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French word of the day: Second

In France, sometimes three's a crowd - linguistically speaking.

French word of the day: Second
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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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For members


French Expression of the Day: Les grands esprits se rencontrent

Though this phrase has a close English equivalent, it's just so much more poetic in French

French Expression of the Day: Les grands esprits se rencontrent

Why do I need to know les grands esprits se rencontrent?

Because you might want to use this phrase the next time you and a friend have the same idea for how to spend vacation.

What does it mean?

Les grands esprits se rencontrent – usually pronounced lay grand eh-spreets suh rahn-cahn-truh – literally translates to “the great minds meet each other” or “the great spirits meet each other.” More appropriately, the very poetic phrase in French translates to the English expression “great minds think alike.” 

For the French phrase, it actually finds its origins with Voltaire. In 1760, he wrote a letter to another well-known French writer at the time and included the phrase: “Les beaux esprits se rencontrent” (the beautiful minds meet each other) to emphasise the fact that both expressed the same idea at the same time.

Over time, the phrase switched from ‘beautiful’ minds to ‘great’ minds, but the meaning remains the same. The phrase is usually said ironically in French, and can be used more or less interchangeably with the English version of this expression (which curiously has different origins altogether). However, sadly, the French version does not include the snarky reply: “and fools seldom differ” 

Use it like this

J’avais envie de pizza pour le dîner mais je lui ai demandé ce qu’il voulait quand même et il a dit pizza. Les grands esprits se rencontrent ! – I was wanting pizza for dinner, but I asked him what he wanted anyways, and he said pizza. Great minds think alike!

Nous pensons tous deux que la vue de Paris depuis le Belvédère de Belleville est la meilleure de la ville. Les grands esprits se rencontrent. – We both think that the view of Paris from Belvédère de Belleville is the best of the city. Great minds think alike.