I am trying to find a translation for the french idiom: avancer par à-coup. Google translate proposes to move jerkily but I am not sure this is correct.

The idea I want to express is: something is advancing by little shocks, or abrupt steps, not smoothly.

For example when somebody is learning to drive and the car moves fast and then slow and then fast again and then slow again, several time in 10 secondes, we will say:

la voiture avance par à-coup. 

According to Google translate the translation would be:

the car moves jerkily. 

Is this a good translation?

I have seen that The car kangaroos along could be used but I am not sure this will be understood in US. Also I am not sure fits and starts will work as the idea I want isn't that the car stops and restarts but that the car doesn't move smoothly.

  • 4
    I think changing from verb + adverb to verb is best. Use "the car jerks along" rather than "the car moves jerkily".
    – JMB
    Mar 20 '15 at 12:55
  • 2
    Agree with JMB (You should make an answer out of it, @JMB) move jerkily would be understood but doesn't sound natural. OP - your understanding of the shortcomings of the other two expressions is correct - Fits and starts implies that it is at rest for a few seconds, then runs well for a little while, then dies again, over and over. Kangaroo as a verb is totally unfamiliar to my AmE vocabulary, and I would have assumed it means that the car is literally bouncing into the air. Probably not what you meant?
    – Adam
    Mar 20 '15 at 15:31
  • 1
    The first thing that came to mind was "in or by fits and starts". Because it is an idiom, it doesn't always mean actual stopping and starting; it has come to also mean without regular or smooth progress at least in my AmE dialect. Other related words I can think of are "unsteadily", "fluctuating", and "sporadic".
    – ColleenV
    Mar 20 '15 at 17:07
  • never heard someone use the word jerkily before. Usually it's focused on the driver, since he is the one controlling the car. Like, "that maniac is swerving all over the place"
    Mar 20 '15 at 19:32

Partially inspired by TRomano's answer, I'd recommend "The car lurches forward." Concise, clear, active.


You could say

The car moves forward in lurches.

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