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French Word of the Day: Cohabitation

The Local France
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French Word of the Day: Cohabitation
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This is nothing to do with your untidy roommate.

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Why do I need to know cohabitation?

Because it will help you talk about French politics.

What does it mean?

Cohabitation – pronounced koe-ha-bih-tah-see-ohn – technically translates to ‘cohabitation’ in English, and it can be used in many of the same ways as its anglophone counterpart, but in French it is more aptly defined as coexistence.

Typically, the phrase does not have to do with sharing a living space - the French word colocation is used to mean sharing a house or apartment.

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The most common use of this term is political. When the president of the Republic is from one party, but the parliamentary majority is made up of the opposing party, then the French government enters a state of cohabitation - essentially a forced co-operation between two different parties. 

So far, this has occurred three times under the Fifth Republic with presidents François Mitterand and Jacques Chirac forced into uneasy alliances with political rivals. The last such cohabitation ended in 2002, but the phrase is back in the news because it's one of the possible outcomes of the snap parliamentary elections that president Emmanuel Macron has called.

Use it like this

L'objectif des opposants est d'imposer à Emmanuel Macron une cohabitation – The opposing parties’ goal is to force a ‘cohabitation’ on Emmanuel Macron

La réforme constitutionnelle de 2000 a fait passer le mandat présidentiel de sept à cinq ans, ce qui a été fait en partie pour éviter le risque de cohabitation. – The constitutional reform in 2000 changed the length of the presidential term from seven years to five years, which was partially done to avoid the risk of cohabitation.

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