From cluster to coronapiste: The new words entering the French dictionary

The health crisis has changed daily life in France in so many ways that it should come as little surprise that it has added an unusually high number of new words to the French language.

From cluster to coronapiste: The new words entering the French dictionary
Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP

French dictionary Le Petit Larousse has added 170 new words to its 2022 dictionary, many of them a direct and indirect result of the pandemic. 

In a normal year, about 150 are added, distilled down over the course of a year from a selection of around 1,000 candidate words, Bernard Cerquiglini, professor of linguistics and adviser to Le Petit Larousse, told France Info.

“I’ve never seen such a linguistic change. To me it seems similar to what happened during the French revolution, an upheaval, the appearance of new words and meanings and above all a collective appropriation of the language,” he said.

READ ALSO The 29 French words and phrases we’ve learned during a year-long health crisis

Among the new entries are the nouns Sars-CoV-2 and Covid-19. The dictionary follows the ruling of France’s language guardians Academie française that it is le coronavirus but la Covid-19.

La quatorzaine – a 14-day quarantine period, a portmanteau of quatorze (14) and la quaranatine (quarantine)

La réa – a shortened version of réanimation or intensive care in a hospital context

Télétravailler – home-working or remote working. Télé can be added to many words to imply that they are done online, such as télémédicine for an online medical consultation, which also became far more widespread during the pandemic   

Le gel hydroalcoolique – hand gel

Le patient zéro – Patient zero or the first patient to be diagnosed with a condition, often the source of a cluster

Le cluster – the anglicism ‘cluster’ has become widely used over the past year to describe a cluster of related cases of the virus

La coronapiste – cycle paths created to encourage cycling and reduce the number of public transport users during the pandemic. A new coinage, this is another portmanteau, of coronavirus and piste cyclable or cycle path

As well as the new creations were words that had previously been obscure, rarely used or largely forgotten

Le confinement and le déconfinement have returned to daily use and the pages of Le Petit Larousse, after years of only being used in the nuclear field. Yet as the words to describe the lockdown and then the lifting of lockdown they have become hugely important to everyday life.

Le reconfinement, meanwhile, is a newer construction describing the process of going back into lockdown after a period or relative freedom.

Asymptomatique is more than 100 years old, but had fallen out of use, according to Le Figaro, but has been in common parlance to talk about people who test positive for Covid, yet have no symptoms

L’écouvillon – this now means the nasal swab used for Covid tests, but had been in common use in the Middle Ages to describe cylindrical brushes used to clean the barrels of muskets and cannon. 

Meanwhile, the adjective racisé – to describe a someone who is the object of racist perception and/or behaviour – reflects headline-making events of the past 12 months, including reaction to the police killing of George Floyd in the United States. 

So far, the members of the Académie Française, official bastions of the language, have kept their opinions of some the new entries, which include click-and-collect (the recognisably French cliquer-retirer is also included), batch cooking, and mocktail, to themselves. 

But the Académie’s long-standing distrust of anglicisms is well known. It has come up with many French alternatives to widely-used English words although their adoption by the French people is usually mixed, with most pople inexplicably preferring le wifi to the Academie’s preferred l’access sans fil à internet (wireless access to the internet).

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
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.