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AN and ANNÉE in French - What's the difference?

ANNÉE or AN in French

For many foreigners, the difference between une année and un an in French is not clear.

They both translate to (a year) in English, but there is a difference…

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Why does the difference between an and année matter?

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There exists a difference between the words année and an in French, even if both words translate to (year) in English.

And it is important to understand this difference for two reasons:

  1. First, in most cases, you cannot use one word for the other. It would be seen as a mistake.
  2. Then, for the French, it is very natural to determine between année and an. Therefore, it sounds weird when a foreigner makes the confusion.
But don’t worry, I will explain it all. And with some practice, you will use these two words like a native!


Use the word an as a time reference

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Whenever you see the word an in French, it is a time reference. Here are some examples:


je vis en France depuis cinq ans (I’ve been living in France for five years)



dans deux ans, elle aura fini ses études (two years from now, she will have completed her studies)



qu’est-ce-que tu fais pour le Jour de l’An? (What are you doing for New Year’s Eve?)


As you can see in the examples above, the word an is used to situate an event in time.

In the last example, le Jour de l’An is a date. Literally it means (New Year’s Day), but the French mostly use it to talk about New Year’s Eve.

Another example, to tell your age (another time reference), you should also use the word an:

j’ai trente ans (I’m thirty years old)


Fluency tip

After a cardinal number (un, deux, trois…), we ALWAYS use the word an in French.


The word année in French is used to talk about a period

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And here is the difference between an and année in French.

The word année refers to a period, whereas an is a time reference.

Have a look at the following examples:


j’ai travaillé toute l’année (I’ve been working all year)



l’année civile commence le premier janvier (the calendar year starts on January 1st)



cette année, je n’ai pas de vacances (this year, I won’t have holidays)


Can you see the difference ?

Here, we consider a period. Therefore, we use the word année.

The same rule applies to this sentence:

il est en troisième année de médecine (he is in his third year of medical studies)


Here, we consider the academic year, which is a period.

Now, let’s go one step further. Here are two very similar sentences:

je vis en France depuis cinq ans (I’ve been living in France for five years)



je vis en France depuis cinq longues années (I’ve been living in France for five long years)


Yes, I said that after a cardinal number, you should always use the word an in French…

However, in the second sentence, the adjective longues is added to describe the period I’ve spent in France.

As a result, cinq longues années is a period (not a mere time stamp), and we use the word année.
Fluency tip

  • After an ordinal number (premier, deuxième, troisième…), we use the word année.
  • When we add an adjective, we also use the word année in French.


Some exceptions with the words année and an in French

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Specific Dates

To talk about dates, the logic above still works.

But it seems a little far-fetched to me. That’s why I consider the following examples as exceptions.

Here’s how it works.

We use the word an to talk about a specific year (a date), and we use the word année to talk about a period covering several years.


en l’an 2000 (in the year 2000)



dans les années 70 (in the seventies)


Quantifiers

After quantifiers (beaucoup de, peu de…), we always use the word année in French:


je vis en France depuis tellement d’années! (I’ve been living in France for so many years!)


Question Words

After a question word, you should also use the word année:


tu es arrivé en France en quelle année? (in which year did you arrive in France?)



depuis combien d’années tu vis en France? (how many years have you been living in France?)


This is counterintuitive, as a typical answer to the second question would be:

je vis en France depuis cinq ans (I’ve been living in France for five years)


Other Set Phrases

Last, try to remember the following set phrases:


chaque année (each year)



tous les ans (every year)



l’année prochaine / l’an prochain (next year, 2 possibilities)



l’année dernière / l'an dernier (last year, 2 possibilities)



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