(…) dans les combien?

Combien means how many or to how much. It makes no difference between countable and uncountable (mass) nouns:

  • Combien de beurre? How much butter?
  • Combien de fleurs? How many flowers?

(…) dans les combien (no plural « s ») is a spoken expression meaning about how many, or about how much. It’s often used in money matters. 

When you don’t want to ask exactly how much, say, C’est dans les combien?

Not an exact number

(to a friend)

– Je pense acheter une voiture. 

– Ah oui? Et tu vas y mettre dans les combien?

translated as:

– I’m thinking of buying a car.

– Really? And how much are you thinking of putting into it? (Really? And how much are you thinking of spending?)

(in a boutique)

– Je voudrais voir vos montres. C’est pour offrir. –> I’d like to have a look at the watches. It’s for a gift.

– Très bien. –> Very well.

– Celle-ci me plaît. Elle est dans les combien? –> I like this one. How much is it / about how much does it cost?

This expression can be used with numbers, too:

  • Je suis allée à la manifestation samedi. –> I went to the demonstration / event on Saturday.
  • Super. Vous étiez dans les combien? –> Great. About how many of you were there ? 

La combientième fois vs the nth time

The following examples are relatively rare but parents may hear these at sporting events, such as marathons, races or other competitions: « Tu étais dans les combientièmes? », meaning How did you rank? What place did you get, more or less?

Last but not least (no pun intended),

Pour la combientième fois, je te dis d’arrêter!

For the « nth » time, I’m asking you to stop.

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