Many of you reading this are probably at least a little familiar with the French days of the week. Maybe you even have them down pat.
But what do these days mean to people in France and other Francophone countries? And how do you talk about days of the week in French? Neither answer is as obvious as you might think.
Let’s take an in-depth look at some of the grammatical and cultural surprises behind the days of the week in French!
How do you say the days of the week in French?
Here’s the first big thing to know about the days of the week in French: The French week starts on a Monday (lundi), not a Sunday like it does in some other countries, including my native one, the US.
Here are the days of the week, in the order that a French person would say them:
- lundi – Monday
- mardi – Tuesday
- mercredi – Wednesday
- jeudi – Thursday
- vendredi – Friday
- samedi – Saturday
- dimanche – Sunday
What gender are the days in French?
Good news: All of the days of the week in French are masculine, so there’s no need to figure out which gender to use for each one!
Do you capitalize the days of the week in French?
You never capitalize the days of the week in French, unless they start a sentence.
When do you use the article with the day of the week in French?
Unlike many other French words, you don’t systematically use an article with a day of the week.
There are two main reasons why you would add an article to the day of the week in French:
- 1. When saying the date. For example, le mardi 14 mai.
- 2. When talking about something that regularly happens on a certain day of the week.
Let’s be upfront about this rule: it’s a bit counterintuitive.
If you want to talk about a specific day of the week, you don’t use the article. For example, On se verra lundi. (We’ll see each other Monday.) . But what if you and this person see each other every Monday? Then you would write: On se voit le lundi.
So, even though it would seem like you’re talking about THE Monday, not so! The article le + a day of the week means “every ___”.
For example: Le lundi elle a cours de violon. ([On] Mondays, she has a violin lesson.)
You may have noticed that while the day of the week takes an article in this sentence structure, the scheduled activity doesn’t.
Here’s another example of a day of the week without an article and a day of the week with an article:
Samedi, je vais faire la grasse matinée, et puis on ira diner à notre restaurant préféré du quartier. ([On] Saturday, I’m going to sleep in, and then we’ll go to eat at our favorite neighborhood restaurant.)
Le samedi, elle travaille dans sa boutique. ([On] Saturdays, she works in her shop.)
Can the French days of the week be plural?
In French, when you’re talking about days in general, not necessarily anything that has to do with your schedule, you can pluralize a day of the week (and its article).
In fact, once we’re not talking about schedules, things get a little strange. You can see both the singular-as-plural version of the day of the week or just a straightforward pluralized form.
For example, if you do a search for Garfield, the famous cat who hates Mondays, you’ll come across memes, images, and online comments and threads that read both “Je déteste les lundis” and “Je déteste le lundi.”
I asked a French friend if one of these options is incorrect or if there’s a different connotation for each. According to her, both les lundis and le lundi can mean Mondays in general, although les lundis might be very slightly more general, since that structure isn’t connected to schedule-making in any way.
It’s a bit frustrating not to have one “right” answer. But the good news is, you can’t make a mistake if you use one or the other!
There are some other rules with the pluralization of days of the week that are a bit vague – or becoming so. As this article explains, it was correct French to keep soir, matin, or another time of day singular even when talking about regular ones tied to a day of the week. For example: les jeudis soir.
But recently, the alternative choice, which seems more logical to English-speakers and, apparently, many French speakers as well, has been accepted into the Petit Robert dictionary – no small feat! That means you can say either les samedis matin or les samedis matins. What a relief!
I’ll end all of this vagueness with something concrete and quite reasonable: If you want to say “every [day of the week]”, you do it like so: tous les + [day of the week]. The day of the week and its article are always in their plural form.
For example: La ludothèque est ouverte tous les mercredis. (The games library is open every Wednesday.)
How do you say “Today is __” in French?
If you’ve already learned the days of the week, here’s a question for you: How do you say “Today is Tuesday” in French?
If you’re struggling or feel unsure about your answer, you’re not alone. I had a very, very strange moment while writing this article; I realized that despite being a fluent speaker who’s lived in France and heard and used French every day for a majority of my life, I wasn’t 100% sure that my answer to this question was right!
It turns out that we’re not alone. There are lots of forum threads about this issue (including this one).
Why the mystery? I think one of the problems is that dictionaries, online guides, and language learning apps often give conflicting or incomplete answers. Another is that many of us spent so much time focusing on memorizing and using the days of the week, that we didn’t bother with learning the most obvious statement they’re connected to.
So, here’s how to say “Today is___” in French, once and for all!
Actually….it turns out you have a few choices.:
General Choice 1: Aujourd’hui c’est __
Example: Aujourd’hui c’est mardi. (Today is Tuesday.)
General Choice 2: On est___
Example : On est mardi.
Although this phrase may seem weird, it’s probably the most common way most French people would answer this question in an informal situation.
Yes, this literally means “We’re Tuesday.” It’s one of the quirks of the French language that many learners get sort of weirded out by, as threads like this show. Personally, I kind of like the idea that while we’re certainly not the same in many other ways, we are all sharing this moment in time.
General Choice 3 : C’est ___
Example : C’est mardi.
As a native English speaker, this is the choice that makes the most sense to me, and it’s perfectly fine to use in most neutral/general situations, if that’s what you’re most comfortable with.
Formal Choice: Nous sommes ___.
Example : Nous sommes mardi.
This is a more formal version of On est___. People in France most often hear it at the start of news broadcasts. Most open with the announcer greeting viewers/listeners and actually saying the full date, not just the day (notice that this means the article has to be added before the day), like so: “Nous sommes le mardi 14 mai.”
You can watch the opening of an actual nightly French newscast here, to see what I mean.
So, in general, if someone asks you what day it is in French, it’s best to either use Aujourd’hui c’est or On est in most situations.
That brings us to another question…
How do you say “What day is it?” in French?
We have three main choices for how to say “Today is_” in French. To ask what day it is, there are a lot more!
The reason is that you can choose to use inversion or simply intonation when asking your question. As a general rule, in French, inversion is more formal than intonation.
With that explained, we can put the questions into three groups.
Note that, with most of these questions, aujourd’hui (today) is commonly added. If it’s optional, I’ve included it in brackets.
This question stands alone. That’s because, as I wrote earlier, inversion is more formal than using intonation for a question, and since this is already the less formal version of nous sommes with the day, it doesn’t make sense to use inversion.
Or the less formal : Nous sommes quel jour[ aujourd’hui] ?
Rare : Quel jour nous sommes ?
I came upon this last one via an online search. I have heard people use it – what comes to mind for me is an older French speaker sort absentmindedly asking this question. If you want to ask “What day is it?” in a more formal situation, I’d opt for one of the first two.
How to talk about past and future days in French
Now that you know the rules of the days of the week in French, you’ll be able to talk about days past and future pretty easily.
To say last [day of the week], just use dernier. Example: vendredi dernier (last Friday)
To say next [day of the week], use prochain. Example: vendredi prochain (next Friday)
To say “see you [day of the week], just add à before the day of the week. Example: À vendredi ! [See you Friday!]
To say “by [a day of the week]”, use d’ici. Example: Vous aurez une réponse de notre part d’ici vendredi. (You’ll have our reply by Friday.)
To say ‘for [a day of the week], use pour. Example: J’ai acheté le dessert pour samedi.
Some other useful French days of the week vocabulary
Here are some other useful words when it comes to talking about the week in French.
- un jour – a day
- quotidien (adj or noun)/quotidiennement (adv) – daily
- demain – tomorrow
- le lendemain – the following day
- hier – yesterday
- hier soir – last night/yesterday evening
- la semaine – the week
- hebdomadaire – weekly
le week-end/la fin de semaine – the weekend. Note that most French people say le week-end, but some old-fashioned people or those who are being formal will opt for la fin de semaine. In Canada, however, where English words are kept out of French, it’s always la fin de semaine.
un jour férié – a public/bank holiday
faire le pont – to take a day off in order to make a four-day weekend. This is a proud French tradition! If a bank holiday falls on, say, a Thursday, many French people will take Friday off as well. Or if a bank holiday is on a Tuesday, they’d take off Monday. The expression literally means “to make a bridge.”
Some common French expressions with days of the week
To fasten a button in the wrong hole. I adore this expression – it’s such a cute, strange way of describing this phenomenon.
le vendredi 13 – Friday the 13th.
This day of bad luck actually originated in France, when King Philippe VII had a number of Knights Templar burned at the stake on Friday, October 13th, 1307. While the French recognize this date as being associated with bad luck in popular culture, most of them don’t really make a big deal about it, though.
Un bricoleur/une bricoleuse du dimanche
Un bricoleur/une bricoleuse du dimanche is someone who does DIY stuff around the house, but in an unprofessional, maybe even bad way.
In general, du dimanche means being an amateur at something. This comes from the idea that people are working during the week and only have one day where they practice this activity or hobby.
Des habits du dimanche
Your Sunday best. When you’re talking about a title or activity, du dimanche means amateur or not very good. But when you talk about clothes (pantalon, robe, chemise, etc.) that are du dimanche, it means they’re the best ones you have.
This comes from the custom of going to church on Sunday in your best clothes, even though most people in France today don’t go to church every Sunday.
– endimanché(e) – dressed in one’s Sunday best.
What do the days of the week mean to French people?
The typical French work week is from Monday to Friday. Hours for people who work in an office are usually from 9 or 10 in the morning to 6 in the evening (that is, 9h or 10h -18h). Most French people who don’t work in retail or restaurant work usually have off on the weekends, not to mention holidays of course.
But a week is about more than just work. Let’s look at the significance of each day of the week in France and some other Francophone countries:
As in most countries around the world, Monday is the first day of the work week in France, which gives it a connotation of being a bit tough at times. French 1970’s pop idol Claude François, still an icon in France today, wrote a song called Le lundi au soleil (Mondays in the sun) about how wonderful it would be to just have Mondays be a day to enjoy the sun and nature, instead of work. Replace sun and nature with “clouds and go see a movie” and I’m convinced!
That said, some government offices, museums, monuments, libraries, and banks are closed on Mondays in France.
A day that falls in the middle of the week, ‘mardi’ doesn’t have a particular context for the French. For some French-speaking cultures, like the Cajuns in New Orleans, of course, Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday, the start of Lent, the Catholic period of deprivation) is a significant holiday.
If you’re visiting France, mardi could be a day of disappointment if you don’t plan ahead – it’s another day that some museums and monuments might be closed.
Wednesday used to be a day off for school kids (who’d have school on Saturday mornings in exchange – quel horreur!). That’s why you might hear some people in France refer to it as le jour des enfants (children’s day). As of 2014, however, kids in French public preschools and elementary schools have class on Wednesday mornings and then have the afternoon free.
The idea is to give kids a midweek break, and/or give them time to rest or to participate in clubs, sports, and activities. If you live in a residential area, you might find yourself surprised that there are so many kids around during typical school hours– and then you’ll realize it’s a Wednesday.
For parents who work or want their kids to participate, in most school districts, you can sign your kid up for afterschool programs and just pick them up at a normal time, though.
Wednesday also plays a role in leisure activity for people of all ages: it’s the day of the week when new films are released in France, as well as Belgium and Switzerland. An advantage to this is that if a movie isn’t a major blockbuster, you have a few evenings to see it before the weekend crowds.
Another Wednesday tradition of sorts, in France and in Switzerland, is a test of the emergency system. In France, this means that sirens are tested on the first Wednesday of the month, at some time between 11h45 (11:45am) -and 12h10 (12:10pm), depending on the region you live in.
It’s not quite the weekend, but in France, a lot of young people like to go out on Thursday nights – after all, there’s only one day of work or school left to suffer through if things get a bit wild!
The last day of the work week. A good way to remember this day is to think that everyone is ready (redi) for the weekend!
Depending on their job and field, I’ve noticed that a lot of salaried employees in businesses can duck out of work a little earlier on Fridays – everyone just wants the weekend to start!
The first day of the weekend, samedi is usually a day of leisure – or, for parents, a day for kids to do extracurricular activities. But until fairly recently, public schools in France had classes on Saturday mornings. Quelle misère for parents and kids alike, I personally think! Luckily, this has been changed, with Wednesday mornings taking over. This makes so much more sense and allows families to have a full weekend together. Still, there are some French parents who hate this change and want Saturday morning school again. Boo!
In places in France with a large Jewish population, like Paris, you’ll notice that Jewish-owned stores and restaurants are closed on this day, which is the Sabbath. This doesn’t usually make a big impact if you’re not in a Jewish neighborhood. But if you want to do some shopping or eating in a neighborhood with a lot of Jewish businesses and restaurants, like the Marais, you should probably opt for another day of the week.
Recently, Saturday has taken on a new meaning for many of us in cities and large towns: it’s the day the Gilets Jaunes usually hold their marches and demonstrations. These can be disruptive and even dangerous because of hangers-on called casseurs (breakers), who use the chaos and crowds as an opportunity to vandalize and loot. But this has become less of a problem with time. Nowadays, it’s often easy to overlook or forget about a Gilet Jaunes demonstration.
One of the principles of the French Republic may be secularism, but as in many European countries whose history is tied to the Catholic Church, the rhythm of the week originated from religious beliefs- that is, that after creating the universe in six days, God rested on the seventh, so Sunday should be a day of rest.
Still, for many centuries, Sunday wasn’t a day off for members of the lower classes. Thankfully, social change starting in the mid-19th century made Sunday a day of leisure for just about everyone (agricultural, retail, hospitality, and many medical workers aside). That’s one of the reasons so many late 19th century artists (like Georges Seurat, with his famous Un dimanche après-midi à l’île de la Grande Jatte)liked to depict leisure activities enjoyed by all classes – it was a novelty!
What do French people do on Sundays today? Although some might go to church, most French Christians are non-practicing. Only about 4.5% of the population goes to church at least once a month. So, Sunday remains a day of leisure. All government offices and most businesses are closed. In large cities you’ll find some grocery stores and shops open, and of course, just about anything related to leisure like restaurants or tourist sites, will be open, as well.
If you’re in Paris on the first Sunday of the month, check to see if the museum or monument you’re visiting is free. Many of the city’s sites do this, as a way for culture to be accessible to all, but it doesn’t always work year-round; some museums are only free on off-season first Sundays of the month. Others have recently opted to do late-night openings at discounted or free rates, instead.
The French are generally more openly passionate about politics than religion, so it’s fitting that Sunday the day people vote when there are elections. Joking aside, the idea is very democratic: it’s the day most people will be available and not at work or school .
How to memorize the days of the week in French
If you’re looking for a great way to memorize the days of the week in French, unfortunately there’s no hard and fast answer. It really depends on what kind of learner you are and what motivates you, so it will involve some searching.
You can do an online search for terms like “how to memorize the days of the week in French” to find different techniques and ideas, like this one.
One easy memorization technique I used to suggest to my EFL students is keeping a written list of the words you want to memorize and their translations somewhere you often find yourself – for example, tacked onto your refrigerator, or in your toilet/bathroom.
Songs can also help. There are several songs about the French days of the week that are written for children – but that doesn’t mean adults can’t use them, too! In fact, these songs are great for memorization because they’re simple and catchy. One of my family’s favorites is this ditty by Alain le Lait: Or you may prefer this tune.
If you want to get a little more complex, my favorite song about the French days of the week is this classic French nursery rhyme. It’s got a few other lyrics besides the days of the week, but the music is pretty, there are subtitles and visual aids, and you get to hear each day of the week in order – well, all except for one. It could be another helpful tool for practicing and getting used to hearing the days of the week in French.
The days of the week in French seem simple enough to learn, but like most words that are used a lot, they’ve got a lot of particularities, too. Don’t let those get you down! Instead, think like poet and songwriter Jacques Prévert and let them show you a profound side of life:
Quel jour sommes-nous
Nous sommes tous les jours
Nous sommes toute la vie
Nous nous aimons et nous vivons
Et nous ne savons pas ce que c’est que la vie
Et nous ne savons pas ce que c’est que le jour
Et nous ne savons pas ce que c’est que l’amour.