french-professions

Your Complete Guide to Professions in French: From Common Job Names to Formal Titles and Abbreviations

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you “grew up”?

And how about now? What do you spend your days doing?

Wait—sorry, I’m going to have to stop you there.

Before you go any further, I forgot to ask: Could you tell me about all of this in French?

Well, if you’re not there yet, this post will definitely help.

Whether you’re discussing childhood dreams, your current 9-5 day job or future aspirations, profession names are going to surface. So let’s make sure you can navigate that terrain in French!

Lucky for you, learning French professions not only expands your vocabulary, but it also happens to pair up nicely with a few basic grammar topics, as well as some interesting cultural information.
 


 
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Why Learn Professions in French?

So why study names of French professions in particular, and not just the workplace in general? Here are a few benefits you’ll gain by doing so:

  • Boost your professional stature. If you work for a multinational company, they may be impressed by your knowledge of French job titles. Who knows? It may facilitate a transfer abroad.
  • Gain confidence with small talk. When you first meet someone, “What do you do for a living?” is a question that usually pops up. By knowing names of job positions in French, you’ll significantly increase your chances of understanding the speaker’s response, and also be able to answer the same question yourself.

A Few French Grammar Rules Involving Professions

Memorizing job titles isn’t too difficult, but you also need to know how to use them! You won’t need to look far, though, because all of the relevant topics are below.

Use of definite and indefinite articles when describing jobs

If I’m asked specifically what someone’s job is, I’d say “Il/elle est médecin” if he or she is a doctor. Literally this translates to “He/she is doctor.” Notice there’s no indefinite article un (a) like we use in English. So, the structure is:

[Subject] + [conjugated form of être] + [profession].

That means we can use this same structure in different tenses:

Il était médecin.
(He was a doctor.)

Il va être médecin.
(He’s going to be a doctor).

Note that you still use definite articles when talking about “the doctor” or “the ~.” I can say “Appelons le médecin” (Let’s call the doctor), for example.

Ce vs. il/elle

I can use ce (this) with a job title if I’m not telling what someone’s profession is. That’s to say, if the question is “Who is that?” (and not “What does that person do?”), you can say “C’est un médecin” (She’s a doctor).

If in doubt, use c’est / ce sont if you’re using an article or determinant of some sort:

C’est mon médecin.
(She’s my doctor.)

C’est un bon médecin.
(She’s a good doctor.)

Otherwise, use il/elle est + [profession].

Adjective use

In the last example above, you’ll notice we do use an indefinite article when there’s an adjective describing the person.

That’s why we’d say “C’est un bon médecin” to communicate that she’s a good doctor.

But did you notice something strange in this example? Why doesn’t the adjective or the job title agree with the gender in this case? Great question! Hang tight, we’ll get there soon.

What one is vs. what one does

In the past three sections, we described job titles based on what someone is: She is a doctor. Equally valid is describing what someone does or makes:

Il fait des tonneaux.
(He makes barrels.)

The above example is just as correct as saying “Il est tonnelier” (He’s a barrel maker). So to describe what someone does, it’s:

[Subject] + [conjugated form of faire] + [description].

Number and gender rules

Usually pluralizing job titles is as simple as adding an “s”:

médecin → médecins
(as in Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders)

But if the profession includes several words, it’s usually the noun indicating the person that’s pluralized:

femme d’affaires → femmes d’affaires
(businesswoman → businesswomen)

femme au foyer → femmes au foyer
(homemaker → homemakers)

Abbreviations for Certain French Job Titles

The French love abbreviations and acronyms, especially with job titles. Here are a few:

PDG — Président-directeur général (CEO)

AS — Aide-soignant(e) (nursing assistant, home health aide, etc.)

CO — Conseiller/conseillière d’orientation (school counselor)

TS — Travailleur/travailleuse social(e) (social worker)

Here’s a list of abbreviations for healthcare professions and here’s another for sports and leisure. Note that some abbreviations on these lists are not careers but simply abbreviations related to each profession.

If you’re looking for an acronym in particular, you might try Sigles.net or the Code de rédaction interinstitutionnel.

The Debate over Job Title Feminization in French

In France, equality is sometimes at odds with grammar (especially as defined by the Académie française !). A debate exists over whether traditionally male job titles, like président (president), médecin or professeur (professor), should be given feminine variants.

In Quebec and Belgium, gender-inclusive titles are common and are usually made by adding an “e” onto the end.

agent → agente
(agent)

For other endings, different conventions are used:

Professions ending in -eur have feminine forms ending in –trice, –eure or –euse.

directeur → directrice
(director, company not film)

travailleur → travailleuse
(worker)

docteur → docteure
(doctor)

In the case of –eur, you just have to memorize the transformation.

Professions ending in -ier have feminine forms ending in –ière.

ouvrier → ouvrière
(laborer)

infirmier → infirmière
(nurse)

couturier → couturière
(dressmaker/seamstress)

Some words, especially those ending in “e,” use the same word for both genders.

dentiste (dentist)

psychologue (psychologist)

Mostly in Belgium and Quebec, if the profession title doesn’t change, the article still changes, so le dentiste becomes la dentiste.

Formal and Courtesy Titles for French Professions

Certain job titles carry enough clout in France to merit courtesy titles or specific abbreviations. Take a look at the following jobs and their titles (in bold):

médecin (doctor) — docteur 

avocat/avocate (lawyer) — maître

prêtre (priest) — curé/ abbé

professeur (professor) — prof

diplomate (diplomat) — Excellence

evêque (bishop) — Excellence

To use these formally, le often precedes the title. For example:

Voici mon médecin militaire, le docteur McCoy.
(This is my medical officer, Dr. McCoy.)

Similarly, if addressing someone in a position of authority, such as a judge, it’s polite to say:

Monsieur le juge, …”

These formalities, despite showing a polished French, are optional.

Similarly, courtesy titles are often abbreviated:

Docteur — Dr/Drs

Maître — Me/Mes

Professeur — Pr/Prs

Monseigneur — Mgr (Monsignor)

Lieutenant — Lt (Lieutenant)

Capitaine — Cne (Captain)

Général — Gal (General)

Colonel — Cel (Colonel)

Commandant — Cdt (Commander)

Maréchal — Mal (Marshall)

Son Excellence — S.E. (His excellence)

Prêtre/Père — P. (Priest)

Saint — St/Ste (Saint)

38 Must-know Job Titles for Common French Professions

Legally restricted titles

Much like elsewhere, certain job titles can only be used after fulfilling education requirements, work experience/apprentice requirements, or both.

For example, in France anyone can use the title ingénieur (engineer) but only people who have graduated from accredited engineering schools can call themselves ingénieur diplomé (degreed engineer). Other regulated, or “protected” titles include:

1. psychologue (psychologist)

2. médecin (doctor)

3. expert-comptable/experte-comptable (CPA/chartered accountant)

4. architecte (architect)

5. enseignant/enseignante (teacher)

6. infirmier/infirmière (nurse)

7. agent/agente immobilier (real-estate agent)

And many others.

More common job titles

Lists of jobs are found all over the web, such as the complicated vocab found here. Some example vocabulary, in no particular order:

8. artiste (artist)

9. charpentier/charpentière (carpenter)

10. astronaute (astronaut)

11. agent(e) de change (stockbroker)

12. marchand/marchande (merchant)

13. pompier/pompière (firefighter)

14. gérant/gérante (manager)

15. soldat (soldier)

16. caissier/caissière (cashier)

17. informaticien/informaticienne (computer scientist)

18. homme/femme politique (politician)

19. mécanicien/mécanicienne (mechanic)

20. physicien/physicienne (physicist)

Watch out: This one does not mean “physician”!

21. scientifique (scientist)

22. serveur/serveuse (waiter/waitress)

23. dessinateur/dessinatrice (designer; draughtsman)

24. écrivain (writer)

25. romancier/romancière (novelist)

26. peintre (painter)

27. plombier/plombière (plumber)

Some typically French professions

Nothing about these jobs is uniquely French. Are there any jobs that exist in France but not in English-speaking countries, though? Well, yes and no. Any job in France can be found in the United States, for example, but there are some jobs that are very culturally significant in France.

Walk through any French village, for instance, and you’ll see signs proudly proclaiming:

28. pâtissier/pâtissière (pastry chef)

29. charcutier/charcutière (pork butcher)

30. brasseur/brasseuse (brewer)

31. boulanger/boulangère (baker)

32. boucher/bouchère (butcher)

33. coiffeur/coiffeuse (hairdresser)

Although displaced somewhat by large chain stores, the French take pride in their small business owners.

34. instituteur/institutrice, professeur (teacher/professor)

Whereas we may just say “teacher” or “professor” to describe the profession of teaching, the French use enseignant (from enseigner — to teach) to describe anyone who teaches at any level.

A professeur teaches at the French equivalents of middle school, high school or college, whereas an instituteur (or maître), now called professeur des écoles, teaches elementary age children.

35. ingénieur (engineer)

Emerging from elite schools formed in the French Revolution, engineers are among the most respected professionals in France. Whereas anyone can call themselves an engineer, only a select few can use the title degreed engineer.

Students good at math and science can attend technical high schools in preparation for the technical baccalaureate (bac scientifique usually). A good bac score means admission to a preparatory class (classes préparatoires), two years of intense math and science education that prepares you for engineering school.

Although many public universities offer degrees in engineering science, only grandes écoles d’ingénieur are authorized to grant the engineer’s degree.

36. géomètre-expert (surveyor)

Surveying in France dates from before the Revolution and is a highly respected profession. Tasked with determining who owns what and making detailed maps in a country where land claims stretch back centuries, French surveyors have their work cut out for them.

37. agriculteur/ agricultrice (farmer)

France loves its farmers and supports them steadfastly. Food production is one of the most regulated economic sectors in France. For example, calling bread “traditional French bread” means you can only use certain ingredients.

Similarly, champagne can only be called “champagne” if it’s from the Champagne-Ardennes. Hey, French food is well known for a reason!

38. fonctionnaire (public sector worker)

Sometimes the object of satirical political cartoons, public sector workers nevertheless represent a large segment of the working population. Differences in public and private sector work environments are an important discussion topic in French media.

 

Learning professions and French job titles not only augments your vocabulary considerably, but it also opens a window to France itself. Keep on interacting with professions in French to humanize your language learning and to connect French to real life!
 


 

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