French won’t give up the fight against English but face losing battle

The presence of the English language continues to grow in France and often at the expense of French, but the government and its English speaking president aren't willing to throw the towel in, even if some linguists have lost hope.

French won't give up the fight against English but face losing battle
Black Friday rather than Vendredi Noir. Photo: AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron presented his strategy to promote his native language on Tuesday, aiming to make it the first language in Africa and “maybe even the world”.

France's youthful president has impressed foreign audiences by giving speeches and interviews in near-flawless English, a language viewed with hostility by predecessors like Jacques Chirac who once walked out of an EU meeting after a Frenchman began speaking English.

But while Macron has his sights on boosting the use of French around the globe, many in France are still fighting a battle against the growing presence of English back home, whether it's on TV screens, billboards, in shopping streets or just everyday conversations.

Despite seemingly fighting a losing battle there are many who won't give up the fight just yet.

“It's a big challenge right now,” said Michaëlle Jean, the secretary general of the community of French speaking nations, known as La Francophonie.

“There is a strong tendency for everything to be in English and for us it's a big loss,” Jean told Le Figaro.

“You can't imagine a democratic country with just one party and you equally can't imagine international diplomacy with only one unique language,” she said.

“Why should we only use English in certain areas such as research, science, management or administration? It's mind-boggling.

“I am really devastated to see that in the media and advertising the language of Shakespeare is considered more efficient and more cool than French. It's sending the wrong message.

Jean, who speaks five languages added: “Language is a source of know-how and knowledge and there is no heirarchy among languages.”

She is backed by others.

20 English words that should be banished from French

Linguist Loïc Depecker, the official “general delegate” of the French Language and Languages of France also lamented the systematic use in France of English, especially in the world of business and commerce.

Such use of English openly in streets in France or in the media is the most worrying for those who are fighting against it.

“This phenomenon worries us,” Depecker told Le Parisien newspaper.

“The use of the French language in the public space is one of our major concerns. By using English, shops are selling a sort of American dream, a dream of globalization.

“You get the impression that it is the language of modernity. We must worry about it, but we can not prevent freedom of commerce. From a legal point of view, there is nothing to complain about. “

The law in France states that “a French brand can perfectly be composed of one or more terms exclusively from English,” according to the National Institute of Industrial Property.

A walk down any French high street and you'll see shop names and advertising in English. Just a short walk from The Local's office in Paris and you can you eat at “Bangkok street food” or have a burger at “Big Corner” or pop to the Carrefour Market supermarket.

“It's not even just in Paris. Entrepreneurs think it's more funky, more trendy, more fun and more modern,” to use English, Cyril Gaillard, founder of Benefik, brand name creation agency told Le Parisien.

French told not to say 'smartphone' in ongoing battle against English

Gaillard himself does not advise companies to use English names believing it may exclude part of the French market but he accepts that one advantage English has is that “compared to French, it can often say more things with fewer letters.”

On television it's the same problem.

One of France's most popular shows is “The Voice” (La Voix) while another show is called “Wild” rather than the French word “sauvage”.

But what can the French really do? Some say the government should introduce more laws to limit the use of English as has been done in Quebec.

But many linguists themselves are against the idea.

“There are lines you cannot cross,” said Depecker. “You cannot impose a way of speaking on the public.”

Depecker supports the efforts made by government bodies to translate English terms into French as the best way of fighting back, but often the translations come too late with the English word already accepted by the French.

And often the suggested French options lead to ridicule among the French themselves which was the case when they asked people to drop the word smartphone and use “mobile-multifonction” instead.

Fellow linguist Jean Maillot who wrote a book pleading with the French to ditch 100 English words that have invaded French says the French are fighting a rearguard action.

“The longer it goes on, the more I lose hope,” he told Le Parisien. “There is a kind of laxity.” 

For members


Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.


Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty


Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 


And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  


Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.