Everyone gets excited about a photo finish. But what if there’s no photo? This is where the French expression y a pas photo comes in. Find out what it means and how to use it like a pro! Here’s the ultimate guide!


There is no photo!


English Meaning

The result is clear; the winner is evident.


French Meaning

Le résultat est clair, il n’y a aucun doute sur le vainqueur.


The Story Behind It


Let’s be honest: most of us aren’t elite athletes. But we’ve all seen competitions where a photograph is needed to establish who edged out the rest and should be declared the winner. This is the origin of the French expression il n’y a pas photo—or y a pas photo, in its informal form. More specifically, it comes from les courses hippiques (the horse races) where photos are used to determine “quelle paire de naseaux a passé la ligne en premier” (which pair of horse’s nostrils crossed the finish line first).


That said, in a situation where there’s a vast, yawning chasm between the victor and the rest of the field, we wouldn’t even need a photo. When the competition is not even close, when one thing so outperforms the others, when there is just no comparison between two things… bon, ben, y a pas photo !


It’s fun to think of this as the opposite of the English expression “it’s a horse race,” which indicates a tight race.


Grammar & Usage Notes


Reserve the shortened form y a pas for colloquial use. When writing, use the complete form: il n’y a pas.


Do not say photographe instead of photo. This is a faux ami. “Picture” is simply photo (or une photographie). But photographe in French is actually a photographer, as in the profession. So saying “y a pas photographe” would mean there’s no photographer! (What’s photography as a hobby or practice? That’s la photographie.)


While your grammar training would tell you to turn the affirmative il y a une photo (“there is a photo”) into the negative il n’y a pas de photo (“there is no photo”), you want to put that aside here. As a fixed idiomatic expression, il n’y a pas photo doesn’t take the de that you’d normally use when negating an indefinite article. (However, if you’re not using the expression and are simply stating a fact, then follow the usual grammar rules and add the de.)


Unsurprisingly, this expression has kept its sporting roots: you’ll often hear and read it in sports commentary. But it can be used in almost any comparison where one thing is undoubtedly better than the others.




Il n’y a pas photo entre ces deux films. Le deuxième est clairement meilleur !
There’s no contest between these two movies. The second one is clearly better!


Qui est le meilleur chanteur ? Ben, c’est Frédéric ! Y a pas photo !
Who is the best singer? Why, it’s Frédéric! Hands down!

English Equivalents

  • No contest.
  • It’s not even close.
  • It’s not a photo finish.
  • Hands down.


French Equivalents

  • C’est certain.
  • C’est évident.
  • Il y a une nette différence.


• • •


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