As I caught myself thinking about World War II this week (yes, I really have the most relaxing thoughts during my breaks sometimes…), a doubt suddenly crept in: do we more often call it “la deuxième guerre mondiale”, or “la seconde guerre mondiale”? The more I was thinking, the less I could remember!
I knew that both forms were actually used, but which one was the most common? Or was there a BEST option? (Keep reading and you will see that there is, indeed.)
I decided to survey my French friends on Facebook, asking them which expression came to their mind first.
Before sharing the result of that poll with you, I will:
- explain the difference between “deuxième” and “second(e)”
- seek your opinion as to what the best answer should be.
Difference between “deuxième” and “second” in French
Both terms refer to what is coming after the first (so far, so good, so easy!).
Note: the letter “C” in the French word “second(e)” is pronounced [g], which is of course very unusual. So, we say “seGond(e)”.
The fundamental difference between “deuxième” and “second” is not set in stone, but, basically:
- « deuxième » is generally used when the list will has more than 2 (or 3) items.
- “second” (feminine form: “seconde”) is generally used when it is the end of the list. (but sometimes there can be a third item too).
“Nous avons deux options: la première est de dire “la deuxième guerre mondiale” et la seconde est de dire : “la seconde guerre mondiale »”.
(= We have two options : the first one is to say « la deuxieme guerre mondiale » and the second one is to say « la seconde guerre mondiale ».)
⇒That’s all, there is no third option there.
Let’s start with a little game! Here are the French names of the Seven Dwarfs from “Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains” (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) in random order. Can you find who’s who in the picture below?
Atchoum – Simplet – Joyeux – Dormeur – Timide – Prof – Grincheux.
- Le premier nain est Prof (= The first dwarf is Doc),
- Le deuxième nain est Grincheux (= The second is Grumpy),
- Le troisième est Joyeux (Happy),
- Le quatrième est Dormeur (Sleepy),
- Le cinquième est Atchoum (Sneezy),
- Le sixième est Timide (Bashful),
- Le dernier / septième est Simplet (Dopey).
⇒ I’ve used « deuxième » because the list of names went on.
Note: the English names of the dwarfs are those from the 1937 Disney movie (they change in some later versions of the tale).
« Deuxième guerre mondiale » or « seconde guerre mondiale » ?
So, which is the best option between « deuxième guerre mondiale » and « seconde guerre mondiale » ? What would you say?
I will quote my friend Anita’s answer to my informal Facebook poll: “Moi je dirais seconde dans un esprit optimiste !” (= I would say “seconde” to remain optimistic). That is what all my other friends went with too (except for one person).
Let’s hope indeed that it really was the last one!
Did you know ?
(Not fun) fact : World War ONE is also known by the nickname “La der des ders”, short for “la dernière des dernières (fois)” (= “the very last one”, literally “the last of the last (time)”), because it had been so horrible. And yet there’s been a second world war. 🙁
I wish Men would learn from history and their mistakes.