Comme il faut (pronounced kuh meel fo) is an expression that can sometimes be a little tricky for foreigners to truly understand. The goal with this article is to demystify it so that you can both use it and understand it no matter the situation you find yourself in.
Comme il faut, literally translated as “as it have to” or “as it must”, has a few different translations including “correctly”, “properly”, “respectable”, “the right way” and “as one should”.
One of the difficulties with understanding comme il faut is that there are so many different English phrases that can all be translated into French by just comme il faut. Because of this it’s difficult to wrap your head around its exact meaning.
Using comme il faut to mean correctly or the right way
Let’s first take a look at how to use comme il faut to mean “correctly”, “properly”, or “the right away”.
Je fais rien comme il faut – I can’t do anything right (the right way)
Vous devez le dire comme il faut – You must say it right
Ça doit être fait comme il faut – It must be done properly
Élève tes enfants comme il faut – Raise your kids right
Using comme il faut to mean the way it's supposed to
Pivoting just a little bit from the previous meaning, comme il faut can also be used to mean “the way it’s supposed to” or “how it should”. This is often in reference to some sort of object, but it doesn’t have to be.
La télévision ne marche pas comme il faut – The television doesn’t work like it should
Tout fonctionne exactement comme il faut – Everything is working exactly as it should
using comme il faut to mean proper or well raised
You can also use comme il faut when referring to individuals. This meaning may be a little harder to understand, but try to think of it like “decent”, “respectable”, “proper”, “or raised right”.
Une jeune femme bien comme il faut – A respectable young woman
Le président de l’entreprise est un homme comme il faut – The president of the company is a real gentleman
Comme il faut used in english
Although it’s not very common comme il faut can also be used in English. As with many French expressions that are used in English, comme il faut can sometimes take on a meaning that is a little arrogant or stuck up. Of course when comme il faut is used in French it’s perfectly normal and doesn’t carry any such connotation.
He told me it’s not comme il faut to wear jeans to such a formal event
He was a quiet man and very comme il faut
Hopefully now you have a better idea of what it takes to both use and understand the French expression comme il faut. For more vocabulary and expressions take a look at the French vocabulary page.