Meaning: Long live France!
Notes: Vive la France ! is a patriotic exclamation that you might hear on Bastille Day and around the time of French elections. Vive la France is somewhat similar in intent to « God bless America » and « God save the Queen, » though of course there is no religious reference in the French expression.
Vive, the third person singular subjunctive of the verb vivre (to live), was originally used in this type of expression as a third person imperative, but is now considered by most grammarians as an invariable presentative.*
It’s not uncommon for non-native French speakers to write viva la France, perhaps due to the influence of the term Viva Las Vegas, but viva is not a French word: it’s Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese. Even so, that doesn’t mean that viva la France means « long live France » in one of those languages; that would be viva Francia, viva la Francia, and viva França, respectively.
Vive is also used with other cherished things or people, such as
- vive le roi – long live the king
- vive la reine – long live the queen
- vive l’amour – long live love, hurray for love
- vive la différence – long live the difference
- vive les mariés* – long live the bride and groom
- vive les Bleus* – long live the French soccer team/players
- vive les vacances* – hurray for vacation / the holidays
*You might think that these should be plural (e.g., vivent les vacances), but according to Le Bon Usage, vive is invariable in this type of construction. Nevertheless, some native French speakers consider it a conjugated verb, and therefore use vive or vivent according to the number of the noun that follows.
New expressions with vive pop up all the time, such as in movies and advertising: vive les femmes (hurray for women), vive les produits pays (hurray for local products), Vive le vent(« long live the wind » – a French Christmas carol), etc. Sometimes they make it into the news; here are just a few interesting examples:
- vive le Lance – long live Lance [Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France]
- vive le Tour, forever – long live the Tour [de France], forever (Lance Armstrong, in his farewell speech)
- vive le Québec libre – long live free Quebec (Charles de Gaulle, during a controversial speech in Montreal in 1967)