[French] Can oublier also mean to forgive?

I am reading Wilde’s Dorian Gray in French translation, and have come across the well-known line about children starting off by loving their parents, growing to judge them, and then sometimes forgiving them.

Oddly, the French translator used oublier to capture the English ‘forgive’: “…quelquefois ils les oublient.” Google translates this as “sometimes they forget them” - which of course misses the meaning of Wilde’s aphorism.

Or can oublier also mean to forgive in some contexts?

Did the translator of the book make a mistake or no? What is most often used in French to translate"forgive"?


To my knowledge it’s not correct. Could you provide us with the exact sentence in French? I’m pretty sure it’s something like “ils oublient leurs torts, leurs fautes, leurs erreurs …”. It literally means forgetting about their faults, mistakes etc
In that case it’s correct, but if the sentence is about directly forgiving the parents, as persons, it’s not.

In French, ‘pardonner’ is most often used to translate ‘to forgive’.


It can means to forgive, although it is uncommon.

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It can be used figuratively to imply “forgiveness” and it is not impossible to use it in that sense in free translations as in your example, it may even convey the feeling quite well, so I don’t think it’s a mistake but I wouldn’t say it actually means “forgive” because you can always contrast both things a in:
Je pardonne mais je n’oublie pas [Note: I’d say “pardonner” is the most usual equivalent of “forgiving”]
Further famous example of this use:

Another example in this vein???

I’ve looked up “oublier” in this online dictionary:

Notice that “forgive” (pardonner) is not among the meanings but there is “ne point garder de ressentiment”, which, IMO, is the meaning that can imply forgiveness in the right context, as per your example. It is not a direct translation, however, because you need a rather specific context to convey this meaning… A further example would be that you (in some contexts) can say “oublier quelque chose” to imply “forget something” but you can never use “oublier quelqu’un” to mean “forget someone”.
E.g. “Please forgive me” can’t certainly be translated as “Oublie-moi stp”.
“Pardonner”, on the other hand, works in most (all?) contexts and it’s a much more direct rendering.

Do you have the whole sentence in French?

Les enfants commencent par aimer leurs parents ; en vieillissant ils les jugent ; quelquefois ils les oublient.

Here is the full sentence: Les enfants commencent par aimer leurs parents ; en vieillissant ils les jugent ; quelquefois ils les oublient.

I don’t think it means forgiving them, but literally forgetting. Otherwise, I would be very surprised, as a native speaker


They forget them

Gerwaldbommel gave you a good explanation

Yes. Though to be sure, Wilde’s quote is “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”

Thus the translator must have blundered.

It seems so. Funny (not closely related) fact: Oscar Wilde actually wrote his first literary success “Salomé” in French. Later on his lover and indirect cause for his prison sentence, “Bosey” translated it into English but Wilde seems to have found his translation rather flawed so he corrected it.
So, you can say that Wilde was very sensitive to mistranslations and in particular from French to English and the other way around. He must have been very annoyed by this mistake that you have discovered. On the other hand, that kind of mistakes are very frequent for what I have read myself.
Btw. since you seem to like Wilde and are reading French, maybe you’d like to read “Salomé” in the original.

Thank you for the info, I didn’t know this. Funny. I will check that out.