Last Updated: 1 February 2023

Frère Jacques is a traditional French children's song with lyrics dating from the 18th century.

The story of the song

Frère Jacques is arguably the most famous French children's song. it is known throughout the world and has been translated into many languages.

According to the historian and musicologist Sylvie Bouissou, the song was long considered anonymous, but recent research argued it was written by Jean-Philippe Rameau in the 18th century.

For Francesca Draughon and Raymond Knapp, "Frère Jacques" was originally a song to ridicule Jews, Protestants or Martin Luther.

Other scholars, such as Martine David and A. Marie Delrieu, suggest that "Frère Jacques" might have been created to mock the Dominican friars. They were known in France for their sloth and comfortable lifestyles.

The song was first published in the Recueil de Capelle, a collection of songs from 1811.

What is the song about?

The lyrics of the song refer to "les matines".

For Catholics, the first prayer of the liturgical day was called "les matines". The first morning prayer was intended to sanctify the time of night. 

A monk had to ring the bells in the middle or end of the night - hence the mention of a sleepy friar Jacques who overslept!

But why is the monk sleeping peacefully instead of ringing the bells calling for morning prayer?

Some believe that he may have had a little too much wine from the mass the night before!

True or not, you can use your imagination to guess why Friar Jacques doesn't wake up so much!

Frère Jacques

Frère Jacques

Lyrics, music, free download... let's learn more about the popular song:

Frère Jacques

The lyrics in French

The original song of Frère Jacques has one verse. The rhyme is traditionally sung in a round (canon in French).


Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques

Dormez-vous ? Dormez-vous ?

Sonnez les matines. Sonnez les matines.

Ding, daing, dong ! Ding, daing, dong !

Translation of the lyrics into English

Here is an approximative translation into English:


Brother Jacques, Brother Jacques,
Are you asleep? Are you asleep?
Ring out matins! Ring out matins!
Ding, daing, dong! Ding, daing, dong!

Other adaptations of the song

The French nursery rhyme has the distinction of having been translated into many languages. English, German, Italian and even Chinese, learn more about the different versions of the song.

English 🇬🇧

The song is known in English as Brother John or Are you sleeping:

Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?
Brother John, Brother John,
Morning bells are ringing! Morning bells are ringing!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

German 🇩🇪

The song is known in German as Bruder Jakob:

Bruder Jakob, Bruder Jakob,
Schläfst du noch? Schläfst du noch?
Hörst du nicht die Glocken? Hörst du nicht die Glocken?
Ding dang dong. Ding dang dong.

Italian 🇮🇹

The song is known in Italian as Fra Martino:

Fra Martino, campanaro,
Dormi tu? Dormi tu?
Suona le campane! Suona le campane!
Din, don, dan! Din, don, dan!

Download the Lyrics for FREE!

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Frère Jacques © French Moments

French Nursery Rhymes

My challenge for the year 2023 is to publish 80 French Nursery Rhymes lyrics and descriptions (list below). Come back as time goes by to discover the new articles:

About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of Discovery Courses and books about France.

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