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tenir la dragée haute à quelqu’un

The French expression “tenir la dragée haute à quelqu’un” translates literally to “to hold the sugared almond high to somebody”. This is an expression which has a meaning that’s impossible to guess in English. Its meanings seem to vary:

  • to hold out on somebody
  • to stand up for somebody offers the following two meanings in French: 1) To make somebody else feel the power that you have; and 2) To make somebody wait for a long time and only give them a small amount of what they expected. offers two more meanings: 1) To make somebody work for something; and 2) To keep raising the bar for somebody.

Here’s an example sentence:

  • Tous les membres de notre équipe sont étonnés: le nouvel employé tient la dragee haute au grand chef! Everybody on our team is surprised. The new employee is standing up to the big boss!

more French expressions

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David Issokson

David Issokson is a lifelong language enthusiast. His head is swimming with words and sounds as he speaks over six languages. Of all the languages he speaks, he's the most passionate about French! David has helped hundreds of students to improve their French in his private online lessons. When procrastinating working on his site,, David enjoys his time skiing and hiking in Teton Valley, Idaho.

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