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An vs. Année

We've discussed the differences in meaning between the two ways of saying “day" (jour/journée), “morning” (matin/matinée), and “evening” (soir/soirée). Now we’ll take a look at the remaining word pair, an/année (year).

 

An/année works similarly to the other word pairs. The masculine term (un an) usually refers to a specific point in time with an emphasis on quantity, while its feminine counterpart (une année) focuses on duration, content, and quality. 

 

However, there are many exceptions, mostly with année. So, let’s begin with time expressions that call for année exclusively.

 

The demonstrative adjective ce (this) is always paired with annéecette année (this year).

 

Cette année, nous avons décidé d'interviewer Vincent Glad

This year, we decided to interview Vincent Glad

Caption 20, Caroline et l'Express

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Even though we can say ce matin/soir/jour (this morning/evening/day), we can never say cet an! Logic doesn’t always apply…

 

We also always use année with ordinal numbers like première/deuxième/dernière (first/second/last). So we say la première année (the first year):

 

Et c'est la première année qu'on a autant de monde qui reste à la party.

And this is the first year that we had so many people stay at the party.

Caption 27, Ultimate frisbee KYM, le tournoi

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Année is also required with the indefinite adjective quelques (a few): quelques années (a few years). In the conversation below, two friends discuss what they did il y a quelques années (a few years ago):

 

Oh, j'y allais beaucoup avec ma fille, il y a quelques années.

Oh, I used to go there a lot with my daughter a few years ago.

Caption 47, Claire et Philippe La campagne

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The same rule applies to indefinite plural article des (some), as in depuis des années (for years). In the video below, Caroline tells her friend Amal, who has been singing depuis des années (for years), that she should stop because she’s an awful singer. Apparently, Caroline has been putting up with her bad singing for years:

 

Euh... je sais que tu fais ça depuis des années.

Uh... I know that you've been doing this for years.

Caption 7, Amal et Caroline Je n'aime pas quand tu chantes

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And Amal is wondering what took Caroline so long to finally tell her what she really thinks. After all, they’ve been friends depuis plusieurs années (for several years):

 

Justement on est amies depuis plusieurs années.

As it happens, we've been friends for several years.

Caption 45, Amal et Caroline Je n'aime pas quand tu chantes

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Although we say chaque jour (each day), we can’t say chaque an, even though we're referring to a specific point in time. We have to say chaque année (every/each year). In the video below, a journalist asks people on the street if they come to the gay pride parade “every year," first using tous les ans, then chaque année.

 

Tous les ans (every year) is more or less equivalent to chaque année, except it emphasizes the quantity of years. It literally means "all the years":

 

Vous venez tous les ans ou pas? -Oui, tous les ans.

Do you come every year or not? -Yes, every year.

Captions 11-12, Gay Pride La fierté

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Then the journalist uses chaque année (every year) to emphasize the experience itself:

 

Et pour vous c'est important de... chaque année renouveler, euh...?

And for you is it important to... every year, to repeat, uh...?

Caption 13, Gay Pride La fierté

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The journalist could have also asked the people combien d’années (how many years) they had been going to the parade:

 

Vous y allez depuis combien d’années?

How many years have you been going there?

 

Finally, we have one more instance that requires année: de/en quelle année (from/in what year). In the example below, Lionel asks de quelle année (from what year) the cloister dates:

 

Et le cloître, il date de quelle année?

And the cloister, it dates from what year?

Caption 1, Lionel La Cathédrale de Toul - Part 2

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Interestingly, to answer the question de quelle année (from what year), we revert to the masculine term an(s) to refer to the specific point in time:

 

La plus vieille structure que l'on ait trouvée date de six mille cinq cents ans avant Jésus-Christ.

The oldest [umbrella] structure that was found dates back to six thousand five hundred years before Jesus Christ [BC].

Captions 74-76, Pep's Réparation de parapluies

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We almost always say an with numbers and dates. So, we use an to date a building or an object and, of course, to describe the age of a person:

 

Pierre a alors vingt-six ans quand est déclenchée la Seconde Guerre mondiale.

Pierre was twenty-six years old then when the Second World War started.

Captions 36-37, TV Vendée Vendée : Pierre Zucchi, 104 ans, raconte ses mémoires

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With time expressions like pendant (for/during), we tend to use ans for counting the years. In the first part of this video, the journalist tells the story of a woman who decided to give up sugar pendant un an (for a year), with an emphasis on a definite time:

 

Elle a décidé de supprimer le sucre de son alimentation pendant un an.

She decided to remove sugar from her diet for a year.

Caption 2, Le Figaro Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 1

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Then the journalist switches to pendant une année (for a year) to emphasize the woman's experience: 

 

Et vous avez raconté cette expérience de supprimer le sucre de votre alimentation dans cet ouvrage, "Zéro sucre", pendant une année.

And you recounted this experience of removing sugar from your diet in this book, "Zero Sugar," for a year.

Captions 10-12, Le Figaro Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 1

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As you may have noticed, there is some flexibility within those guidelines depending on the situation. So much so that, sometimes, the choice is entirely yours! For example, the expressions l’an prochain/dernier and l’année prochaine/dernière (next/last year) are pretty much interchangeable, as the difference in meaning is negligible. 

 

Here, the speaker uses l’an dernier to refer to a point in time, but l’année dernière would have worked too:

 

L'an dernier, huit départements français avaient participé à cette enquête.

Last year, eight French departments had participated in this survey.

Caption 17, Canal 32 Les secrets des cailles des blés

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And in this example, the speaker uses l’année dernière, as the exact timing is not as important as what happened. But he just as well could have said l’an dernier:

 

Ça a commencé l'année dernière.

It started last year.

Caption 6, Le Jour où tout a basculé À l'audience: Mon chirurgien était ivre - Part 4

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Here are a few examples of idiomatic expressions with an/année.

 

To refer to New Year’s, the public holiday, we say le Nouvel An:

 

...au lendemain du réveillon du Nouvel An.

...to the day after the New Year's Eve celebration.

Caption 34, TV Vendée Fêtes de fin d’année : manger léger et équilibré

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(Note, however, that when referring to the “new year” in general, we say la nouvelle année.) 

 

And au Nouvel An, on New Year’s Day, it’s customary to wish everyone bonne année et bonne santé (Happy New Year and good health), which is what this Good Samaritan did while visiting the homeless:

 

Merci beaucoup. Bonne année et bonne santé.

Thank you very much. Happy New Year and good health.

Caption 27, Dao Evolution Noël pour les sans-abris

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Le Nouvel An (New Year’s Day) may be a time to reflect on the old days, like les années cinquante (the fifties), which was a time of decline for the Hôtel Negresco in Nice:

 

La crise économique de mille neuf cent vingt-neuf ralentissent le fonctionnement de l'hôtel qui se trouve au bord de la faillite dans les années cinquante.

The economic crisis of nineteen twenty-nine slow down the operation of the hotel, which finds itself on the verge of bankruptcy in the fifties.

Captions 27-30, Le saviez-vous? L'hôtel Negresco - Part 1

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And if nothing fazes you, you might use the slang phrase:

 

Je m’en moque comme de l’an quarante.

I couldn’t care less (literally, "l don't care about it like [I don't care about] the year forty").

 

For more idiomatic expressions, click here.

 

In conclusion, the choice between an and année is somewhat subjective and contradictory with its many exceptions, so let’s recap.

 

Expressions that go with année are as follows:

 

la dernière/première/deuxième année (the last year/first year/second year)

pendant l’année (during the year)

plusieurs années (several years)

quelques années (a few years)

chaque année (each/every year)

toute l’année (all year)

durant/pendant des années (for years)

cette année (this year)

combien d'années (how many years)

quelle année (what year)

 

Expressions that go with either an or année include:

 

l’année dernière/l’an dernier (last year)

l’année prochaine/l’an prochain (next year)

 

Just remember that in general, an is used to refer to a point in time and année to emphasize duration.

 

Bonne journée et bonne lecture! (Enjoy your day, and happy reading!).

Vocabulary

It All Sounds the Same to Me! - A Lesson on Homophones

Have you noticed that while some French words have many variations in spelling, they sound the same?

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

 

For example, the words un verre, un ver, vers, and vert(s) share the same pronunciation yet have different meanings. That makes them homophones.

 

Homophones are especially common in French as the letters t, d, and s, when placed at the end of a word, are usually silent.

 

Check out Patricia’s video on homophones and homonyms, which she turned into a fun story.

 

Let’s examine the examples mentioned earlier.

 

Un verre can mean "a glass" or "a drink." The expression boire un verre means "to have a drink." Or, you can say prendre un verre.

 

On est tous là avec juste l'envie de passer un bon moment, de boire un verre

We are all here just with the desire to have a good time, to have a drink

Caption 52, Actu Vingtième Vendanges parisiennes

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Le verre also refers to the material itself. It means "glass," as in English:

 

Nous sommes maintenant chez le souffleur de verre de L'Isle-Adam.

We are now at the L'Isle-Adam glassblower's.

Caption 11, Voyage en France L'Isle-Adam - Part 4

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Speaking of verre, did you know that Cinderella’s slippers might originally have been made not of verre, but of vair (squirrel fur)?

 

Some scholars believe the original fable described pantoufles de vair (squirrel fur slippers), which became pantoufles de verre (glass slippers) in Charles Perrault's famous version. No one knows if he made a mistake or simply chose a new material for the slippers in his version of the fairy tale.

 

From squirrels to worms…. Un ver de terre is an earthworm, a critter that Claire and Philippe remember fondly in their La campagne video.

 

Alors elle prenait le petit ver de terre dans la main.

So she used to take the little earthworm in her hand.

Caption 71, Claire et Philippe La campagne

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And the poetically named ver solitaire (literally, "solitary worm") is the French word for "tapeworm”!

 

If the thought of many vers solitaires turns you off (vers being the plural of ver), let’s turn toward vers, an innocuous word that simply means "toward."

 

In the Actus Quartier video, this young lady is looking toward the future:

 

Je suis tournée vers l'avenir et vers tout ce qu'on va construire... 

I'm looking toward the future and toward all that we're going to build… 

Caption 40, Actus Quartier Fête de la rose au caviar rouge

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Vers also means "around," "about":

 

Plutôt vers deux heures du matin

Instead around two o'clock in the morning

Caption 60, Adrien Le métro parisien

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Now, for a more colorful version of this homophone, you have the word vert, which means "green." 

 

As you probably know, vert, like most adjectives, takes on masculine, feminine, and plural endings. For more information on adjective agreements, refer to previous lessons.

 

As mentioned earlier, -t and -s are often not pronounced at the end of a word. So vert (masculine singular) sounds exactly like verts (masculine plural). However, note that vert will become verte when agreeing with a feminine singular noun, and the t in verte will be pronounced! 

 

Donc, on va écrire "vert". Masculin. Sinon... "verte".

So we're going to write "green." Masculine. Otherwise... "green" [feminine].

Caption 28, Leçons avec Lionel Couleurs

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Now that you’ve acquainted yourself with homophones, you’ll be surprised how many you'll be able to spot! But if you haven't satisfied your appetite for homophones, click here to learn some more.

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