The vocabulary you need to fill in French forms (including the coronavirus ‘attestation’)

Bureaucracy occupies a central place in French life - and never more so than now, when you need a form every time you leave your home.

The vocabulary you need to fill in French forms (including the coronavirus 'attestation')
Photo: AFP

But the language of official paperwork can be dense, confusing and very different to everyday conversational French.

So here are some helpful phrases

READ ALSO Coronavirus lockdown permission form – how to find it and when you need it

Attestation – certificate. This is very common and can apply to all sorts of different paperwork. The form that you need to complete before leaving the house during the coronavirus lockdown is officially named the Attestation de déplacement dérogatoire  – certificate of travel.

But all sorts of things are named attestation – from your insurance certificate to the attestation de domicile that you can request from your local mairie to prove your residence.

Déclaration sur l'honneur – affidavit. If you don't have the required certificate to prove something, you can also provide a declaration on your honour. While this sounds like a rather old fashioned concept, it is simply a letter where you declare something to be true, and then sign and date it. It's an officially recognised document in France though so if you are found to have lied there could be consequences – and not just for your honour.

Dossier – file. This is simply the collection of paperwork that you submit for most bureaucratic procedures. You will be provided with a list of paperwork needed (which almost always includes ID and proof of address), and you collect then together and send it off.

The collection becomes your dossier. Make sure you follow the instructions given precisely or you will hear the dreaded words votre dossier est incomplet (your dossier is incomplete) which means you won't be getting whatever you need soon.

Also pay careful attention to how the organisation wants you to submit the dossier. One friend of ours received a phone call to say that her dossier had arrived, but it had been sent by normal post and not registered post as requested, so she needed to resend it. True story.

Nom – name. This always refers to your surname, your first name is your prénom

READ ALSO What's in a name – which name to fill in on French forms

Demeurant – residing. While some forms will simply ask for adresse others, particularly ones where you are making a declaration, might use the word demeurant. It means the same thing – you need to provide your address.

Né(e) le – date of birth. Again more usually seen on declarations, this means 'born on' so is asking you to fill in your date of birth. Date de naissance is the alternative to this.

Je soussigné(e) – I, the undersigned. Whenever you sign an official document in France you will find next to the line for your signature le for the date and à – at, you fill in the place where you are signing the document. You don't need the full address, a town will do. A document is not considered properly signed without these things.

If you are signing something like a rental contract, you also need to write in the words lu et approuvé (read and approved) above your signature, and on each page with your initials.

Effectuer – to carry out

The lockdown form also contains these phrases in the category for permitted essential journeys;

Exercice de l'activité profesionnelle – work-related activity

Achats de première necéssité – buying essential items

Motif de santé – health reasons

Motif famililale impérieux – vital family-related reasons

Activité physique individuelle – individual physical exercise

Some more general things you will see commonly requested on French paperwork include;

RIB (relevé d'identité bancaire) – bank details. When you open a bank account in France you will be given a number of pieces of paper with your bank account details on (and can download more if you have online banking). You will need to supply one every time you do a bureaucratic procedure, including setting up a direct debit.

Fiche de paie – payslip. Many things that require a proof of income will ask for your last three payslips, so make sure your company sends them out regularly and keep them handy.

Justificat de domicile – proof of address. This can be either a rental contract or purchase documents or utility bills, but not a mobile phone bill or correspondence from your bank.





Member comments

  1. In the South we’re restricted to a radius of 1km. And no more than an hour.
    Sounds about the same?

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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.