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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: Mettre le holà

This might look like a mix of Spanish and French, but it is definitely not Franish.

French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

Why do I need to know mettre le holà?

Because you might need to do this if your friends go from laughing with you to laughing at you. 

What does it mean?

Mettre le holà – pronounced meh-truh luh oh-la – literally means to put the ‘holà’ on something. You might be thinking this must be some clever mix of Spanish and French, but ‘holà’ actually has nothing to do with the Spanish greeting. 

This expression is a way to say that’s enough – or to ‘put the brakes on something.’

If a situation appears to be agitated, and you feel the need to intervene in order to help calm things down, then this might be the expression you would use. Another way of saying it in English might be to ‘put the kibosh on it.’

While the origins of ‘kibosh’ appear to be unknown, ‘holà’ goes back to the 14th century in France. Back then, people would shout “Ho! Qui va là?” (Oh, who goes there?) as an interjection to call someone out or challenge them. 

Over time this transformed into the simple holà, which you might hear on the streets, particularly if you engage in some risky jaywalking. 

A French synonym for this expression is ‘freiner’ – which literally means ‘to break’ or ‘put the brakes on,’ and can be used figuratively as well as literally. 

Use it like this

Tu aurais dû mettre le holà tout de suite. Cette conversation a duré bien trop longtemps, et il était si offensif. – You should have put a stop to that immediately. That conversation went on for too long, and he was so offensive. 

J’ai essayé de mettre le holà à la blague sur ma mère, mais ils étaient sans pitié. – I tried to put a stop to the joke about my mother, but they were merciless.