Décade ou Décennie ? In today’s lesson on le bon mot, we’ll look at two words that cause confusion for anglophones and even some French!
Décade vs. Décennie
First, both are feminine nouns.
Anglophone instinct then begs the question, “Well, isn’t décade just like decade in English? Doesn’t it mean 10 years?” Malheureusement, non.
- une décade — une période de 10 jours
From the Greek dekás (dekados) meaning “a group of ten.”
More specifically from the use of décades, or 10-day weeks, in the post-French-Revolution calendar.
- une décennie — une période de 10 ans
From the Latin word decem for “ten” and annus for “year” (think: an or année in French).
Décade and decade are thus faux amis, or words that look the same in two languages, but have different meanings.
Now, this distinction hasn’t stopped everyone from using décade to mean “10 years.” Influenced by the English language, some famous French writers even immortalized this usage in their texts. This, of course, is much to the distress of language watchdogs, like l’Académie française, which believes such misuse should be avoided.
If only for clarity’s sake, it’s highly recommended that you distinguish between décade and décennie and use them accordingly. After all, 10 days and 10 years are very different! And to support this argument, an article in Le Monde gives one funny example of how using décade incorrectly can sow confusion:
« Saviez-vous que l’immortalité est à notre portée ? Le Monde m’apprend aujourd’hui que l’espérance de vie progresse de 3 ans par décade. … En effet, prendre trois ans tous les dix jours, c’est quasiment l’immortalité. »
The easiest memory trick is to recall that décade and decade are faux amis.
Another approach is to review the etymologies:
décennie comes from dix + année
décade is composed of dix + ade (which resembles “day,” if you rearrange the letters)
• • •
Mastered décade and décennie? Looking for more astuces to improve your French?
Like many of you, I’ve had to get creative and invent hacks for remembering confusing things in French! HERE are the strategies and techniques I’ve come up with or learned over the years. Fast-track your French with these top tips!
© 2019 French à la folie