If I were to translate il y fallait songer into English, I'd use “he had to think about it”.

What is a more precise meaning?

  • 3
    Translation to English is off-topic here, you can ask for further explanation of the meaning, but not for a precise wording into English (this would require specific skills and a certain command of English, which are relevant on EL&U but not on FL&U). Jul 11, 2013 at 15:22
  • OK. So who can tell me if my translation is correct? Where do I go? Besides, I have seen many other questions here asking the very same thing.
    – indoxica
    Jul 11, 2013 at 15:28
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    Don't worry, we'll try to answer. But the phrasing of the question must avoid using “I need a translation of this in English” when what you want is to understand (and possibly reproduce). You don't need a reliable way to say this particular sentence in English, do you? About other similar questions, pointers? Jul 11, 2013 at 15:31
  • Your previous questions (to some of which I replied to) were about specific idiomatic expressions, and showed efforts to understand the meaning from your part. But that's not the case of this question. Jul 11, 2013 at 15:38
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    @Alexis Pigeon Yes, you are perfectly right. This time I showed no effort in understanding that simple sentence because I put all my effort in translating it to the best of my current knowledge of French. Sorry about that.
    – indoxica
    Jul 11, 2013 at 16:08

2 Answers 2


No, "He had to think about it" is an incorrect translation of this.

"Fallait" is the 3rd person past imperfect of the verb falloir. Falloir implies necessity and is only ever used in the 3rd person with the pronoun 'il'. This explains falloir nicely: “Falloir” vs. “devoir”: is there a difference in meaning?

"Il y fallait songer" would translate more like "It was necessary to consider it".

Other possible translations:

  • It was necessary to think of it
  • It had to be thought of *
  • It had to be considered *

*Notice that these last two translations change from the active voice, which is present in the French sentence, to the passive voice in English. The 'it' in these two sentences is the 'y' in the French sentences.

Finally, falloir is an impersonal verb and therefore the 'il' in 'il faut' never translates to 'he'.

  • Thank you. As this site, which I found a few days ago, is my sole source of information regarding French and German (I'm trying to learn these languages on my own), any help, in whatever form, is greatly appreciated. For me, this community is the teacher of foreign languages I've never had.
    – indoxica
    Jul 11, 2013 at 15:57
  • I am glad I could help. I am a University student in French and German. You can certainly ask questions related to German but they also must be related to French. You can even ask them in English, as long as your question is about German and French, and not just a question about German and English. Jul 11, 2013 at 16:02

The usual idiom is il fallait y penser. This means: this idea is perhaps easy to understand, but you would have to be quite clever to think of it in the first place. Il fallait y penser can have the literal meaning “someone should have thought of that”, or the idiomatic meaning “this is a clever idea” (but it cannot mean “someone was bound to think of it”, unlike what one of the top Google hits states).


Innovations inuites : il fallait y penser (loose translation of “The Inuit Thought of It: Amazing Arctic Innovations”)

Il fallait y penser — Une firme espagnole est en passe de commercialiser [une invention]

C'est comme l'oeuf de Cristophe Colomb : Simple mais il fallait y penser...

Il fallait y songer is a far less common variant on this idiom. Songer here means roughly the same as penser. There is a slight connotation towards imagination in using songer (which can also mean “dream”) rather than penser, but the distinction is more of a matter of style than meaning.

  • Wow! It is exactly from a l'oeuf de Cristophe Colomb that I took that little sentence. What a coincidence, indeed. Thank you. Your help is literally priceless.
    – indoxica
    Jul 14, 2013 at 16:54
  • I would say that in this phrasing songer may also connote cautiousness not only dream. For instance, “il y fallait songer lorsque vous étiez libres”. Jul 14, 2013 at 17:00
  • Il ne s'agit pas d'un idiome: il fallait y revenir, il fallait y aller, il fallait y apporter une solution, il fallait y parvenir, il fallait y atterrir, etc. « Il y fallait songer » est ancien, à ne pas utiliser dans la langue parlée, « Il fallait y songer » n'est pas courant, plutôt littéraire bien qu'utilisable dans la langue parlée et l'equivalent courant de la langue parlée est « Il fallait y penser.»
    – LPH
    Aug 25, 2018 at 12:25

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