À l’étage

À l'étage
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Image courtesy of Walk On Wood

French Expression

Meaning upstairs, downstairs
Literally on/to the floor (of a multi-story building)
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Pronunciation French pronunciation [ah lay tazh]

Usage notes: À l’étage is one of those expressions that have more meaning than the words would seem to indicate. Literally, it just means "on the floor," but what it really means is either "upstairs" from where you’re currently standing, or "on the second floor of a two-story building," whether you anywhere near it or not. In other words, le premier étage, meaning "second floor" to Americans, "first floor" to Brits.

Par exemple…

Je veux construire un restaurant avec un appartement à l’étage.   I want to build a restaurant with an apartment on the second floor.

Potential French mistake However, à l’étage can also mean "downstairs," depending on what else you say with it:

à l’étage du dessus
à l’étage au-dessus
upstairs, one floor up monter à l’étage
monter à l’étage supérieur
monter à l’étage (number)
to go upstairs
to go up one floor
to go up to the (__) floor
à l’étage du dessous
à l’étage en-dessous
downstairs, one floor down descendre à l’étage inférieur
descendre à l’étage (number)
to go down one floor
to down to the (__) floor

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4 Responses

  1. David Sargent 20 August 2014 / 4:43

    When we were looking at houses to buy, realtors used this expression a lot. At first i found it confusing. Which floor were they talking about? Then I realized it was always in the context of a two-story house and always about upstairs when it dawned on me: the ground floor is a “rez de chaussée” and not an “étage” so it always had to be about upstairs. Suddenly it all made sense. 🙂

  2. Paul Bizzigotti 1 August 2014 / 17:35

    The -sus and -sous at the end of dessus/dessous seem so similar and the difference between up and down so different…I can’t imagine anything but confusion inn France, no?

    • lkl 1 August 2014 / 19:38

      Nope. The sounds [u] (-ous) and [y] (-us) are very distinct to French ears, just as l and r are to English speakers, whereas they are indistinguishable to the Japanese.

      • David Guthrie 3 August 2014 / 20:57

        I thought the same thing at first until I heard a native say them. I can say it is pretty clear, even to my novice ears. The Parisian lady I am thinking of stuck her lips out, much to my amusement, when she said “u” and not when she said “ou.”