French word of the day: Second

French word of the day: Second
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
In France, sometimes three's a crowd - linguistically speaking.

Why do I need to know second?

Because knowing how to accurately use this expression will earn you language points even some French people lack.

What does it mean?

Second is French for 'second', though slightly different than deuxième, which also means 'second'.

The subtle difference between second and deuxième is found in whether there were more than two of something, or whether the second thing was the last.

For example, you would say je suis arrivé deuxième à la fête (I arrived second to the party), indicating that more people came after you. But the second injection of the Covid-19 vaccine is la seconde injection, because it is the final one.

The rule is not obligatory, according to the language guardian Académie Française, so don't worry if you forget and get deuxième and second mixed up.

But if you do want to be completely accurate, use second (masculine) or seconde (feminine) anytime there are only two of something: seconde main (second hand), seconde nature (second nature) or seconde dose du vaccin Covid (second dose of the Covid vaccine).

There is also the habit of saying la Seconde Guerre mondiale (the Second World War), because there has not been a third (and we hope there won't be one) although Deuxième Geurre mondiale is also common.

Use it like this

Elle est la seconde femme intronisée au Panthéon. – She is the second woman laid to rest inside the Pantheon.

Louis était son second et dernier mari. Elle ne s'est jamais remariée depuis sa mort. – Louis was her second and last husband. She never remarried after his death.

En France nous avons décidé de ne pas décaler la seconde injection du vaccin Covid-19. – In France we have decided to not postpone the second injection of the Covid-19 vaccine. 


Member comments

  1. Puts a rather clear spin on the phrase “en secondes noces”. And if your spouse ever refers to you as deuxième, perhaps the alarm bells should start ringing.

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