You may already know how to say the months in French – after all, talking about time and events is a basic part of learning a language. But do you know the myriad of words that work with them? How about what the months mean to the French?
As in just about any culture, each month has its own significance to the French. Let’s look at the French months on a basic, vocabulary-and grammar-level, then take things to the next level with what each month evokes when you talk to a French person.
What are the months in French?
As in most of the world, the French calendar year starts in January (janvier).
Since France is in the northern hemisphere, winter is from December 21-March 21; spring is from March 21-June 21; summer is from June 21 to September 21; fall (autumn) is from September 21-December 21.
These seasonal periods are based on equinoxes but are roughly accurate. Still, as we’ll learn further on, weather in France can be unpredictable, especially during transitional seasons.
Here is a list of the twelve months of the year (les mois de l’année) in French:
- janvier – January
- février – February
- mars – March
- avril – April
- mai – May
- juin – June
- juillet – July
- août– August
- septembre – September
- octobre – October
- novembre – November
- décembre – December
What are the essential grammar rules for the months in French?
Probably the most important grammar rule when it comes to the months in French is one that you may know already, or probably noticed from the list above: months aren’t capitalized in French. Of course, there are situations where they might be, for example, if they start a sentence or are in a title. But in general, always keep them lowercase.
Another grammar rule is that, in French, all of the months are masculine. So, if you want to say something like “This year, we had a very hot August,” it would be: On a eu un mois d’août très chaud cette année.
How to pluralize the months in French
Unlike the days of the week in French [link here when available], which have their own distinct and somewhat complicated rules about pluralization, for the French months, it’s simple: You don’t actually pluralize them at all!
The months in French remain singular entities. Their number is determined by context. For instance, if I want to say that my brother comes to visit every October, I don’t say tous les octobres, but either au mois d’octobre (in the month of October) or en octobre (in October).
For example :
- Mon frère nous rend toujours visite au mois d’octobre . (My brother always comes to visit us in October.)
- Tous les ans, mon frère nous rend visite en octobre. (Every year, my brother comes to visit in October.)
If you take away context clues like toujours and Tous les ans, these sentences could simply mean that my brother is only coming this particular October.
Even if you don’t use a time-related context clue, the idea that you’re talking about the plural version of a month will still be clear in some cases. For example, you could say Pierre déteste le mois d’avril. (Pierre hates April.).
How to say the date in French
Now that you know the months in French, if you want to say the full date, just add le and the date (number) before the month, like so: le 11 juin.
To add more detail, insert the day of the week between le and the date (number). Place the year after the month. For example, le mardi 11 juin, 2019.
To ask what date it is, you could say, Quelle est la date? This would usually be modified by aujourd’hui – Quelle est la date aujourd’hui ?
Quel jour sommes-nous ? is a common way to ask what date it is in spoken French.
More commonly in informal, everyday spoken French, you’d hear On est quel jour aujourd’hui? or Aujourd’hui c’est quel jour ?
To announce the date in a full sentence, you have a few options, which you can see here [add link to this section of the French days of the week article]. The most common are: Aujourd’hui c’est le [date] ,or, less formally (and usually in spoken French), On est le [date].
For example, On est le 11 juin./On est le mercredi 11 juin.
If you’ve ever watched an episode of the news in French, you’ve probably heard the anchor open the show with “Nous sommes le [date].” You can find an example of this, here. This is the more formal version of On est le [date].
The French date switch
As you can see, when we talk about the date in French, the day is mentioned first, then the month. So it stands to reason that when you write the date in numbers, it would appear that way, as well.
For instance, le 11 juin 2019 would be written 11/6/2019.
If you’re from a country like the US, where the date is said with the month preceding the date, this can be incredibly confusing – for Americans, June 11, 2019 would be written 6/11/2019!
But don’t despair. Just make sure you pay attention when you see a date written this way in French, or when you have to write the date this way, yourself. As an American who often has to deal with our countries’ date switcheroos, I can promise it gets easy over time.
You can practice writing the French dates in numbers in a very easy way – just pull out your calendar and pick dates at random. Check your answers by remembering this reversed structure.
How to say “What month is it?” and “In which month…”in French
It’s a bit unusual to ask what month it is, but it happens, of course, whether you’re a French teacher talking to students, or someone unsure if you’ve turned another page of the calendar.
Most commonly, you’d ask On est quel mois? or, in more formal settings, Nous sommes quel mois?
Interestingly, On est or Nous sommes with a day or date tend to be used in spoken language, but since this question is fairly unusual, based on my research, it seems that most French people would use either one as a go-to in written language, as well.
You can also add en to these phrases: On est en quel mois?/Nous sommes en quel mois ?
The response to this question is On est en [mois] or Nous sommes en [mois].
For example :
On est quel mois ?
On est en juin.
Of course, it is common to ask in what month a particular event is scheduled to happen. In that case, you’d have a few options, but the most used is probably, Le/La __ est en quel mois ? (The ___ is in what month?).
For example, L’anniversaire de ta mère est en quel mois ?
C’est en avril.
If you want to ask “In which month…”, you would say, En quel mois, followed by an event or activity. For example: En quel mois fête-t-on le Saint Valentin ? (In which month do we celebrate Valentine’s Day ?).
Months-related vocabulary in French
Here are some common words related to the months in French:
un mois – a month
mensuel(le) – monthly
mensuellement – monthly (per month). This is used when talking about something specifically allotted on a monthly basis. For example: En tant qu’autoentrepreneur, je paie mes impôts mensuellement. (As someone with the autoentrepreneur status, I pay my taxes monthly.)
une mensualité – a monthly payment
au mois de – in the month of. Example: On prendra des vacances au mois de mai. (We’ll go on vacation in May.)
un trimestre – a quarter (of the year; a period of three months). This is used not only in French businesses, but also in French schools (as opposed to semester).
How to talk about French months in the past, present, and future
Here are some temporal prepositions and other helpful words for talking about the months in French in the past, present, and future. Note that words that are listed to agree with masculine nouns, since the months in French are masculine.
en – in. This is the preposition generally used with months. For example, ll viendra en août. (He’ll come in August.)
dernier – last. Example : Il a fêté ces cinq ans en mars dernier. (He celebrated his fifth birthday last March.)
prochain –next. Example : On se verra le mois prochain. (We’ll see each other next month.).
jusqu’à/jusqu’au /jusqu’en – until.
Like jusqu’à/jusqu’au , jusqu’en means “until” – but it’s only used with years and months.
If that’s the case, you’re probably thinking, then why the heck did I bother including jusqu’à and jusqu’au here? Actually, all three are used. So far, the French months have been pretty straightforward, grammar-wise, right? Now, here’s a little detail that’s going to derail that a bit.
With the French months…
…use jusqu’à only if you have something in front of it that would require it. For example: Il sera seul à la maison jusqu’à mon retour en mars. (He’ll be alone at the house until my return in March.)
…use jusqu’au with a date or with a related masculine word, like mois. For example, Il sera seul à la maison jusqu’au 10 mars, quand je reviens de mon voyage en Espagne.(He’ll be alone at the house until March 10, when I return from my trip to Spain.) Or Il sera seul à la maison jusqu’au mois de mars. (He’ll be alone at the house until the month of March.)
…use jusqu’en with a month in general. For example, Il sera seul à la maison jusqu’en mars. (He’ll be alone at the house until March.)
d’ici – by. For example : Nous serons dans notre nouveau appartement d’ici fin juin. (We’ll be in our new apartment by the end of June.)
avant – before. For example: Elle m’a dit qu’elle me rendra les clés avant le 1 novembre. (She told me she’ll give me back the keys before November 1.)
après – after. Le magazine sera indisponible après le 7 juin. (The magazine will be unavailable after June 7.)
à partir de – starting from. For example: La piscine publique sera ouverte à partir du 2 mai. (The public pool will be open starting from May 2.)
__ fois par mois — ___ times a month. For example : Nous avons cours d’anglais quatre fois par mois. (We have English lessons four times a month.)
What the months mean to the French
Now that you know the months in French and the grammar rules and helpful words that go with them, let’s take things to the next level. What does each month of the year bring to mind for the French?
Obviously, there will always be some personal experience mixed in, but to French culture as a whole, each month has a particular significance.
janvier – As in most countries, the French calendar year starts on January 1. You can read about New Year’s customs and what this date is called in French, here.
January is a month when everyone is getting back into gear after the end-of-year holidays. But it’s not without its sweet treats. La galette des rois (king cake) is a traditional puff-pastry cake filled with frangipane (almond paste)that’s served on January 6, the Epiphany (L’Épiphanie), but is available in boulangeries and (in prepackaged, industrial, but often delicious form) grocery stores all month long and well into February. In addition to sharing it with their family, kids in French schools usually eat galette with their class. The person who gets the piece with the fève (little ceramic token) inside becomes le roi or la reine. You can learn more about all things galettes here.
février – By February, the winter’s cold has gotten to everyone. Luckily, schools have a two-week vacation at some point during this month (French public schools have a two-week vacation every six weeks, plus about two months off in the summer), and that and the weather inspire even adults without kids to take a little getaway. Warm destinations are popular, but so are ski trips.
Many of you might also be thinking that this is the month when Valentine’s Day (le Saint Valentin) falls, but while the French may have a reputation for being romantic, overt displays aren’t their thing, so Valentine’s Day is much less popular and ostentatious than in many other countries.
mars – March is a month of transition for most of the country. For one thing, some people are still getting back from their February vacations, or may even still be on them at the beginning of the month. And then there’s the weather. You start to see some signs of spring, though in certain places it can stay very cold until late in March. This often means storms, including hailstorms. There’s even a particular term for this phenomenon: les giboullées de mars (March hailstorms/heavy rain).
This month or April will include Easter (Pâques), which means chocolates and chocolate confections in every bakery and chocolate boxes and surprise eggs in every grocery store. The French don’t really exchange Easter gifts, just chocolate – which is perfectly great for me, anyway! (Chocolate) Easter egg hunts (une chasse aux oeufs) are a popular activity for children. Fun fact: In France, it’s not the Easter Bunny, but les cloches de Pâques (Easter bells), bells from a Roman church that bring chocolates to children.
avril – By April, spring is in full swing. This is the month people imagine when they think of “springtime in Paris.” Of course, if you suffer from pollen allergies, like I do, it’s not your favorite month, no matter how beautiful everything looks….
The month starts out with le premier avril – April Fool’s Day, which is traditionally celebrated by sticking a poisson d’avril (paper fish) to someone’s back. A poisson d’avril can also simply be an April Fool’s Day joke. You can read more about how this holiday is celebrated in France here.
Easter may also fall during April, and (depending on when a school district had its February/early March break), another vacation, too.
As in March, weather can be very unpredictable, hence the saying En avril, ne te découvre pas d’un fil (In April, don’t just cover yourself with a single thread.) In other words, don’t put on your warm-weather clothes too early!
mai – An expression that often follows the one above is En mai, fait ce qu’il te plait – In May, do as you please. This is supposed to refer to the fact that you can wear your warm-weather clothes now, if you want. But May weather can still surprise you.
The expression, does, however, suit another aspect of May in France.
May is a month with three national holidays: le 1er mai (la fête du Travail) (Labor Day/May Day), le 8 mai (Victoire 1945 – V-E Day), which commemorates the Allied Victory in Europe in World War II, and, at some point (it depends on the year), l’Ascension, the holy feast day of the Ascension.
That last one may seem strange, since France is a secular country, but no one really complains about it. Many times, these holidays fall on either a Friday or Monday, which means lots of long weekends throughout the month. Other times, they fall on Tuesdays or Thursdays, which means many people will faire le pont – take Friday or Monday off to make a four-day weekend.
With that in mind, it’s probably not surprising that May generally has a more laidback feel to it.
juin – There’s an automatic long weekend in June, thanks to le lundi de Pentecôte – Whit Monday (another religious holiday that almost no one celebrates but is still staunchly supported as a national day off).
But June is generally a more serious month. People are already thinking of their summer vacations, and some actually take their big vacation during this time, taking advantage of still of-season prices. Overall, though, for students as well as workers, it’s a time to sort of finish things up before the big break in July and/or August. Students in their last two years of high school (lycée) will be taking le bac, a series of required exams necessary for going to university.
June is also the month in which La Fête de la Musique falls. On this day – June 21 – anyone can play music in the street, and there are lots of concerts from both amateur and professional musicians held everywhere. It’s nice to spend an evening strolling around your town or neighborhood, listening to all the melodies. If you have to go to bed early, though, it’s not so great….
juillet – The French national holiday, le 14 juillet (July 14th — known elsewhere as Bastille Day) falls in this summer month. July used to be simply summertime, warm and relatively calm compared to the autumn and winter rush. But in recent decades, it’s begun to rival August as THE French vacation month.
août – If you’ve ever lived or studied in France, or if you’ve ever done business with French clients, you’ve probably heard that you can’t expect to get much, if any, work done in August, since the whole country shuts down and everyone goes on vacation. This used to be pretty accurate, but in recent decades, it’s become less common.
The change is partially due to globalization – French international companies can’t just shut down for an entire month. But some of it simply seems to be French people themselves preferring to take a vacation at another time, which means less crowding and often better prices. According to this 2018 survey, of the 69% of French people who go on summer vacation, 37% took off in July, versus 48% in August.
So, yes, August does still take the lead as the most popular vacation month in France, but not by an extraordinary margin.
When you’re in France, you will probably notice the difference, though. While there are lot more tourists in Paris in the summer months, in residential neighborhoods like mine, many small businesses and even boulangeries are closed for at least part of the month, and the streets do feel emptier…which kind of makes for a vacation for those of us who aren’t travelling.
This brings up another point: according to the same survey, of the French people who stay and work in August, 59% admit to working less than usual, or even not at all! I can personally attest to this; my French husband considers working in August, when most of his superiors and colleagues are gone, sort of like another vacation.
septembre – In September, things in France get serious again. People come back from their summer vacations. A new school year begins. There’s a word for this return to the routine: La rentrée.
La rentrée is sort of like how it would be if people stayed disciplined about their New Year’s resolutions. New projects and plans are begun (applying for jobs, putting property up for rent, starting lessons of some kind, etc.).Even more fun aspects of life, like books, get into the spirit of things: La rentrée littéraire is when major French book titles are released.
octobre – The seriousness and intensity of la rentrée gradually fades in October, and by the middle of the month, there’s already the first French school vacation of the year, which means many parents go on vacation, as well.
In case you were wondering, although there might be bars and other venues (including Disneyland Paris) that host Halloween-themed events, Halloween is not an official holiday and isn’t celebrated in France.
novembre – The weather is getting colder, so much so that November sometimes feels more like winter than autumn.
November starts out with La Toussaint (All Saints’ Day), which means that even people who didn’t take a vacation in mid- to late October still get at least a day off (and maybe more, if they’re able to faire le pont). Le 11 novembre (L’Armistice – The anniversary of the Armistice of World War I)is another day off, but overall, this month is serious, the lead-up to the approaching end-of-year holidays.
For those who are politically-minded (which is the case for just about all French people, to some extent), November is also the month when the French presidential elections take place, every five years.
décembre – The first half of the month is still pretty serious, as everyone seems to buckle down and get ready for a more relaxing time at the last half. The winter holidays in France – especially Christmas and New Year’s – are a big deal, although they may not be celebrated the way you’d think. You can read about the winter holidays in France here.
Et voilà – the French months, by context.
One thing that may strike you is how often the French have the opportunity to go on vacation. In fact, most French people have at least 5 weeks of paid vacation a year, not counting personal days, and students have vacations quite a lot. This may give you the impression that the French are lazy, but France is actually one of the world’s ten leading economies. They’re just really good at balancing work and leisure time.
What are your impressions of the French months? If you’ve been to France, when did you come and what did you notice?