French Grammar: Unit of Time vs. Length of Time

French Grammar: Unit of Time vs. Length of Time

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French Grammar: Unit of Time vs. Length of Time
la grammaire française: matin/matinée, soir/soirée, jour/journée, an/année

  • The words Matin/Matinée, Soir/Soirée, Jour/Journée, An/Année all refer to times.
  • The difference between the words in each pair is a matter of Unit of Time vs. Length of Time.


Both words in the above pairs have the same English translation. However, the way in which each is used is very different. Generally, they cannot be used interchangeably! It all depends on whether you want to express a discreet unit of time or a length of time.

un matin –> une matinée : morning

un soir –> une soirée : evening

un jour –> une journée : day

un an –> une année : year

Note that the shorter word in each pair is masculine, and the longer word is feminine.  Each of the masculine forms refers to a discreet unit of time, while each of the feminine forms is used to emphasize a length of time.  The form of the word to use therefore depends on whether you want to stress a specific part of the day, a day, or a year OR whether you want to stress the span of time that some action takes, took, or will take place.


J’étudie le matin.
I study in the morning.

J’étudie la matinée.
I study all morning / throughout the morning.

There are certain set expressions in French which are always used with the same form. Here are some examples of set expressions:

Bonjour : Hello (Literally: Good day)

Bonne journée : Have a good day

Bonsoir : Good evening

Bonne soirée : Have a good evening

Bonne année! : Happy New Year!

les jours de la semaine : the days of the week

les mois de l’année : the months of the year

l’année dernière : last year

l’année prochaine : next year

le jour de l’an / le nouvel an : New Year’s Day

Quel jour est-ce? : What day is it?

faire la grasse matinée : to sleep late

Apart from the set expressions, there are general rules for when to use the short, masculine form of the word:

a. After cardinal numbers:

J’ai vingt ans.
I am twenty years old.

b. After adverbs that tell when something occurs:

demain soir : tomorrow evening

hier matin : yesterday morning

c. With demonstrative adjectives:

ce matin : this/that morning


cette année : this year

cet an : that year that …

There are also general rules for when to use the longer, feminine form of the word:

a. With [de] + a descriptive noun:

la journée de rentrée : the first day of school

b. With most adjectives (other than demonstrative adjectives):

une année scolaire : an academic year

une longue journée : a long day

c. To convey such concepts as all the, a part of, most of, the whole:

la plupart de la soirée : most of the evening

NOTE: The word tous (toute) has a different meaning when used before the masculine form of the word than it does when used before the feminine form of the word.


tous les matins / tous les soirs / tous les jours
every morning / every evening / every day

toute la matinée / toute la soirée / toute la journée
all morning / all evening / all day


Tu as passé toute la journée dans la bibliothèque.
You (informal) spent all day in the library.

Ils partent dans deux jours.
They (masculine) leave in two days.

Nous sortons ce soir.
We are going out this evening.

Vous êtes allées à une soirée de pyjama.
You all went to a pajama party.

J’ai passé une année sabbatique en France il y a trois ans.
I spent a sabbatical year in France three years ago.