March 20th is the La Journée internationale de la Francophonie. I thought it would be a good occasion as ever to have a look at the use of the two words le jour and la journée that both mean “day.” When two words in the second language correspond to one word in the first language, there is always room for confusion.
But first, let’s put things into context. These two words are actually part of a set of similar words:
le jour – la journée – the day
le matin – la matinée – the morning
le soir – la soirée – the evening
la nuit – la nuitée – the night
These are all parts of the day of course. Notice that l’après-midi (the afternoon) has no counterpart. The other commonly used pair of similar nature is:
l’an – l’année – the year
Obviously, there’s a sort of pattern here: the common ending -ée. Can we assume that the distinction is the same in all the cases? As we shall see, many words do share some kind of similar distinction of meaning, but there are so many subtleties of use that you should be very careful before generalizing. For example, la nuitée is rarely used outside the hotel industry.
To get a clue at how the -ée suffix is used, it is interesting to look at some other words that use this suffix. If you ever read a French recipe book, you will come across:
la cuiller / la cuillère – the spoon
la cuillerée – the spoonful
la bouche – the mouth
la bouchée – the mouthful
le four – the oven
la fournée – the contents of the oven or a batch
There are many other words that use this -ée suffix like: la tablée, la voiturée, la tournée, l’ânée (not to be confused with l’année), la wagonnée, la brassée, la chambrée, etc. I should point out that many of these words are rarely used even by native speakers of French.
Looking at all these words, you have probably noticed that there seems to be a common theme of quantity, space or duration. They all use the feminine grammatical gender LA.
Be careful here. There is a also very small number of words that end in -ée and are masculine. Watch out for words like le musée (museum), le trophée (trophy), le lycée (high school) and le mausolée (mausoleum). I have written a blog post about the gender of words ending in -ée that are a bit tricky because they seem to call for the feminine grammatical gender.
When to use journée
Coming back to the jour / journée distinction, we can probably assume that journée refers to the duration or the quantity of time in a day. For example, une journée could be the daylight hours in a day. This is basically correct, and is the explanation given by most grammar books. Let’s look at some examples of use:
Bonne journée (Have a good day)
Bon début de journée (Enjoy the day)
Bonne fin de journée (Enjoy the rest of the day)
Notice that in English we usually use an entire phrase “Have a good day” whereas in French “Bonne journée” is enough. Similarly, people say: Bonne soirée (Have a good evening)
Note that in Quebec, one will hear “Passez une bonne/belle journée/soirée.”
Comment a été ta journée? (How was your day?)
La journée de travail commence à 8 h. (The workday starts at 8 am.)
Il a plu toute la journée. (It rained all day.)
Pendant les vacances, on a eu de belles journées de soleil. (During our vacation, we had some beautiful sunny days.)
C’est fou en ce moment au travail, je fais des journées de 14 heures. (It’s crazy at work, I put in these 14-hour days.)
Le collège a organisé une journée portes ouvertes. (The college has organized an open house event.)
In all the above examples, the word jour would sound somewhat awkward.
When referring to special or official days, journée is most common:
La journée mondiale de l’eau (International Water Day)
Les journées de la culture (Culture Days)
La journée internationale de la femme (International Woman’s Day)
Les journées européennes du patrimoine (European Heritage Days
But jour is also used, as in:
Le jour de la terre (Earth Day)
Le jour du souvenir (Remembrance Day)
Le jour de la St-Valentin (Saint Valentine’s Day)
Remark that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are translated by La fête des mères and La fête des pères.
When to use jour
Basically, jour is used for everything else. It is the preferred form for the vast majority of cases where day is used in English. When in doubt, use jour and you should be OK. Here are some typical examples of jour.
Les jours de semaine. (Weekdays.)
Les jours de la semaine. (The days of the week.)
C’est le jour et la nuit. (It’s night and day.)
Nous sommes ouverts 24 h par jour sept jours par semaine. (We’re open 24/7.)
Elle gagne 300 euros par jour. (She earns 300 euros a day.)
J’ai dix jours de vacances. (I have ten vacation days.)
Le jour J (D-day)
Je travaille tous les jours. (I work every day).
Il y a deux ans, jour pour jour. (Two years ago, on this very day.)
Vivre au jour le jour. (Live day by day – without thinking about the future)
There are even cases where the two words are interchangeable, as in:
C’est ma dernière journée de travail. (This is my last day of work.)
C’est mon dernier jour de travail.
Always check with a reliable source if you have any doubts. Be especially careful if you care to try some of the other -ée words like tablée, brassée, enjambée, foulée, têtée, etc. Very often the -ée form takes on a special meaning that is not easily derived from the original word.
Stanley Aléong is a polyglot, author, musician and language coach in French, English and Spanish. He likes to share his passion for languages and believes that anybody can learn to speak a foreign language well with the right methods and tools. He has also invented a cool visual learning tool called the Language Wall Chart Calendar that is based on his own learning experience. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.