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French Language – Right is right Posted by on Jul 21, 2020 in Language, Vocabulary

It’s not uncommon to forget or to mix up words when you first start learning a new language. I once asked for un orteil sans plume (a toe without feathers) when what I really wanted was un oreiller sans plume (a pillow without feathers)! These sorts of errors usually work themselves out with practice, but even for advanced learners, there can still be words and phrases that trip us up.

Droit, droite, doigt

Even after more than 30 years speaking French, there is just something about these three words just gets me.

I think in part it’s because, like all French adjectives, droit (when it is used as an adjective) agrees in gender and number with the noun (or nouns) it modifies and so sometimes it’s droit and sometimes droite.

And also because the d-r-o combo can be hard for many non-native French speakers to pronounce (and even sometimes to hear!) and so the difference between droit and doigt can sometimes get lost in spoken language1Check out this cool site where you can hear examples of native speakers pronouncing words and phrases in French … or any other language that interests you!.

Le droit / droit

Un doit is a right. You can have legal rights (comme les droits d’auteur/like copyright [lit. the rights of the author]) or moral rights (comme les droits de l’homme/like human rights [lit. the rights of man]).

When used as an adjective, as noted, droit needs to agree in gender and number. So you say mon pied droit mais ma main droite (my right (m.) foot but my right (f.) hand).

Mais faites attention ! (But be careful !) When you’re referring to something on the right you’re referring to the right (see below) and droite is invariable (Celui-ci ou celui de droite? This one (m.) or the one (m.) on the right?)

Droit can also mean straight, correct as in aller tout droitto go straight or rester sur le droit cheminto stay on the right track.

Someone who studies the law (la loi / les lois) is said to faire des études de droit.

 

La droite / à droite

When it’s used as a direction, la droite is the right, the opposite of la gauche (the left). As in many countries droite (and gauche) can refer both to the physical position of something (c’est sur la droite / it’s on the right, tourner à droite / turn to the right) or to a political position (les parties de droite/the parties on the right).

In mathematics, une droite (a straight) is the proper term for what non-mathematicians would call une ligne (a line).

Les doigts

A proprement dit, les doigts font parti de la main (technically speaking, fingers are part of the hand) but you will also hear in common usage les doigts du pied / des pieds (the fingers of the foot/feet, otherwise known as les orteils (toes)).

Doigt d’honneur – despite what it sounds like – is not a finger of honor. The gesture, known in some English-speaking countries as giving someone the middle finger, is generally viewed as rude and should be avoided.

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Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris


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