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What’s in a Day? - Un Jour vs. Une Journée

You probably came across the word jour (day) very early on, when you learned the greeting bonjour (hello). But did you know that bonjour has a feminine counterpart, bonne journée (have a nice day)? 

 

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And are you aware that there are two words in French not only for "day," but also for "year," "morning," and "evening"

 

                                masculine                    feminine

       day                     un jour                      une journée

      year                      un an                        une année

    morning                le matin                      la matinée 

    evening                  le soir                         la soirée 

 

Is there a difference between the masculine and feminine versions? If so, which one should you choose?

 

The shorter masculine nouns un jour, un an, un matin, un soir refer to a specific point in time, a unit of time, with an emphasis on quantity. The longer feminine nouns une journée, une année, la matinée, la soirée emphasize duration and quality.

 

Although the masculine and feminine versions of each word translate more or less the same way, they have different shades of meaning that are not necessarily conveyed in English and that can be difficult for French learners to grasp.

 

In this lesson, we'll explore the differences between jour and journée (day), and we will cover the remaining words in a future lesson. 

 

So, let’s take a closer look at jour (day) first. As mentioned earlier, the shorter masculine word jour refers to a day as a unit of time, or a point in time.

 

You always use jour when referring to a calendar day, as in: 

 

Quel jour sommes-nous?

What day is it? (literally, "What day are we?")

 

You would never say, Quelle journée somme-nous? 

 

A point in time doesn’t have to be specific. Un jour can also mean "one day" or "someday":

 

Un jour le destin lui donnera une occasion de régler ses comptes.

One day, fate will give her an opportunity to settle her score.

Caption 56, Le Jour où tout a basculé J'ai escroqué mon assurance ! - Part 3

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In any case, jour often does refer to a specific or even a special day. In the example below, Sam explains to his mother that today was a special day: lotto day. 

 

Aujourd'hui, c'était le jour du loto

Today was lotto day

Caption 3, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 5

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And it’s a special day for his friend Nico too, who picked up two girls in a single day:

 

Ouais. Deux filles en un seul jour.

Yeah. Two girls in a single day.

Caption 17, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 5

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Note that en une seule journée (in a single day) would be grammatically and semantically acceptable, but maybe not the best choice here. It would mean something like "in the span of a single day." En une seule journée wouldn’t sound quite as striking, as Nico wants to emphasize the record time it took him to pick up two girls!

 

Meanwhile, Annie is celebrating Sacha’s lottery win. She tells her:

 

C'est ton jour de chance.

It's your lucky day.

Caption 4, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 4

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Unfortunately, her jour de chance turns out to be un jour de malchance:

 

Quel jour de malchance!

What a day of bad luck!

Caption 59, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 8

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The expression is usually un jour de malchance, since the emphasis is on the unlucky event, but you could say une journée de malchance if you wanted to shift the emphasis onto the duration of the day—perhaps referring to a day filled with unlucky events!

 

It was also un jour de malchance for the mother in the example below, who remembered ce jour-là (that day) as the day when she found out that her baby was switched at birth:

 

Ce jour-là, je savais que ma vie ne serait plus jamais la même.

That day, I knew that my life would never be the same again.

Caption 24, Le Jour où tout a basculé Nos bébés ont été échangés... - Part 4

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We use the construction ce jour-là (that day) to look back on a significant day, or event.

 

And to convey the passage of time and repetition, we have the expression au fil des jours (day by day/as the days go by):

 

Pourtant, au fil des jours, Edna se laisse peu à peu séduire par René.

However, as the days go by, Edna lets herself be seduced by René little by little.

Captions 15-16, Le Jour où tout a basculé Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 6

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It makes sense to use jours with adjectives of quantity like plusieurs (several) and tous (every), as we are counting the days: 

 

Il s'apprête à passer plusieurs jours en province.

He is getting ready to spend several days outside of Paris.

Caption 25, Le Jour où tout a basculé Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 1

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You also use jours combined with the plural adjective tous (every/all) to explain what you do every day:

 

Et je travaille ici tous les jours.

And I work here every day.

Caption 4, Fred et Miami Catamarans Les Bateaux

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But watch what happens when you use the feminine form of tout, toute (all, whole):

 

Et donc, j'ai passé la journée à faire comme ça. J'ai fait Cluzet toute la journée.

And so I spent the day going like that. I did Cluzet all day.

Caption 74, Alsace 20 Laurent Chandemerle, l'homme aux 100 voix

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By switching to the feminine form, toute la journée (all day/all day long), the emphasis is now on duration rather than a point in time. When describing how you spend your day, you need to use journéeYou would never say tout le jour to mean “all day”: only toute la journée.

 

Just like toute, prepositions of duration like pendant or durant (during) also pair with journée:

 

Deux minutes en moyenne d'attente pendant la journée

Two minutes of waiting on average during the day

Captions 69-70, Adrien Le métro parisien

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And when referring to a day dedicated to a specific cause, such as International Yoga Day, you would also use journée:

 

Donc c'est la deuxième année qu'est célébrée cette Journée Internationale du Yoga

So it's the second year that this International Day of Yoga is being celebrated

Caption 2, Paix et partage Journée Internationale du yoga

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Finally, le jour can also mean "day" as a general unit of time, the opposite of la nuit (night):

 

Une demi-heure dans un simulateur de conduite toutes les quatre heures, de jour comme de nuit.

Half an hour in a driving simulator every four hours, day and night.

Caption 19, Le Journal Apnée du sommeil

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As you can see, jour and journée are so similar, yet so different. The rules are somewhat flexible, but there are certain situations that call for one word over the other.

 

Au fil des jours (over time), by watching Yabla videos tous les jours (every day), you’ll find it easier to choose the correct word!

 

And stay tuned for a lesson on an/année (year), soir/soirée (evening), and matin/matinée (morning) in the future.

 
Vocabulary

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