OVNI. ONG. ONU.
Yes, this is the beginning of a lesson in French—not some crazy, alien language.
The French love their acronyms.
This is exciting news for those of us who delighted in Pig Latin as children.
The rest of you might be thinking, “I don’t want any more complicated stuff in my already complicated French learning!”
If that’s your concern, worry no more, my friend. Acronyms will be your new best friends.
They’re nothing complicated. Actually, I’m sure you’ve already encountered them in French a time or two, but perhaps no one has properly introduced them to you. And no, this is real, legit French we’re talking about—nothing to do with youngster usage of SMS language use.
What are they then? Acronyms are those words made up from initials we use for long phrases such as USA (United States of America) or UK (United Kingdom). Simple, right?
Now, your next question might be…
Why Bother with French Acronyms?
It’s very simple. They’re everywhere.
We use them all the time in our languages but we don’t often realize it, and in some languages like French, they use them even more. It’s like they have some kind of addiction! Or a serious case of laziness, I’m not sure yet.
“C’est qui lui ?” (Who is he?), you might ask a friend.
“C’est le PDG de la boîte” (He’s the PDG of the “box”), he can reply.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, your friend hasn’t just told you that someone works in something related with boxes, but that the person you asked him about was the CEO of the company, boîte (box) being a slang term for “company.”
Still not convinced? What about all those ONG or the ONU you hear them talking about on French news broadcasts?
- ONG (Organisation non gouvernementale) = NGO (non-governmental organization)
- ONU (Organisation des Nations Unies) = UN (United Nations)
Or what about those common medical terms like SIDA or ADN, the CV that we all try to improve in order to get a job, the OGM we eat or the OVNI we might secretly like to find about at nights?
- SIDA (syndrome immunodéficitaire acquis) = AIDS (autoimmune deficiency syndrome)
- ADN (acide désoxyribonucléique) = DNA (dioxyribonucleic acid)
- CV (curriculum vitae) = CV (curriculum vitae)
- OVNI (objet volant non identifié) = UFO (unidentified flying object)
As you can see, it’s pretty useful to be able to translate these and know how to use them in casual French.
The extra motivation you need to have here is that, as I mentioned before, French uses acronyms for a lot of concepts besides the little list I’ve just given you which does anyway exist in many languages.
To see this in action, and learn other little quirks of the language along with new vocab and grammar concepts, check out FluentU.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
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You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
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It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
Ready to acronymize yourself then? Go!
30 French Acronyms That Sound Alien to English Speakers
Are you perhaps thinking about traveling to France? But wait, what France, metropolitan France? Or the DOM-TOM? (départements d’outre-mer et Territoires d’outre-mer – French overseas departments and territories).
If you decide to stay in continental France, why not take the train? The SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français – National Society of French Railways) will be delighted to take you wherever you want to go.
“But what if I’m in a bit of a hurry? France is a large country!” No problem, the TGV (train à grande vitesse – high-speed train) runs at around 300 km/h (186 mph).
However, if you prefer a more mainstream trip and decide to stay in Paris then you’ll definitely need the services of the RATP (Régie autonome des transports parisiens – Autonomous Operator of Parisian Transports). Whatever means of transport you take around there, they’ll be in charge of it.
What’s that? You absolutely want to visit Versailles and Disneyland while in Paris? Take the RER (réseau express régional – Regional Express Network), its five lines will do the job.
Whichever your choice, don’t forget to book a AR (aller/retour – round trip) ticket! You don’t want to stay trapped in France, or do you?
One of the first things you’ll need to learn if you’re going to be exchanging emails or messages in general with a French speaker is the little acronyms they frequently use when writing, not speaking.
SVP / STP
Your texts may include things like svp (s’il vous plaît) or stp (s’il te plaît), both meaning “please,” it just depends on the level of formality. RSVP (Répondez s’il vous plaît – please reply) also exists, but it’s a little less commonly used nowadays.
The acronym c.-à-d. (c’est à dire – in other words, i.e.) is great for linking your ideas together and giving examples.
Another one which you’ll see A LOT, rdv (rendez-vous – appointment, date or meeting).
“N’oublie pas notre rdv à 17h stp.”
“Please, don’t forget our meeting at 5 p.m.”
After an appointment you need to show up somewhere, don’t you? In France that somewhere might be the RDC (rez-de-chaussée – ground floor/first floor)…
…and thus make you feel relieved about not having to climb too many stairs because there’s a HS (hors service – out of service) sign on the elevator.
Leaving meetings aside, there are two ways of describing people, particularly young people, which you should be aware of. A BCBG (bon chic bon genre) may sound cool because it has the word “chic” on it, but not so much, it’s more like a preppy person.
On the other hand, a BG (beau gosse) tends to be a good-looking guy (lit. good-looking kid), although it can sometimes be used au second degré (literally “to a second degree,” figuratively meaning “ironically”).
One more B- acronym. Do you enjoy reading comics? Note this one down, BD (bande dessinée – comic), literally meaning “drawn strip.”
Or perhaps you’re more of a film person, which means you know that films in VO (version originale – original version) are better.
Why not start boosting your French with a good VF (version française – French version) movie then?
Or if you’re still not too confident about it, perhaps you could try a VOSTFR (version originale sous-titrée en français – original version subtitled in French) one.
I hope you’ll never have to use any of these two acronyms very much, but at least you’re very likely to see an ambulance with the letters SAMU (service d’aide médicale urgente – emergency medical services) written on it.
Or the term IVG (Interruption volontaire de grossesse – Abortion, lit. Intentional pregnancy interruption) in the newspapers, just as in this Le Monde‘s article.
There are as well at least two terms in the housing domain that are easy to be heard on the media or in daily conversations.
The first one is an equivalent to what you’d call a homeless person in English, sometimes referred to as a sans-abri (lit. without shelter) in French or, and here comes the acronym, SDF (sans domicile fixe – without a fixed home).
The second one is HLM (Habitation à loyer moderé – Social housing), or literally “reduced rent home,” which is very common in the suburbs of big cities such as Paris, Lyon or Marseilles.
“Beaucoup de jeunes de banlieue habitent avec leur famille dans des HLM.”
“Many young people from the suburbs live in social housing with their family.”
Work, Law and Money
Last but not least, we have to talk about money. Not because it’s particularly fascinating, but because there are a lot of acronyms related to it, and kind of the ones you want to know about.
Let’s start with prices. When we’re buying something it’s good to know if taxes are included or not, isn’t it? Then you will need to pay attention to the terms TTC (toutes taxes comprises – including all taxes) or HT (hors taxes – excluding taxes) if you don’t want to get unpleasant surprises when paying.
Are you buying online? Then be also careful with the FDP (frais de port – shipping costs). However, this acronym can also stand for another phrase which begins with fils... and ends in a pretty bad word, which I’ll let you find out for yourself.
In any case, you’re likely to use a CB (carte bancaire – credit card), also known as carte bleue (blue card), even if it’s not always blue.
As for the working terms, there are also a good amount of them. When getting hired, you might sign a CDI (contrat à durée indéterminée – permanent contract) or a CDD (contrat à durée déterminée – fixed-term contract).
And if you’re hired you’ll of course be payed a salary, hopefully significantly higher than the SMIC (salaire minimum interprofessionnel de croissance – minimum wage).
Anyway, before any of that happens you must have already given the company your RIB (relevé d’identité bancaire – bank account details), otherwise no payment is going to come your way, and we don’t want that to happen!
Regarding places or sectors to work in, there’s the PME (petites et moyennes entreprises – small and medium sized business) and the BTP (bâtiments et travaux publics – construction industry), or…
…if you don’t behave yourself, you may end up either reading a PV (procès-verbal – summary report of events) or having to do some TIG (travaux d’intérêt général – community service), so you better be a nice citizen!
So, voilà, there you have your 30+ acronyms. Hope you can start making a good use of them ASAP! See what I did there?
Sure you’re not going to be using them all the time, but the important thing here is to at least have an idea of what they mean when you really need them, you never know when they can come in handy!
Beatriz Moreno is the creator and hands behind the language blog Anything but language, where she shares her love for all things language in both her native Spanish and in English.
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