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A Leaf Of Paper – Talking About Le Papier In French Posted by on Jun 6, 2018 in Vocabulary

There is a never ending list of incredibly common words that always surprise me when I realize I don’t know them. The funniest part about these kinds of words is how they sneak up on me. It’s easy to never think about how to say a simple everyday thing until you need to say it!

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under CC0.

Way back in elementary school, I remember wondering why we said a piece of paper en anglais.

Elles sont où les autres morceaux?
Where are the other pieces?

It was something I learned to accept and never really thought about until one day I needed to ask for a piece of paper en français.

Tu peux me donner une pièce de papier ?

The immediate look of confusion told me I messed something up. Mon ami (my friend), answered my question with a surprised shout:

Une pièce de papier !

Not understanding why mon ami repeated what I just said, I didn’t know how to answer:

Oui…. Tu sais… du papier mais seulement une page.
Une feuille ?
Non ! Je parle pas d’arbres !

Yes… You know… paper but only one page.
A leaf?
No! I’m not talking about trees!

Le malentendu (the misunderstanding) was getting worse. I knew une feuille was a leaf, but I had no idea how it related to le papier.

J’ai besoin d’une page de papier.
Oui d’accord. Une feuille de papier alors.
Ça s’appelle une feuille ?
Oui ! Tout-à-fait !

I need page of paper.
Yes alright. So a piece of paper.
That’s called a piece?
Yes! Exactly!

I learned a new use for a word I thought could only be used when talking about les arbres!

Although the conversation may have been awkward, the confusing process of figuring out we were talking about the same thing makes it impossible for me to ever forget how to say:

Une feuille de papier
A piece/sheet of paper

Of course, that wasn’t the end of my trouble with le papier. En France and in many other countries, la taille (the size) of une feuille de papier is different than what most people from les États-Unis are used to.

After finally getting la feuille de papier that I needed, I learned that une feuille A4 (an A4 sheet) does not fit in an American binder!

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About the Author: John Bauer

John Bauer is an enthusiast for all things language and travel. He currently lives in France where he's doing his Master's. John came to France four years ago knowing nothing about the language or the country, but through all the mistakes over the years, he's started figuring things out.


  1. James Collier:

    The A1-A2-A3-A4 sizes of paper are different than what the U.S. uses for a very good reason. Starting with A1, the ratio of the width to length is 1 to 1.414, or 1 to the square root of 2. Cut it in half and you have size A2, but the ratio of width to length is still 1 to 1.414. No matter how many times you cut it in half, that ratio never changes. That makes it very handy for photocopying things at one-half reduction or expanding them by two. With the American size, it’s not based on any mathematical relationship and the aspect ratio is not fixed.

  2. Loraine:

    Here in Australia the term ‘leaves in a book’ is used. Different in meaning to a page in a book as each side of the ‘leaf’ has a different page number. Perhaps an example of the degree to which English language has drawn on the French language.