French Word of the Day: Hélas

Why do I need to know hélas?

Because despite being quite old-fashioned, you might hear someone slip this word into the middle of their sentence.

What does it mean?

Hélas roughly pronounced ay-lass is an interjection that you are likely to see if you are reading a French novel, or hear, if someone is telling a particularly dramatic story.

Hélas is used in a manner very similar to the English term ‘alas’ – as an interjection in the middle of a sentence or thought, though typically before describing something unfortunate or upsetting. In fact, the English term likely arose from the French one during the Middle Ages.

A French synonym might be malheureusement (unfortunately). 

It’s common in novels, especially historic ones, while in spoken French, you might hear it more sarcastically, as it is a bit old-fashioned. If your friend is feeling a bit theatrical in their storytelling, then they might pop hélas in for dramatic effect. 

Use it like this

J’ai fait le tour à la recherche d’un parking pendant une heure et, hélas, juste au moment où j’ai trouvé ma place, quelqu’un d’autre l’a prise. – I drove around in the parking lot for an hour, and alas, just when I found a spot, someone else took it.

L’écrivain du début du XXe siècle a écrit plus de 20 chefs-d’œuvre, mais hélas, il n’a jamais été reconnu de son vivant. – The early 20th century writer wrote over 20 masterpieces, but alas, he was never recognised in his lifetime.

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