Friday’s French – avoir le droit & entitlement

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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.”

The sort of vista where you wouldn't like a hospital to appear.

The sort of vista where you wouldn’t like a hospital to appear.

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.

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