Misery loves company

Do you know if a French equivalent exists for this expression? In general, idioms being the expression of popular wisdom, whose roots are shared by most European countries (the Bible, Greek and Latin literature), most English proverbs have French equivalents, which are often identical, but for this one, I’ve been racking my brains and can’t think of a suitable translation. It’s very odd, especially as its Latin origin makes it a prime candidate for a French adaptation:

Latin gaudium est miseris socios habuisse penarum, it is a comfort to the wretched to have companions in woe.

1349 R. Rolle Meditations on Passion in C. Hortsmann Yorkshire Writers (1895). I. 101 It is solace to haue companie in peyne.

Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs


By | 2016-10-18T15:49:33+00:00 January 3rd, 2008|Idioms|15 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. LInda Herbertson January 3, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    “avoir eu des compagnons de malheur est une consolation pour les misérables.”
    J’ai trouvé ça sur le ouèbe ; je ne sais pas si l’usage en est très répandu

  2. Mariana January 3, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    Je propose : un malheur ne vient jamais seul.

  3. PBayle January 3, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    I can think of the following one in Spanish: «Mal de muchos, consuelo de tontos». I hope it will jolt your memory!

  4. Mariana January 3, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    Désolée, Céline, j’ai dégainé trop vite. J’ai répondu avant de vérifier. Après vérif et recherches complémentaires je propose la citation de Montherlant :
    «Le malheur ne peut se consoler qu’avec le malheur des autres.» [ Henry de Montherlant ]
    J’apprécie énormément ton site que dont je récupère toutes les nouveautés grâce aux fils RSS.
    Encore merci. Thank you so much !

  5. Jeronimo January 3, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    Hi Céline, and happy New Year. I don’t know enough French to tell, but in Spanish we say “Mal de muchos, consuelo de tontos”. I hope this might help somehow.

  6. Bela January 4, 2008 at 2:22 am

    I can’t think of a suitable translation, but then I’m currently struggling with 96,000 words so my brain is rather tired.
    Anyway, could it be the case that a phrase, proverb, etc. in one language only has an equivalent in another *if* it relates to an experience the speakers of the latter language have had at some point in their history? Therefore, if there is indeed no French equivalent for ‘misery loves company’, it might mean that, when they’re unhappy, the French think no one else’s unhappiness could possibly be as painful as theirs and they couldn’t get any comfort from knowing they’re not alone. We’re supposed to be arrogant, aren’t we? LOL!

  7. céline January 4, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Thanks a lot everyone for your input, very interesting. Doesn’t "tonto" mean "idiot" in Spanish? In which case I don’t quite get it. This reminds me I am absolutely determined to revive my moribund Spanish in 2008.
    The Montherlant quote is absolutely spot on and shows that even if a common proverb doesn’t exist in French, the concept is still there, almost I was almost convinced by your explanation Bela.
    Oh and happy 2008 everyone!

  8. Jeronimo January 4, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Yes, Céline, “tonto” means “fool” or “idiot” in Spanish. This “Mal de muchos, consuelo de tontos” expression means that if you feel better because other people are suffering the same misery as you, then you are an idiot.

  9. Bela January 5, 2008 at 2:31 am

    So we’re not so arrogant after all. I am very pleased to be proved wrong in this instance.
    And then, of course, there’s the German Schadenfreude, which is really nasty. 🙁

  10. Bela January 6, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    May I suggest, ‘Les malheureux se consolent entre eux.’ Or, ‘Le malheur d’autrui réconforte les infortunés.’ Not as short and punchy as the English (twice as many words), but not too long-winded for a French sentence, I don’t think. (It’s only taken me three days to come up with the above. I’m blaming my advancing years. 🙂

  11. jean-paul January 7, 2008 at 5:46 am

    Very good Bela. If I may take a leaf from you, may I suggest: “L’infortune d’autrui soulage le malheureux.”

  12. language hat January 7, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    I found a Dictionary of European Proverbs by Emanuel Strauss that has (on page 351):
    a) à raconter ses maux, souvent on les soulage
    b) la consolation des malheureux, c’est d’avoir des compagnons de leur misère
    c) nous souffrons tous, mais parler nous soulage
    d) parler de ses peines, c’est déjà se consoler

  13. céline January 8, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Thanks a lot! The best option here seems to be b).

  14. Bela January 8, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    I like your suggestion very much, J-P: much more elegant than mine. 🙂

  15. jean-paul January 9, 2008 at 6:24 am

    Not more elegant , Bela, just different. I was thinking of La Fontaine and thought that I should come up with an alexandrine.It seems to work if read as such, that is 6+6 with the caesura occurring after autrui.

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