In our last lesson, we discussed the differences in meaning between the two ways of saying "day" in French, le jour and la journée. The masculine term jour refers to a specific moment in time, or a unit of time with an emphasis on quantity, while its feminine counterpart journée emphasizes quality, content, and duration. We also mentioned that there were other words pairs, namely matin/matinée (morning), soir/soirée (evening), and an/année (year), that work similarly.
In this lesson, we will focus on the word pairs soir/soirée and matin/matinée.
Like jour (day), matin (morning) and soir (evening/night) indicate a point in time. You can use them to specify the time of day, as in six heures du matin (six o’clock in the morning).
To clarify whether it’s morning or afternoon on the twelve-hour clock, simply add du matin (in the morning) and du soir (in the evening) to the time:
New York, six heures du matin
New York, six o'clock in the morning
Caption 2, Boulbar New York, 6 heures du matinPlay Caption
(Du matin is equivalent to “a.m.” and du soir is equivalent to “p.m.”).
You can also combine matin/soir with other time expressions, as in le lendemain matin/le lendemain soir (the next morning/evening):
Le lendemain matin, Jean-Paul est rongé par la culpabilité.
The next morning, Jean-Paul is consumed with guilt.Play Caption
Similarly, you can pair matin/soir with hier (yesterday). In the example below, we have hier soir (last night):
T'étais où hier soir?
Where were you last night?Play Caption
The nouns le soir and le matin aren't necessarily accompanied by an adverb of time. They can be used on their own to indicate a time of day. In the example below, the restaurant owner explains how many people typically come for lunch or dinner:
Cinquante personnes le midi, cinquante personnes le soir
Fifty people at noon, fifty people in the evening
Captions 31-32, Christian Le Squer Je ne fais que goûter!Play Caption
In the example below, Elisa and Mashal discuss what they usually have for breakfast, and Elisa is surprised to hear that Mashal likes to eat a slice of chicken le matin (in the morning).
Le matin? -Ouais. Une tranche de poulet le matin?
In the morning? -Yeah. A slice of chicken in the morning?
Captions 5-6, Elisa et Mashal Petit-déjeunerPlay Caption
Unlike in English, you don't need a preposition in French to say "in the evening/in the morning." You can simply say le soir/le matin (in the evening/morning).
When the time is less specific or crucial, and the emphasis is on what happened during that time, it’s better to use the feminine version dans la matinée/soirée (in the morning/evening). This time, the preposition dans (in) is included.
Let’s look at what Alexandre and Sophie were doing dans la soirée (in the evening) in the example below. What matters most is what happened during the evening—Alexandre calling Sophie:
Dans la soirée, Alexandre appelle Sophie.
In the evening, Alexandre calls Sophie.Play Caption
In the next example, Alexandre calls Sophie at a different time: en fin de matinée (in the late morning). Since timing is approximate, we use matinée:
Alex, l'agent de Sophie, m'a appelée en fin de matinée.
Alex, Sophie's agent, called me in the late morning.Play Caption
You can substitute matinée (morning) with soirée (evening) here: en fin de soirée (in the late evening).
When estimating how long it might take to perform a task, use the suffix -ée to indicate duration. In the example below, the person needs la matinée (the whole morning or the better part of the morning) to do her shopping:
Je vais faire des courses. J'en ai pour la matinée.
I'm going to do some shopping. I'll be out for the morning.Play Caption
When describing how much you can accomplish in the span of a morning, you say dans une matinée (in a morning). Watch the video below to find out how many madeleines this amazing baker makes dans une matinée (in a morning):
Mais vous, tout seul, dans une matinée, vous faites combien de madeleines?
But you by yourself, how many madeleines do you make in a morning?Play Caption
Unlike the baker in the example above, the lady in the video below decides to prendre la matinée (take the morning off):
Elle a pris sa matinée aujourd'hui.
She took her morning off today.Play Caption
Taking the morning off is a great opportunity to faire la grasse matinée (to sleep in; literally, "to do the fat morning"). That is precisely what the animal in this funny zoo recommends doing while on holiday:
Pas question. Vacances égalent grasse matinée.
Out of the question. Vacations equal sleeping in.
Caption 33, Les zooriginaux Repos corsé - Part 3Play Caption
And if you’re in the mood, you can watch a matinée performance. Une matinée can stretch into an early afternoon, the start of the day for very late risers.
For evening people, how you spend la soirée (the evening) is more important. In the video below, Cinderella was having such a good night out that la soirée (the evening) flew by:
Avec la musique et la danse, la soirée passa comme dans un rêve.
With the music and the dancing, the evening passed like in a dream.
Captions 21-22, Contes de fées Cendrillon - Part 2Play Caption
Elisa and Mashal also remember a memorable evening, cette soirée (that evening), as they look at old photos:
C'est vrai. Je me rappelle de cette soirée.
That's true. I remember that evening.
Caption 53, Elisa et Mashal PhotosPlay Caption
If it had been a formal event, une soirée (a soirée), Elisa and Mashal might have worn une robe de soirée (an evening gown).
On the other hand, une robe de soirée (an evening gown) would not be appropriate for a job interview, as Mashal jokingly points out:
On va pas se ramener, euh... -Avec une robe de soirée, quoi.
We're not going to show up, uh... -In an evening gown, right?
Caption 67, Elisa et Mashal CVPlay Caption
In any case, it’s always good form to wish someone bonne soirée (have a good evening) when parting ways, and save bonsoir (good evening) for the beginning of the evening, as it’s a greeting.
Now that we’ve explored soir/soirée (evening) and matin/matinée (morning), we’re ready to tackle an/année (year) in a future and final lesson.