In a comment on last Friday’s French, Conrad from Canada asked me how I would translate the word “entitlement”. His example was “The community lost their vistas because of a new housing project; they were convinced that they were entitled to these vistas, so it created great stress for years to come.”
I would have spontaneously found a solution using droit but Conrad feels that it doesn’t incorporate the idea of an historic right that entitlement does.
So I asked my translators’ community TLSFRM for some ideas. There were several suggestions such as il leur revenait de (plein) droit de conserver leurs vues; ils pensaient qu’il était légitime de conserver leur vues; ils pensaient qu’ils étaient fondés à conserver leurs vues and ils pensaient qu’ils étaient en droit de conserver leurs vues.
Another possibility is ils estimaient qu’ils n’auraient jamais dû être privés de leur vue which means turning the sentence around completely – another prime example that words in one language rarely overlap in another and that it’s often the context that provides the full meaning.
There are other everyday contexts in which avoir droit à or donne droit à is used in the meaning of entitlement:
Elle a droit à une bourse: she’s entitled to a scholarship.
Cette carte vous donne droit à des places gratuites: this card entitles you to free seats.
The meaning, of course, is that of having the right to something, except that we use a different word in English. The same applies to the following examples:
“J’ai droit à deux morceaux ?”, a child would ask if he wants two squares of chocolate. An English-speaker would say “Can I have two pieces?” or “Am I allowed to have two pieces”.
Tu n’as pas le droit de le taper: you’re not allowed to hit him or you musn’t hit him.
So, can we always use droit when we want to say “allow”. Of course not, that would be far too easy !
She allowed me to borrow her shoes – elle m’a permis d’emprunter ses chaussures.
Smoking is not allowed : il est interdit or défendu de fumer.
The teacher allowed me to go early : le professeur m’a autorisé de partir de bonne heure.
You need to allow 28 days for delivery : Il faut prévoir un délai de livraison de 28 jours.
We are not allowed much freedom : on nous accorde peu de liberté.
I could go on and on and find a different French verb each time! I’m sure you have lots of other examples.
10 thoughts on “Friday’s French – avoir le droit & entitlement”
Like many things in life, I find the better my French gets, the less I feel I know it well. In my ignorance, I would have just gone for a simple “droit” and thought no more about it……
These, of course, are the finer points of French. Don’t get discouraged!
I think the problem here is partly because we are conflating a ‘sense of entitlement’ and an actual right. The word ‘droit’ is used in French much more than the word ‘right’ in English, and so ‘entitlement’ is a good translation, because it is more likely to be used to mean not an actual right, but a sense of entitlement.
Right is, if you like, a ‘stronger’ word than ‘droit’ in many cases. I was rather startled to be told by my orchard neighbour that ‘vous n’avez pas le droit’ to plant a tree near our fenceline. In fact, I am not allowed to plant too close to the boundary, but telling me so in French is not quite as strong a statement as it would be in English. In English, he would have used some sort of moderating phrase like ‘you are not supposed to’ because ‘you don’t have the right’ would be too blunt, too hard in a conversation between neighbours who get on perfectly well.
Yes, being told you don’t have the right to plant a tree near someone’s fenceline would definitely be seen as very strong in English. “Vous n’avez pas de droit” is often used when we would say “you are not supposed to” in English.
Check out motto of the British royalty:
It’s definitely ‘entitlement’ in that context!
Yes, it is, but the term that has always been used is “the divine right of kings”!
I might have written something like “il considérait cette vue comme un acquis” or “un dû”. The French concept of “un acquis” always feels to me like the English “entitlement”…
Yes, I hadn’t thought of “acquis” and “dû”. I agree it would work well here.
Woaw another very interesting subject! My 5p again….
“j’ai le droit” and even more “vous n’avez pas le droit” ARE very strong statements in french. In fact I cannot think of anything stronger than that, apart may be from “je vous interdit de ….” (I forbit/prohibit you to …)
Remember what you call Law (like in “I study Law”, “a School of Law”) we call it Droit (j’étudie le Droit, une Faculté de Droit)…
So anything with the word “droit” in it (even without the uppercase D) is quite strong… And of course there are many other much nicer ways of telling almost the same thing…
“il ne faut/faudrait pas que ….”,
“vous ne pouvez pas …”
“vous ne devez/devriez pas …”
or even ‘je ne crois pas que vous ayez le droit” at least this one leaves room for interpretation because you start it with “I’m not sure”
“J’ai le droit” is almost a direct reference to the Law, almost stating that if it goes to court, you’ll win the case. Of course this doesn’t apply if you talk to a kid, but even in this case it is much stronger than “il ne faut pas” “tu ne dois pas”.
To come to a french (from France) translation for “they were convinced that they were entitled to these vistas” I would suggest “Ils etaient convaincus qu’ils avaient un droit à la vue”
As you can guess this is a much discussed point as a view is something people don’t like to lose!… And there is no general law about that.
You’ll find an exemple (in french) here about people that had a lovely view on Ajaccio’s Bay and lost it because a public building went in the middle 🙂
I hope this explanation helps….
Hi, I think that “avoir le droit” is probably used in common speech more often than you realise. I recently took a photo of the poultry yard next door and the woman came sweeping down the garden yelling “vous n’avez pas le droit de prendre des photos. C’est une propriété privé”. In English we would be more likely to say, “you’re not allowed to take photos”.