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SIDA to IRM to RIB: Everyday French initials and acronyms to know

Like many languages, French is increasingly addicted to initials and acronyms, which can be confusing for foreigners when used in everyday speech. Here are some of the most common.

French acronyms including PMA
Without knowing French acronyms it's hard to know what protestors are calling for. Photo: Jean-Francois Monnier/AFP

Many of these are obvious once you see the full name written out, but the different word order of French, where the adjective commonly comes after the noun, means that initials or acronyms are not always easy to work out.

Many of these are used in everyday speech, while official French communications are increasingly addicted to this type of alphabet soup.


Medicine is of course rife with acronyms but there are plenty of phrases that you will frequently hear used in a social or sporting context.

SIDALe syndrome d’immunodéficience acquise or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, better known as AIDS. HIV in French is VIH (virus de l’immunodéficience humaine). SIDA is an acronym so it’s pronounced see-da.

SDFSans domicile fixe – without a fixed abode or in other words homeless. Sans-abri (without shelter) is also used to describe the homeless but SDF (pronounced es-day-eff) is common too and not just in government publications. You might see headlines like Un SDF retrouvé mort au pied de la cathédrale – A homeless man was found dead in front of the cathedral.

IRMImagerie par résonance magnétique or Magnetic resonance imaging, commonly known as MRI. If you have a soft tissue injury you’re likely to be sent for an ee-aire-em if you are in France.

PMAProcréation médicalement assistée – medically assisted reproduction, usually known in English as IVF (In vitro fertilisation). IVF in France was recently extended to include lesbian couples and single women, so you will still hear people talking about PMA pour toutes – IVF for all. It’s pronounced pay-em-ah.

The PMU logo lets you know that you can place a bet. Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP

PMU – Not to be confused with PMA is PMU (Pari mutuel urbain) which is France’s leading gambling company. You will see their green logo everywhere, both at dedicated betting shops and at smaller cafés or tabacs where as well as having a coffee you can place a bet. These PMU (pay-em-oo) cafés are a popular hangout for old Frenchmen, especially in smaller towns.

JOJeux Olympiques. Immediately obvious once you see the full phrase, but whereas in English we tend to refer to the Olympic Games as simply ‘the Olympics’ in France it’s commonly shortened to Les JO (pronounced zhee-oh).


The financial world tends to be addicted to jargon, but even if you don’t work in this sector there are some very common acronyms related to money that you will need to know.

TVATaxe sur la valeur ajoutée or value-added tax known in English as VAT. This is the tax you pay when you buy goods or services, so if you’re getting a price estimate on something, make sure it includes TVA (tay-vay-ah) to let you know the amount you will actually be paying.

PIBProduit intérieur brut or gross domestic product (GDP). This one is often seen in headlines about France’s economic performance where PIB has either grown or shrunk.

SMICSalaire minimum de croissance, otherwise known as the minimum wage. This is an acronym so it’s pronounced ‘smeek’ and you’ll often hear it used in general conversation as written as a word – Smic, rather than SMIC.

This is important not just for people in low-wage jobs as it’s used as a general measure of subsistence, so for example visas that specify a minimum amount of money to ensure that people are financially self-sufficient will usually use the SMIC as a guideline amount. It changes regularly, but it’s currently €1,589.47 a month before tax for a full-time worker while the pre-tax hourly rate is €10.48.

QGQuartier général is the ‘general quarters’ known in English as headquarters or HQ. As in English QG (coo-shay) can be used in the specific sense of the head office of a business or political party, , or slightly more colloquially to describe the epicentre of something.

RIBRelevé d’Identité Bancaire. This doesn’t really directly translate into English but it means your bank account details. When you open a French account you will be given multiple copies of a RIB – a short document listing your bank account number, IBAN etc and when you set up a direct debit with companies you send them a copy of the RIB. It’s an acronym so it sounds like ‘reeb’.

READ ALSO The vocabulary you need to fill in French forms


Some organisations, both French and multinational, are commonly known by initials or acronyms so it’s worth knowing what they are.

OTANOrganisation du traité de l’Atlantique nord, in English North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, know to much of the world as NATO. It’s pronounced oh-toh.

OMSOrganisation mondiale de la Santé or World Health Organisation (WHO). This one is initials so pronounced oh-em-es.

A member of the SNCF security staff. Photo by ERIC PIERMONT / AFP

SNCFSociété nationale des chemins de fer français (National society of French railways). We had to look this up to write this guide as the full name of the French state rail operator is virtually never used, it’s always simply referred to as SNCF and it’s often used as a shorthand for ‘the railways’ as well as to specifically refer to the company. Pronounced ess-en-say-eff. 

RATPRégie Autonome des Transports Parisiens or the operator of the Paris public transport network. RATP runs the Metro, trams, buses and some of the RER lines, while SNCF runs the rest of the RER lines and the Transilien suburban train network – which is important to know if one or the other is on strike. We’re heard some anglophones pronounce this as rat-pee (in tribute to the substance that is fairly ubiquitous down in those Metro tunnels) but it’s actually aire-ah-tay-pay.

TGVTrain à grande vitesse. The much-loved French high-speed train is pronounced tay-zhay-vay. The TGV network covers intercity links, if you need to go to a smaller town or village you’ll likely need to connect via the slower local TER (tay-uh-aire) network.


While the above mostly refer to formal or semi-formal situations it’s also increasingly common to see abbreviations used in messages, especially on social media or text messages.

READ ALSO The abbreviations you need to navigate social media in French

SVP/STPs’il vous plaît/s’il te plaît. Quite commonly known even in English (such as RSVP on invitations) this is the abbreviation of the formal and informal way of saying please. You’ll commonly find these in informal messages like emails or text messages, and on signs requesting that customers do a certain thing. If you’re reading these out loud it would be more common to say the full s’il vous plâit/s’il te plâit than to spell out the initials.

CCcoucou. Unlike in English where Cc is most commonly used in a formal administrative sense (carbon copy, but usually used to mean copying someone into a message), cc in French is a common abbreviation for the informal greeting coucou. You’ll see it at the beginning of messages from friends, but it’s also common in unsolicited messages – especially on social media where they might have a picture of some genitalia attached. Lovely. 

JTMJe t’aime. Hopefully you’ll know someone pretty well before they send you this, it means they love you.

READ ALSO From ONS to JTM – How to tackle online dating in France

Member comments

  1. Non non 🙁 s’il vous plâit/s’il te plâit wrong accent location.
    S’il te plaît. S’il vous plaît. From placere latin for « être agréable ».

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The French TV series, radio shows and podcasts that will boost your language skills

Listening to French radio or podcasts or watching TV shows in French is a well known route to improving language skills. So we asked our readers to spell out a few of their favourites.

The French TV series, radio shows and podcasts that will boost your language skills

News programmes, quizzes and culinary reality show Top Chef were among the must-watch French TV shows for anyone keen to improve their language skills, while talk radio and local stations were also top tips from readers of The Local in response to a recent questionnaire.

Streaming video on demand services or DVDs were also among the recommendations, thanks to the ease with which programmes could be rewound and replayed. 

But the most common advice was to make liberal use of subtitles.

News channel France 24 was recommended by reader Seb Rocco, from Montpellier, who suggested that French learners could, “listen in French with English subtitles, or in English with French subtitles”.

Patricia Hobbs, from Lot-et-Garonne, suggested watching French news programmes with French subtitles, going so far as to say “in fact anything with subtitles in French”, to be able to match the sound to the spelling.

As well as M6’s Top Chef, the hugely popular comedy drama Dix Pour Cent, available on Netflix, was recommended for its help developing – ahem – more colloquial French, for which the Canal Plus series La Flamme also got a nod. 

Blood of the Vine on Amazon Prime, Arte TV’s 3x Manon and another Netflix series, Family Business, also got honourable mentions in our survey for helping French learners develop their language skills.

“DVDs with multilingual soundtracks are your friend,” Mike Gibb, who divides his time between Paris and London, wrote. “Play them in French, and if there are sections you don’t get, you can replay them a few times … and the English soundtrack is always there to give extra hints. 

“Most classic films, in black and white, or [from the] golden age of Hollywood will come with multiple soundtracks by default. For the rest, buy English-language originals from to find the versions with French dubbing.”

New Yorker John Hart added: “I like watching TV and movies that have been dubbed into french. Dubbed dialogue is often clearer, and sometimes simpler, than in the original language. Netflix is a great resource for this.”

Local radio stations were also highlighted as great resources for language learners. “[It’s] great to get a feeling of your region, the dialect, and of course news about events, recipes et cetera,” Dora Biloux, who lives in the southwest Occitanie region told us. “Learn the language and get information at the same time.”

She also recommended full immersion in French TV. “Ditch your dish and go for full on French TV – maybe with a package of some english language series, to ease the initial pain.”

And she – wisely – suggested listening to audiobooks. “Get an audiobook in a French translation of an English book that you know well.”

Other readers recommended France Inter radio, and news and talk radio in general.

As for podcasts, recommendations ranged from dedicated educational French language services to RFI’s “Journal Monde” and “Journal en Français Facile”, France Culture’s “Le Pourquoi du Comment: Économie et Social” and “La Question du Jour”, and Bababam’s “Maintenant Vous Savez”, France Inter’s ‘Popopop’ and ‘Autant en emporte l’histoire’, France Culture’s ‘Les Pieds sur Terre’, and Bababam’s ‘Home(icides)’ True Crime.

Keep an eye out for “Talking France,” The Local’s podcast that will be back up with new episodes starting at the end of May. We’ll help you learn some French!

Got any of your own recommendations? Tell us in the comments below, or send an email to [email protected]