C'est la vie is a popular French expression valued by English speakers. While the common translation is "that's life" or such is life, you will learn in the next lines that its meaning is not always fatalistic. You will also learn about some C'est la vie songs and quotes.
What is the meaning of C'est la vie?
The expression C'est la vie is a combination of 4 words: Ce - est - la vie.
Ce is a demonstrative adjective that means this;
est is the conjugation of the verb être (to be) in the present tense; it means is;
la is a definite article equivalent to "the"; however in English, the article "the" can be skipped"
vie is the French word for life.
So, what does c'est la vie means? It can literally be translated as " This is life, or that's life."
The general meaning that most people know is that's life, in the sense that "this is how life is", especially when someone feels powerless regarding a situation. It's a kind of resignation o acceptance of that situation.
"C'est la vie", meaning something essential, vital
C'est la vie is not always used fatalistically by French people. It can also refer to something essential or vital. A common expression you might hear in a French context is "l'eau c'est la vie". It can be translated as water is life, since water is considered essential in a human being life.
Another great example is how Henri Dikongue (mentioned below) used the expression c'est la vie. In his song, "La vie" symbolizes birth like in the expression "donner vie" which means to give birth.
"C'est la vie", meaning a lifestyle or status
C'est la vie can also be used to refer to the lifestyle or the status of someone or a group of persons. Example: "C'est la vie de chômeur que je ne veux plus" => It's the status of an unemployed person that I don't want anymore.
Another example: "C'est la vie de couple qui l'a fait changer". => It's the couple's life that made him change.
Other ways to say c'est la vie in French
While c'est la vie is the most known expression, there are others that can also be used to signify the same thing. Below are other alternatives to C'est la vie
La vie est ainsi faite => This is how life is made/ this is a fact of life / Life is like that; meaning that "that's life and we can't do much about it."
Ainsi va la vie => That is how life goes / such is life
C'est comme ca => that's just like that or that's the way it is
On n'y peut rien => We can't do anything about it
Ce sont des choses qui arrivent => These are things that happen
Que veux-tu? => Asked as a question, it would mean "What do you want?" but in this context, it conveys the idea of "what can you do about it?" Generally, French people will use que veux tu accompanied with on n'y peut rien.
C'est ainsi: this expression and c'est comme ca are very close and mean the same thing: that's the way it is.
C'est la guerre : it's war
How to write and pronounce c'est la vie
A lot of people, especially non-French speakers tend to misspell c'est la vie. We can't blame them as they are just relying on the sound they hear. If you used to think that it is written like "say la vie/say la vee, se la vie/se la vee, cie la vie/cie la vee, or ce la vie, note that the correct spelling is "c'est la vie".
As for the pronunciation, c'est la vie is pronounced according to the International Phonetic Alphabet as [sɛ la vi]. If you would like to listen to the way it is pronounced, Forvo has a page named "comment prononcer c'est la vie". You can listen to its pronunciation by French natives from France and Belgium, and you can repeat as much as you want. Forvo is one of the best language resources for learning word pronunciation.
C'est la vie songs
C'est la vie has been used in many songs and not only French ones. C'est la vie is the title of the debut single(1986) of Robbie Nevil, an American pop singer. It is also the title of one of the first songs of the B*witched, an Irish girls' group. In the English songs category, we can add Zoë Straub, an Australian singer who also sang" c'est la vie".
Among the most known French songs is C'est la vie of Cheb Khaleb, the Algerian Rai Singer. In his version of C'est la vie, most of the lyrics are in Arabic but the chorus is in French. It is actually the part that I like the most in this tune. It says: "on va s'aimer, on va danser, oui c'est la vie, la la la la la (Translation: we are going to love each other, we are going to dance, yes, that's life, ...)
Another great song is Henri Dikongue's, a Cameroonian singer and guitarist that very few people know but is worth listening to. His song is all the way to the end in French and those who love guitar will enjoy it for sure. Watch below the video released by Henri Dikongue's official YouTube channel. If you are looking for the lyrics of this beautiful song, you can access them here with their English translation.
C'est la vie quotes
As a popular French phrase, it is not surprising that "c’est la vie" is used in quotes. I have selected a few of them, mostly from celebrities or general sayings.
"C'est la vie qui nous apprend, non l'école." Sénèque (It's life that educates us, not school)
"Rêver, c'est le bonheur; attendre, c'est la vie." Victor Hugo (Dreaming is happiness, waiting is the way life is)
"En fin de compte, ce ne sont pas les années de votre vie qui comptent. C'est la vie dans vos années." Abraham Lincoln (Finally, it is not the years of your life that count but life in these years.)
"L'ignorance, c'est la mort; le savoir, c'est la vie." Persian proverb (Ignorance is death, knowledge is life)
"La vie, c'est Paris ! Paris, c'est la vie ! Marie Bashkirtself (Life, it's Paris! Paris, it's life)
This last one is from a netizen and its one of my favorites: "La mort, c'est la vie que les vivants ne connaissent pas." Alfred Jod-ariel.
To wrap it up
The French phrase c'est la vie's popularity is such that even in literature and cinema, some pieces of art are untitled "c'est la vie". From what you have learned, c'est la vie is not only used in a pessimistic situation but also to express something vital or a lifestyle. I hope you learned more about its meaning, pronunciation, and how to spell it properly. If this is something useful, I would appreciate it if you help us spread the word.