The French proverb "Bon à tout bon à rien"

Get ready to discover all the things you need to know about the basic saying “Bon à tout bon à rien”.

To be more specific, this includes a complete explanation of what it is and how to use it in everyday life with an audio example. Together with the useful things we added like dialogue example, literal meaning, slow pronunciation audio and more!

Oh and if you are interested, you can also find more sayings tutorials like this one on this page and the list of all our French words pages on this page. Ready to learn? C’est parti ! (Let’s go!)

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French to English translation

How to pronounce?

Slow pronunciation

Normal pronunciation

What does it mean exactly?


This is a two part proverb: “Bon à tout” means “Good at everything” and “Bon à rien” means “Good at nothing“. Sounds like a paradox, right?

Well, yes, and that’s why it is so interesting.

In fact, the whole interest of this proverb comes from the human dilemma of choosing specialization vs. choosing diversification. We tend to think that with dedication it is possible to become very good at everything, but most of the time this is just an illusion.

If we want to achieve greatness and excellence, we have to restrict our focus on a very limited amount of activities/topics.

How to use

That’s why this proverb is such a powerful reminder, saying more or less: “If you think you are good at everything, then you are certainly not mastering any of those things. But that’s ok, nobody does.

Then, you can keep these words of wisdom in mind as a reminder to not spread yourself too thin.

But you can also use it during a conversation, for example: with someone talking about running many projects simultaneously. Or with someone who brags about being a master in many things/everything.

In both cases, the answer is simple: “Bon à tout, bon à rien“. You can also add “Attention” before saying “Be careful“.

Synonyms and similarities

Generally, we use the masculine gender, which is also used when the gender is undefined. But if you are talking about a woman, the feminine gender would be: “Bonne à tout, bonne à rien“.

Example in a story with translation

Now, let’s see a complete example of this idiom in a story with slow French audio and the English translation below.
Besoin d'un plombier ?
Need a plumber?
Olivia:   Tu as réussi à réparer le robinet ?
Did you manage to fix the faucet?
Théo:   Non, je n’y arrive pas. Il faut appeler un plombier.
No, I can’t. We need to call a plumber.
Olivia:   Je parie que ton frère pourrait le faire très facilement.
I bet your brother could do it very easily.
Théo:   Pourquoi tu parles de mon frère ?
Why are you talking about my brother?
Olivia:   Parce que je pense qu’il peut tout réparer.
Because I think he can fix everything.
Théo:   Tu te trompes ! Comme on dit : “Bon à tout, bon à rien”.
You’re wrong! As we say: “Jack of all trades, master of none”.
Olivia:   Alors pourquoi c’est lui qui a réparé les toilettes ? Et le lit ? Et mon vélo ?
So why was he the one who fixed the toilet? And the bed? And my bike?
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