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Tete-a-tete (pronounced tet-uh-tet) comes from the French tête-à-tête, which translates literally to head to head. In English, we use it mainly as (1) a noun meaning a private conversation between two people, (2) an adjective meaning involving two people conversing in private, and (3) an adverb meaning done in private between two people.

These are its conventional meanings, anyway. The phrase is also sometimes used to mean a match or competition between two people, and it’s sometimes used to refer to meetings or conversations that are not necessarily private or limited to two people.

We usually italicize loanwords and loan phrases that are new to English, but tete-a-tete has been in English for at least three centuries, so it usually goes unitalicized in normal use.

The phrase sometimes appears in English texts with the French accent marks. English speakers are not kind to these marks, though, and the anglicized, unaccented form is much more common.


To wit, at some point in time, after one of her daughter’s many brouhahas in Virginia, the two had a long tete-a-tete. [Baltimore Sun]

She met or dined with Tony Blair at least 30 times between 1998 and 2007, including three times tete-a-tete.[Independent]

Cher and Norquist are in a Twitter tete-a-tete. [Washington Post]

A fascinating tete-a-tete lies ahead for Olympic Games heptathlete contenders Sarah Cowley and Rebecca Wardell. [New Zealand Herald]