The 7 days of the week in French: Its curious ancient origins & meaning

The 7 days of the week in French: Its curious ancient origins & meaning

Here’s a list of the 7 days of the week in the French language, plus their curious ancient origins and meaning, which will help you memorize them forever.

What Are the 7 Days of the Week in the French language?

Before we dive into the etymology of the 7 days of the week in French, let’s establish their names in the order a French person would say them.

The week starts on Monday, not Sunday!

The week starts on Monday in France, not Sunday

If you’re from the United States, the UK, Canada and a few other countries, you’re probably used to seeing calendars that start the week on Sunday.

However, in France and the rest of Europe, which uses the ISO 8601 standard, the first day of the week begins on Monday.

The ISO 8601 standard gives a way of presenting dates and times that are clearly defined and understandable to people from different time zones and cultures as well as machines.

List of the 7 French days of the week and how to pronounce them.

  1. lundi – Monday
    /lun-dee/
  2. mardi – Tuesday
    /mar-dee/
  3. mercredi – Wednesday
    /maire-cruh-dee/
  4. jeudi ­ – Thursday
    /zhu-dee/
  5. vendredi – Friday
    /von-druh-dee/
  6. samedi – Saturday
    /sa-muh-dee/
  7. dimanche – Sunday
    /dee-monsh/

Abbreviation for the names of the 7 days of the week in French

  1. lun. (Mon)
  2. mar. (Tues)
  3. mer. (Wed)
  4. jeu. (Thurs)
  5. ven. (Fri)
  6. sam. (Sat)
  7. dim. (Sun)

The etymology of the 7 days of the week in the French language

With the exception of Saturday and Sunday, the days of the week in French are named after the planets of Hellenistic astrology, which are the seven classical planets easily seen with the naked eye.

They are the Moon, the planets Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and the Sun. (the sun and moon were once considered planets.)

Babylonians invented the 7 day week.

Most historians agree that we can thank the ancient Babylonians who lived in modern-day Iraq 4000 years ago for the 7 day week.

The Babylonians based the 7 day week on the Sun, Moon, and the five planetary bodies known to them or rather that they could see in the sky. They believed each celestial body was ruled by a god or goddess who shaped events on earth.

The Babylonians believed:

  1. The moon was Sin or Nanna.
  2. Mars was Nergal, the god of the underworld, death, and plague.
  3. Mercury was Nabu, the god of knowledge, wisdom, writing, and messengers.
  4. Jupiter was Marduk, the primary god of the Babylonians.
  5. Venus was Ishtar, the goddess of love, beauty, sex, war, violence, and political power.
  6. Ninurta was the god of farming and healing.
  7. The sun was Shamash, the god of law and justice.

The order of the days of the week is not random either.

According to Cassius, a 3rd-century Christian historian, ancient astrologists ascribed the days of the week to the seven classical planets in a cyclical sequence that could be seen with the naked eye at a particular time of the day.

The Greeks

Later, the ancient Greeks from the Hellenistic period adopted the seven-day week but substituted the Babylonian god names with the names of their Greek deities, which also corresponded with the planets, sun and moon.

They were: Helios, Selene, Ares, Hermes, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Cronos, aka Kronos.

These days were only known to Greek astrologers and were not used by everyday people.

The Romans

With the rise of the Roman Empire, the Romans substituted the Greek days of the week after their own Roman gods which corresponded with the Greek gods. 

From there, the seven-day week spread to other civilizations, which sometimes changed the names to their own language and beliefs.

The Anglo-Saxons

For example, The Anglo-Saxons renamed Tuesday through Friday after Norse gods while keeping Roman names for Saturday, Sunday and Monday. 

Tuesday god of war Tyr or Tiw
Tyr or Tiw: God of war after which Tuesday is named

The Romance Languages, such as French best preserved the original ancient Roman names for the days of the week

Today, all Romance languages which evolved from Latin still use the Roman planetary god names for the days of the week, except for modern Portuguese and Mirandese. This is why some days of the week sound so different in English and French. 

For example:

Tuesday in Spanish, Italian, and French is martes, martedi and mardi, named after the Roman God and planet Mars. In comparison, Tuesday in English gets its name from the Anglo-Saxon one-handed duelling god of war, Tiw, also known as Tyr to the Norse Vikings.

Wednesday in English comes from Woden, the Anglo-Saxon king of the gods while in French it’s mercredi from the planet and god mercury. 

roman god of war mars
Mars Roman god of war: French word for Tuesday (Mardi)

Original names of the Roman (and Greek) days of the week

7 planets of the week in English and French + Greek and Roman god names after which they were originally named

Lundi – Monday

  • Planet = Moon
  • Latin = Dies Lunae (day of Luna)
  • Luna was the ancient Roman moon goddess
  • Selene was the Greek gods name.

Mardi – Tuesday

  • Planet = Mars
  • Latin = Dies Martis (day of Mars)
  • Mars was the ancient Roman god of war.
  • Ares was the Greek god’s name.

Mercredi – Wednesday

  • Planet = Mercury
  • Latin = Dies Mercurii (day of Mercury)
  • Mercury was the messenger of the ancient Roman gods and god of commerce
  • Hermes was the Greek god’s name.

Jeudi – Thursday

  • Planet = Jovis, also called jove, luppiter, lovis
  • Latin = Dies Jovis (day of Jupiter)
  • Jupiter, or Jove, was the king of the ancient Roman gods and god of sky and thunder.
  • Zeus was the Greek god’s name.

Vendredi – Friday

  • Planet = Venus
  • Latin = Dies Veneris (day of Venus)
  • Venus was the ancient Roman goddess of love
  • Aphrodite was the Greek god’s name

Samedi – Saturday

  • Planet = Saturn
  • Latin = Dies Saturni (day of Saturnus)
  • Saturn was the Roman god of generation, dissolution, plenty, wealth, agriculture, periodic renewal and liberation
  • Cronos, aka Kronos was the Greek god’s name.

Saturn day was replaced by sambati dies (sambatum), Latin for “day of the Sabbath”, which became “samedi” in French.

Dimanche – Sunday

  • Planet = Sun
  • Latin = Dies Solis (day of the sun)
  • Sol was an ancient Roman sun god.
  • Helios was the Greek god’s name.

Sun day was replaced by Dominicus dies (Dominica), Latin for “the Lord’s Day”, which became “dimanche” in French. 

Useful French days of the week questions, sentences, expression and vocabulary

What gender are the 7 French days of the week?

All days of the week in French are masculine. 

Why aren’t the 7 days of the week in French capitalized?

Capitalization is much less common in French than in English.

You never capitalize the days of the week in French unless they start a sentence.

Months of the year and languages are also not capitalized in French, and you never capitalize nationalities in French when they are used as adjectives to modify a noun.

Monday to Friday

  • Lundi à Vendredi

Weekend

  • Le weekend

Most French people in France say le weekend.

This surprised me when I first moved to France because, in French-speaking Quebec, we always use the French phrase “la fin de semaine,” which literally means “the end of the week.”

Week (Semaine)

  • One week = Une semaine
  • This week = Cette semaine
  • Next week = La semaine prochaine
  • Last week = La semaine dernière 
  • Every week = Chaque semaine, Hebdomadairement, Une fois par semaine
  • Per week = par semaine (how much does it cost per week ?/ Combien ça coûte par semaine?)

How to say “Today is (day)” in French.

  • Aujourd’hui c’est (day)
  • On est (day)
  • C’est (day)
  • Nous sommes (day) -this is more formal.

How to ask “What day is it?” in French.

  • On est quel jour?
  • Quel jour sommes-nous?

With “Le” or without “Le”

Adding the article “le” before the day of the week in French changes its meaning from a single day to something you do regularly on a given day. 

For example:

Le mardi = every Tuesday

Both phrases below say the same thing: “Every Tuesday, I eat with my girlfriend.”

  • Le mardi, je mange avec ma copine). 
  • Tous les mardis, je mange avec ma copine.

mardi = Tuesday (one single Tuesday)

  • Mardi, je mange avec ma copine. (On Tuesday, I’m going to eat with my girlfriend.)

See you next week

  • à la semaine prochaine.

Memorizing the 7 days of the week in French

Now that you know that the origins for the names of the 7 days of the week in French stem from the Roman names of the planets, memorizing the days of the week in French becomes much easier 

Just remember that the names for Saturday and Sunday were changed from a planetary celestial body to Sabbath day (samedi) and day of the lord (dimanche). 

A quick recap for remembering the 7 days of the week in French

  • lundi = moon day (from Latin luna)
  • mardi= Mars day (does mardi gras sound familiar to you?)
  • mercredi = Mercury day (from Latin mercurialis)
  • jeudi = Jupiter day (from latin Jovis also called jove, luppiter, lovis)
  • vendredi = Venus day 
  • samedi = sabbath day (from Latin sambatum)
  • dimanche = lords day (from Latin dominus)

Je vous souhaite une très bonne semaine!
A très bientôt

 

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