Friday’s French – gate, clôture, barrière , portail

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I am a firm believer in learning vocabulary if you want to speak another language with any fluency. However, it has the disadvantage of giving the impression that A always equals B. Which is not true of course.

Notre portail vert qu'on a repeint pendant une vague de chaleur

Notre portail vert qu’on a repeint pendant une vague de chaleur

I still remember learning that gate = barrière = and fence = clôture and find it difficult not to automatically say “barrière” and “clôture” each time The problem is that they are not always equivalents !

Our house in Blois has a portail (which we repainted in a heat wave), which is used to designate a large metal or wooden gate. The bits on either side of our portail are murs or walls because they are made of stone. Our little house also has a portail but it’s wooden.

No barrières in sight! So I asked Jean Michel , “qu’est-ce que c’est qu’une barrière“. He thought about it and very helpfully said “Je ne sais pas”. So I’ll tell you what I think it is. As far as I can see, it refers to a barrier, such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (grande barrière de corail), a safety gate or a crowd barrier (une barrière de sécurité), a language barrier (barrière de la langue – now that’s useful!) and more important still, a level crossing gate (barrière de passage à niveau) – you may remember my close shave in Germany last summer.

Une porte cochère

Une porte cochère

A gate can also be a porte, such as the town gates or gate to a castle or even a garden gate if it looks like a door. Those enormous gates that you see on the façade of many buildings in France originally designed to take a horse and carriage through are called portes cochère.

Une porte de jardin

Une porte de jardin

If it’s not enclosed on all sides by a wall and not big enough to let a vehicle through, it’s a portillon.

Un portillon

Un portillon

A large metal gate that doesn’t have any solid parts the way our green gate does is called a grille d’entrée.

Une grille d'entrée à la Place Stanislas in Nancy

Une grille d’entrée à la Place Stanislas in Nancy (though the actual gates are missing!)

Fortunately, fence isn’t quite as complicated. Below, you can see a clôture which is definitely a fence, but the stone wall behind it is a mur d’enclos.

Une clôture en fer devant un mur en pierre

Une clôture en fer devant un mur en pierre

Theoretically, you can have a clôture en bois such as the one the neighbours used for their chicken yard below, but most people would call it a palissade. The wire fence next to it is a clotûre though.

The first two panels erected between our wall and the neighbour's gate

Une palissade, suivie d’une clôture, suivie d’un portail.

So next time you want to say “fence” or “gate”, I hope you’ll do better than me!

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9 Responses to Friday’s French – gate, clôture, barrière , portail

  1. Pingback: Through the Gate – Par le portail | B l o i s D a i l y P h o t o

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