The True Meaning of Vive La France

Vive la France means “Long live France” – but there’s a bit more to it than that. Who’s known for saying this famous phrase? What are its connotations? Where did it originate?  And how can it help us with French grammar?  Let’s take a look!

The meaning of Vive la France

Vive la France means “Long live France”. Maybe you’ve already noticed the connection; Vive is derived from the verb vivre (to live). You may also be familiar with Vive’s Spanish and Italian cousin, Viva, which is used the same way. The correct French phrase is vive la France not viva la France since “viva” is a Spanish word.

Sometimes you’ll see Vive la France  translated as “God bless France” or “God save France.”

This is because it’s the rough equivalent to the phrases “God bless America” and “God save the Queen” – that is, common phrases used to show deference and devotion to one’s country (or ruler) and drum up a bit of patriotism along the way.

Like these statements, you’ll often hear Vive la France in the mouths of politicians. Most famously, any president of France will end  official speeches with two phrases: Vive la République. Vive la France. (Long live the Republic. Long live France.)

What does Vive la République mean?

A carved inscription on a neoclassical building's facade reads "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité". The style of carving and the stone building seem to date to the late 18th or early- to mid -19th century.

Outside of official presidential speeches, you may hear Vive la France  on its own. But when the President (or another politician) adds Vive la République, they’re following a tradition of showing support and devotion to their nation and what kind of government it has.

From 1789 to 1871, France experienced a number of revolutions and veered between monarchy, empire, and republic several times.  You can get a brief and very funny explanation of this tumultuous near-century in the video below, which I highly recommend.

YouTube video

Things seemed to calm down after the Commune of 1871…until about a hundred years later, in 1968, when students and other groups demanded changes yet again. France is currently in its 5th version of a Republic.

So you could see Vive la République as a message of support for this type of government (as opposed to a monarchy, empire, etc.) and its values, including the famous Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.

The phrase could also imply “Let’s stick with the current Republic, which I support, and not have another revolution, okay?”

Who first said “Vive la France”?

Several microphones point towards the viewer, as if they are going to give a speech to the seated crowd assembled behind them, sitting in stadium-style seating in what looks like a government building (the mics are in sharp focus but the rest of the view is blurry).

You may have heard the phrase Vive la France uttered by a stereotypical French character in a movie or cartoon. Or maybe the words were spoken by a fictional version of a hero of the Résistance. 

While Résistance members may have said Vive la France from time to time, no one actually knows who or what made it the popular motto it is today.

Some sources claim the phrase was first used as a sort of official patriotic rallying cry on July 14, 1790, the first Bastille Day celebration (kind of). Others say that the phrase was used when Bastille Day (le 14 Juillet) was made an official holiday in France, in 1880.

Still others claim the phrase became associated with political speeches when the 3rd Republic was established in 1870. But there doesn’t seem to be any record of it as a systematic saying in government discourses of the time.

As far as I can tell, the first written record we have of Vive la France in a government speech comes from then-Prime Minister René Viviani’s August 3, 1914 address to the government regarding the assassination of Jean Jaurès and the looming First World War.

Most sources agree, though, that it took another 30 to 40 years for the phrase to really take off with leaders of France.

Systematically using it as a closing statement after a speech is generally attributed to Charles de Gaulle – but not from his radio messages when he was leading the Résistance during World War II.  Instead, it would be during his presidency, certainly by 1958. For instance, you can find it at the end of his Discours du Forum d’Alger (Forum d’Alger Speech) from that year. You can also watch this speech; go to the 10:06 mark specifically to hear Vive la République! Vive la France!.

Since then, Vive la France and, usually, Vive la République, have become standard phrases to end presidential speeches.

Is Vive la France the new Vive le roi?

When you look at it this way, Vive la France seems like a pretty modern phrase and idea. But some historians point out that could be seen as a sign of continuity.

When France was a monarchy, which lasted from country’s origins, to 1792 (and then was reestablished in 1814…and re-abolished in 1848), there was another, similar phrase that was included in a specific kind of political discourse, dating to the 15th century.

Whenever a king of France died, it was formally proclaimed <<Le roi est mort. Vive le roi.>> (“The King is dead. Long live the King.”)

This may seem like a very confusing phrase, unless French kings were also zombies. But no, the explanation is much less horror movie-oriented. The idea was  that one king is dead, but another one is there to replace him; the country can continue to function just as it was, on and on, for all eternity.

Or until a Revolution…or several….

This said, some people believe that although France hasn’t been a monarchy for centuries, Vive la France caught on at least partially because it recalled this old familiar phrase, including its connotations of the power and endurability of France.

Can I say “Vive la France”?

Although it’s usually associated with politicians and political speeches, the phrase Vive la France  can be said by anyone.

But before you do say it, “read the room,” as the young people would put it.

As with many patriotic sayings and symbols, the far right in France has used this phrase to promote extreme nationalism, racism, and other “values”.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, be sure that if you say it, it’s clear that you’re being sincere, and not mocking France or French values.

Basically, remember that it’s the rough equivalent to “God save the Queen” or “God bless America.” Both of those phrases are usually used with a certain respect or at least enthusiasm, but they have also been used for hate or to protest against the state or to be disparaging.

But generally, as long as you seem respectful and the context is reasonable, go for it!

What can the phrase Vive la France teach us about the French language?

At sunset, two glasses of sparkling wine sit on a balcony ledge overlooking the ocean and several rocky island-like formations scattered over its surface.
Vive les vacances !

Vive la France is a phrase packed with tradition and history. And it’s not too shabby from a grammatical point of view, either.

You can use Vive + le/la/les + noun to show enthusiasm and support for just about anything, from the country of France to, say, vacation.

That’s right –  Vive + le/la/les + noun isn’t just for serious stuff. In fact, one of its most popular variants is Vive les vacances!  You can translate this as “Long live vacation!” or more informally (because the phrase is fairly informal, though far from slang or obscene), “Vacation rules!”

It’s a great phrase to show enthusiasm for anything, or anyone. For instance, another common Vive + le/la/les + noun combination is Vive les mariés ! (Long life/All the best to the newlyweds!) .

As you may have noticed from these two examples, Vive doesn’t have to agree with the number or gender of the noun and article that follow it, which makes it super easy to use.

If you forget that there doesn’t have to be any agreement, that’s okay, too. As the Académie Française’s official site explains, Vive + le/la/les + noun is one of the rare expressions in French where there aren’t any set rules; if the noun in the phrase is plural, you can keep Vive, or replace it with Vivent . It’s your choice.

That’s why you’ll  sometimes see that previous example written Vivent les mariés !

If you want to go with the crowd, this source claims that keeping the verb as Vive,rather than trying to make it agree with a plural noun, seems to be the increasingly popular option.

Exceptions to the Vive + le/la/les + noun rule

Although it’s most common to see the structure Vive + le/la/les + noun, there are some exceptions.

This is notably the case when you’re using proper names that wouldn’t usually have an article in front of them.

For instance, Vive la France works because in French, countries are paired with an article. But cities, for instance, aren’t. So if you wanted to say “God bless Paris” or “Long life to Paris”, you wouldn’t include an article: Vive Paris !

The same goes for a person. Although this isn’t the most typical way to show support, encouragement, enthusiasm, love, etc., for someone, you could ostensibly use Vive  with a person, character, or animal. For instance: Vive Sophie !

I’ll let you imagine Sophie as either a girl, woman, or animal of your choice.

Still, while Vive + a proper name does exist and is grammatically correct, it’s not as common, even with cities.

Most cities have their own slogans, after all. Even in the aftermath of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, it’s possible you might have heard Vive Paris, but our motto was usually the city’s very fitting pre-existing one, Fluctuat nec mergitur (Though she is tossed by the waves, she stays afloat).

And if you’re trying to encourage or cheer on Sophie, it’s better to simply say Allez Sophie ! (You use the vous form of aller even if you know Sophie well) or Bravo Sophie !

Now that you know the meaning of Vive la France, as well as how to use Vive + le/la/les + noun, why not practice by wishing long life/good fortune/showing your enthusiasm for some of the things you love in your own life?

I’ll give it a go:

Vive les chats !

Vive les livres !

Vive le chocolat !

Vive les nuits blanches et les grasses matinées ! (Or, if you prefer, Vivent les nuits blanches et les grasses matinées !)

Vive l’amour !

and of course,

Vive la France !

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Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.