French word of the Day: Dommage

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The Local ([email protected]) • 2 Nov, 2021 Updated Tue 2 Nov 2021 11:22 CEST
French word of the Day: Dommage

A commonly-used French word that can have several different meanings.


Why do I need to know Dommage?

Because the French use it all the time, and it can easily be misunderstood - as proved by a letter about the post-Brexit fishing row between France and the UK that the French Prime Minister Jean Castex sent to European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen. 

Castex wrote: 

"Il est indispensable de montrer clairement aux opinions publiques européennes que le respect des engagements souscrits n'est pas négociable et qu'il y a davantage de dommages à quitter l'Union européenne qu'à y demeurer."

"It is essential to clearly show to European public opinion that respecting agreements is non-negotiable and that there is more harm to leaving the European Union than staying in it."

Castex was saying it was important that Britain respect the agreements signed and that if it did not, Brussels should demonstrate that it could be more costly to be out of the EU than to remain in it. 

But the word dommages caused some translation problems, with headlines in the UK interpreting the comment as: “France tells Brussels it must demonstrate that Britain has been damaged by leaving the EU”. 



What does it mean? 

Dommage has three different meanings. 

It can be used when there is damage, either material damage like a storm-damaged roof or non-physical harm such as in the Castex letter.

It also has a more legalistic meaning when you get 'damages' in the sense of financial compensation. If you're using it in this sense or the sense of causing physical damage it is usually plural - dommages

But the French also use it a lot in their daily lives to express their disappointment, and this is probably the most common usage.

Use it like this

Quel dommage que vous ne restiez pas plus longtemps ! – It’s such a shame you’re not staying longer!

Tu ne viens pas au ciné avec nous ? Dommage ! – You’re not coming to the movie theatre with us? That’s a pity!

Est-ce que l’assurance va payer les dommages causés par la tempête ? – Will the insurance cover the damage caused by the storm? 

L’entreprise va payer des dommages pour mon licenciement. – The firm will pay damages for my redundancy. 


Quel gâchis ! – What a waste!

C’est vraiment pas de chance – That’s a real pity. 

Il est regrettable de dormir toute la journée – It’s a shame to sleep all day. 

Il y a fait beaucoup de dégâts – There’s a lot of damage. 


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