, was dropped :-( ) I've find only one origin, Dr Marie-Claude Calary, but she is not historian, she is medical doctor. source: fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salutation . Could you give us more historical sources.
    – F. Hauri
    Feb 12 '13 at 8:21
  • 1
    Yes, you are right, it may be an urban legend. That's why i began with "Ones say that". I'll propose a more sourced answer.
    – Benoît
    Feb 12 '13 at 8:56
  • +1 for a real effort, thank! It's the better answer for now...
    – F. Hauri
    Feb 12 '13 at 11:14


The ça in Ça va ? closely translates to it in the English expression How's it going?.

Comment cela va-t-il ? can be expressed in English along the lines of How's that going for you with stress on the word that.

What's ça/cela even mean?

When we talk about this in English or cela/ça in French, the idea is more or less the same. It's an empty reference needed, because our languages need pronouns in subject position (unlike, for example, Spanish). When a pronoun exists in this context, it's called a dummy pronoun or perhaps more accurately an expletive pronoun or a pleonastic pronoun.

In short, the ça refers to nothing concrete at all. It's present just because French needs a subject.


Two examples of pleonastic constructions/pronouns in French:

  1. Il pleut. (il → what's it referring to? Nothing really.)
  2. J'ai bien peur qu'il ne se souvienne de se rendre. (ne → Why's this here? Don't really need it.)
  • Seem to me that quand Il pleut may be capitalized as it refer to God.
    – F. Hauri
    Jan 26 '13 at 20:58
  • 1
    That's interesting. In Belgium, we don't refer il to God. I took a franco-linguistics course at ULB in Bruxelles, and the consensus of the class was that "il" was indeed pleonastic. It's entirely possible our dialects differ.
    – Sean
    Jan 26 '13 at 21:15
  • 3
    @FHauri: Biblical texts might refer to God with a capitalized Il, but in any case God never rains (poor guy!). Here il is just an impersonal pronoun. Jan 27 '13 at 0:59
  • 1
    @Sean: I mostly agree with your answer, but the ne example is a whole different matter (it isn't a pronoun). I suggest you change your second example to something like Il est possible que les extraterrestres débarquent demain. Jan 27 '13 at 13:36
  • @StéphaneGimenez You're right, rain come from the sky, As elohim (... see Rael). At all I'm pretty sure that origin of it in it rain was comming from It send rain (especially in Latin culture).
    – F. Hauri
    Jan 28 '13 at 22:31

« Ça » désigne ce dont tu demandes l'état. La personne ou la chose en question dépend du contexte. Exemple :

Comment va Paul ?

est équivalent à :

Et Paul, comment ça va ?

Ça” refers to that whose condition you are asking about. That person or thing is defined by the context. For example:

Comment va Paul ? (How is Paul?)

is equivalent to:

Et Paul, comment ça va ? (And Paul, how is he?)

  • La traduction anglaise de ma réponse en français est approximative. N'hésitez pas à en proposer une meilleure.
    – air-dex
    Jan 27 '13 at 2:48
  • 3
    Bonjour, comment ça va? signifierait ramener son interlocuteur à ça?! Je doute!
    – F. Hauri
    Jan 27 '13 at 10:53
  • Oui, puisqu'on demande à notre interlocuteur comment il va.
    – air-dex
    Jan 27 '13 at 23:27
  • 1
    Il, vous, tu mais en tout cas pas ça !!!
    – F. Hauri
    Jan 28 '13 at 7:17

Quand on me demande Comment ça va? je comprends, comment pour moi va la vie, la santé, la famille, le boulot, ou comme dirait Aznavour, mes amis, mes amours, mes emmerdes...

Parfois, il m'arrive de poser la question Comment ça va? pour éviter d'avoir à choisir entre Comment vas-tu? et Comment allez-vous?

  • Juste: Ça'' n'est ni vous'', ni ``tu''! Bien vu!
    – F. Hauri
    Jun 21 '13 at 12:26

It could refer to "things" as a whole. How things are going? Comment vont les choses ? Comment va tout cela ? (-> Comment ça va ?)

Usually, it is used to ask How are you? but you could also ask Comment ça va? when someone is doing something (for instance a task) and you want to know if everything is ok.

  • Right, but it's a special case, close to a pun intended
    – F. Hauri
    Feb 17 '13 at 22:21

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