Mettre de l’eau dans son vin


This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food and drink. Read the introductory Edible Idiom post, and browse the list of French idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Mettre de l’eau dans son vin.”

Literally translated as, “putting water in one’s wine,” it means lessening one’s demands or ambitions, mellowing, deciding to adopt a more moderate stand on an issue or in an argument.

It can be used in a positive sense (being more tolerant, making an effort to reach a compromise*) or, though more rarely, in a negative sense (giving up on one’s ideals, selling out).

Example: “Au début, elle ne voulait pas que son fils joue à des jeux vidéo le soir en semaine, et puis elle a mis de l’eau dans son vin, et maintenant il a le droit de jouer une fois qu’il a fini ses devoirs.” “Initially, she didn’t want her son to play video games on weeknights, but then she put water in her wine, and now he’s allowed to play when he’s done with his homework.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

The idea is that pouring a little water into a glass of wine** makes it milder in both flavor and alcohol content, and therefore easier to drink. Likewise, in the figurative sense, someone who cuts his wine with water makes his views easier to accept, or agree to.

This idiom dates back to the sixteenth century, though its original meaning involved the quieting of one’s anger, or passion.

* See also: Couper la poire en deux.

** This was once an accepted practice, presumably when wine-making techniques offered less control and cheap wines were very coarse, but it is now frowned upon.

  • kim

    This one is still used very often in Belgium Flanders: “Water bij de wijn doen”, mostly in the positive sense. It’s what my mom told us to do when my ex boyfriend and I moved in with each other… compromising from both sides :)

  • I love idioms in other languages…of course I love pretty much anything involving wine ;)

    I also wanted to congratulate you on your Bloggies nomination from a fellow nominee :)

  • IzzieB

    I love the example you gave because that matches, exactly a personal situation, for which, I put water in my wine! Ah, ces sacre jeux video!

  • Having grown up speaking French but now living in the U.S. I love this series :)

  • I love your series of Expressions Française! Though J’ai mit de l’eau dans mon vin many times in personal life, I’ll never dare put water in my wine at the table. To me it’s a no-no, I have seen so many people do it, or here in America I have seen people throwing ice cubes in their wine to cool it! Aille aille aille, this is so wrong!

    One bite at a time!

  • The English equivalent would be similar in meaning – to calm someone down or dilute the effect!

  • Half of the Duo Dishes is a francophone, so this is just awesome. Thanks for food and knowledge!

  • Oooh, maybe that’s what I need to do about now – mellow and lessen my demands.

    Absolutely adore your blog. Briefly visited Paris almost nine years ago now, and am ever counting down the days until I can return. Priorities were different then, being 17 years old. So many wonderful foods, drinks and cultural experiences missed out on. Until then…


  • Thank you, I learned something new!

    Water into (white) wine in Vienna would be called a “Spritzer”, if half water, half wine; three quarters water, the rest wine is an even lighter summer drink, Sommerspritzer. Different countries, different idioms!

  • Aiyana

    Oh, neat! At first I did assume it would have a negative meaning, since one doesn’t dilute a good wine, but I like the real meaning better. I also like my wine (the cheap stuff anyways) watered down a bit :)

  • Alina

    i love this idioms, i personally used them in my daily conversation and in return i get more idioms from my colleagues. thanks.

  • EB

    Oh I really like this one. I can’t think of a good English equivalent. That makes it all the better in my book.

  • It’s funny how once you learn something, it pops up everywhere. Just heard this expression being used in a France 24 debate.
    Merci Clothilde!


  • KS

    I just recently found your site and as an American living in France, I love these idioms as much as your wonderful recipes!

  • Since you are talking about dilution, maybe this is as good a place as any to register this comment.

    What do you think about the North Americanization of food names to make them seem more user-friendly, less threatening? I’m sure there are lots of examples out there but this morning I can only think of two.

    1. Sandwich pockets instead of Pita
    2. Wraps instead of Tortillas

    and on the other hand…Chai Latte is like saying Cafe Au Lait Latte. Chai is traditionally made with lots of milk.

    It’s really OK to be different.

  • Hazel, for me any flat bread can be used to make a wrap. Chappati, lebanese bread, mountain bread, tortilla, whatever. So that one’s OK with me.

    And spritzers are indeed a great summer drink.

    BTW, Clotilde, your instructions have changed to being in French. It now says “Pour protéger ce blog contre le spam, veuillez taper le mot “olive” (sans guillemet) ci-dessous (required):” Luckily I remember the instructions from when it was orange. :)

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