Computer Terms In French

Differences between basic computer terms in English and French and how to translate them

The development of information technology since its earliest days has been spectacular. The specialist vocabulary required to deal with its concepts and mechanics has continued to evolve rapidly. Because most of the large players in the computer industry started in the United States, the new terminology developed first in American English and subsequently in other languages, including French.

Because of the general attitude of the French to other nations' languages and the encouragement of the "˜Académie Française', there are probably more information technology related words in French that are different from their English originals than in almost any other language.

The first word that is immediately seen to be different is the word for a computer. In most other languages this word has passed from English with no more than minor changes to its spelling and often not even that. In French, a computer is "˜un ordinateur', although a personal computer is often referred to as "˜un PC' rather than "˜un OP' (ordinateur personnel). A laptop computer is known as "˜un portatif'.

Information technology is "l'informatique" in French, which also leads to the verb "˜informatiser' meaning to computerise and the nouns "˜un informaticien' (male) or "˜une informaticienne' (female) which are used as general terms for technical computer staff.


If we consider some computer hardware components, there are several differences between English and French. The general term for hardware is "˜le matériel'.

Random Access Memory is called "˜les mémoires à accès sélectif' in French but the abbreviation RAM is commonly used. A memory chip is "˜une puce mémoire'. Literally, "˜une puce' is a flea not a chip! A memory board (i.e. a circuit board containing memory) is "˜une plaquette mémoire'. In France, memory size is measured in "˜Mega-octets' (abbreviated to Mo.) rather than megabytes. The fact that one byte consists of eight bits explains the derivation of "˜un octet' to mean a byte.

A standard French keyboard is "˜un clavier AZERTY' where the positions of the A and Z keys are exchanged with the Q and W keys, as compared to the more usual QWERTY keyboard. The French word for a key is "˜une touche'. If you see the phrase "˜appuyez sur n'importe quelle touche', it means "˜press any key'.


The general term for software in French is "˜le logiciel'.

A software package is "˜un progiciel', so a word processing package is "˜un progiciel de traitement de texte'.

An electronic spreadsheet is "˜un tableur électronique' and a database management system is "˜un système de gestion de base de données'.

For more information, please refer to a specialist publication such as an English-French Computing Dictionary.

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