by Clare Jones

nouvelle orthographe

I mentioned in my last blog post that the French have reformed their spelling rules and that oignon is now spelled ognon. Here are some more onion expressions:

Occupe-toi de tes ognons ! –Mind your own business! (literally take care of your onions)

Ce ne sont pas mes ognons – It’s none of my business (literally these are not my onions)

Interestingly, I have three French dictionaries in app format which I have bought in the last few years and none of them recognizes the new spelling, though it has long been a recommendation that dictionaries list both versions. My spellchecker on my new computer, on the other hand, does recognize both. These new rules were introduced as long ago as 1990 and were approved unanimously by L’Académie française but it was only in September 2015 that publishers finally decided that all school text books would make the changes. That’s when fury erupted on social media and the changes hit the headlines. Even British newspapers reported on the story. French university students who had struggled to learn the old complex spellings and had finally mastered them now felt some attachment to them and pride at having learned them. They accused the socialist government of dumbing down the language of Molière. There was much support for their campaign but the spelling reforms stand and personally I find they make perfect sense. Both old and new spellings are to be accepted in examinations but the new spellings are recommended, so I will do my best to explain some of the main changes and will try to use them from now on. I have left out some details. For a more detailed guide in French on the subject take a look at this website and download this pdf. There are ten areas of change. Here are the first five.

  1. To start with, numbers which did not used to be hyphenated are now hyphenated so instead of vingt et un we now have vingt-et-un. This helps to clear up the ambiguity which arose in the following example:

Soixante et un tiers had two possible interpretations: 60 + 1/3 or 61/3.

Now there is a distinction:

Soixante et un tiers = 60 + 1/3

Soixante-et-un tiers = 61/3

  1. Composite nouns made up of a verb+ noun e.g. un pèse-lettre (postal scales) or a preposition + noun e.g. un sans-abri (a homeless person) from now on will always have an s at the end of the second half to mark a plural and in the singular will never have an s.

Bye bye: un compte-gouttes (a pipette / dropper), des compte-gouttes

Hello : un compte-goutte, des compte-gouttes

Bye bye : un après-midi, des après-midi

Hello : un après-midi, des après-midis


  1. Some acute accents have been changed to grave accents to regularize their spellings.

Bye bye: un événement (an event), un réglement (rules), je céderai (I will give in), ils régleraient (they would settle up / regulate)

Hello: un évènement, un règlement, je cèderai, ils règleraient

Notice though that we still have un médecin and la médicine.

So the French expression changer de crémerie (to take one’s business elsewhere) would now be written changer de crèmerie.

changer de crèmerie

Picture by Tamsin Edwards Texart


If you are interested in the origin of this expression, I suggest you buy my book where all is revealed!

  1. The circumflex accent is disappearing over an i and a u apart from in the simple past tense, the subjunctive and in five words where there might be some confusion with similar words: the circumflex accent will remain in the following masculine singular adjectives: (owing, due), mûr (ripe) and sûr (sure);

in the noun jeûne (fast);

and in just those forms of the verb croître /croitre (to grow) where there could be some confusion with the verb croire (to believe) e.g. il croît (he grows), il croit (he believes).

So bye bye to connaître, il connaît and entraînement and hello to connaitre, il connait and entrainement.

  1. Verbs ending in -eler and -eter will now follow the pattern of peler (to peel) and acheter (to buy). However, appeler (to call) and jeter (to throw) remain unchanged.

What do you think of the changes? Can you think of any other examples of words which will now change to conform to these first five rules? Please leave a comment. I’ll be back with the other five areas of change next week.


A bientôt!



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About the author

Clare Jones was born in the North of England in 1960. She fell in love with the French language at the age of 11 and went on to study it to degree level at Leicester University, where she also became a qualified teacher. In 2011 Clare collaborated with Tamsin Edwards to produce an iPhone application, “Figure out French, Rouler un patin: to give a French kiss and other French expressions for leisure and health”. Though she now lives in England, Clare always has her nose in a French book and she surrounds herself by all things French. She is currently very busy teaching French as a private tutor and when she has the time, she writes a blog on the subject of the French language (click on the blog tab to read it). Clare enjoys tai-chi, swimming, and cycling in the local country park. She is also an enthusiastic member of her local community choir.

About the illustrator

Tamsin Edwards studied art at both Nene Art College, Northampton, and Derby School of Art during the early 1980s. Though well known for her atmospheric watercolour landscapes, Tamsin also creates quirky pen & wash illustrations, often portraying comic images of people and places. Tamsin has already collaborated with Clare Jones to produce an iPhone application. Past commissioned projects also include the children’s storybook ‘Tales of Two Shires’ and a book of poetic verses. As well as regularly exhibiting work and selling to clients around the world, Tamsin has also had several paintings published in an international magazine. To view further examples of her work or to buy original artwork from this book, please visit Tamsin can be contacted at

Author Photo

Illustrator Tamsin Edwards (left) and author Clare Jones (right)

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