French word of the Day: Panne

French word of the Day: Panne
One for when things are going a little bit wrong.

Why do I need to know panne?

This is a handy word to know in case of problems, but you have also seen it in the news recently after a telephone maintenance glitch lead to France’s emergency services numbers becoming uncontactable.

 What does it mean?

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See also on The Local:

Une panne means a breakdown, while en panne means broken down or out of order – you may have seen it scribbled onto a piece of paper and stuck onto an out of order lift or left on the windscreen of a broken down car. 

The word was first recorded in France in the 1700s, and initially meant ‘soft, velvet-like cloth’, likely meaning it was a broken down material as opposed to a harder material. 

These days, the word can be used in a variety of forms to express a breakdown, a temporary lack of something, an interruption or a halt or in a more metaphorical sense to indicate that you have let someone down. 

Use it like this 

En panne – Out of order/broken 

Tomber en panne – Broken down (used if your car has broken down) 

Panne sèche – Out of gas

Laisser quelqu’un en panne – To let someone down

Nous sommes tombés en panne d’essence ! – We’ve run out of petrol!


Hors service – out of service or out of order, frequently shortened to HS (pronounced ashesse)

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