Friday’s French – bis, ter and encore!

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Have you ever noticed a number in France followed by bis or ter, particularly on an entrance or gate? Well, it means that a house or property has been divided up, so it’s like our a or b.  He lives at 3a = Il habite au 3bisBis comes from Latin – twice – while ter means three times.


An American friend living in France told me the following: “As far as I know, there is no equivalent in the States. Every property has its own street number. I guess this is possible because all the steets and properties are relatively “new” as compared to European ones. When a street is created, all the properties and their numbers are assigned (even if there are no buildings yet on them). And in some cases there may even be some gaps in the numbering to allow for properties being subdivided. But I can’t ever recall the same street number being “shared” as here with the “bis”. Of course, it’s a different matter with apartment numbers which may have a an “A” or “B” etc.”

An Australian friend living in Australia adds: “We have 3a as well as 3 when it is a battle-axe block i.e. a house built in the back half of the property. We have a lot in our street.” Don’t you just love “battle-axe block”?

Another friend, living in France this time, lives at 64a and not 64bis. When they bought their house a few years ago, the previous owner kept some of the land and wanted to keep the number 64 for practical reasons. The municipality assigned our friends the number 64a and not 64bis. However, this is most unusual.

What is the system in your country?

Bis is used in other contexts in French as well. At the theatre, bis means encore which is interesting because in English, we use the French word for again. You can also say rappel from rappeler ,to call back.

To call for an encore is bisser or crier “bis”. Elle a été bissé trois fois = She had three encores. To play an encore is jouer or faire un bis. The pianist gave several encores = le pianiste  donné plusieurs bis.

An itinéraire bis is an alternative route, not exactly a detour which is déviation, but a route to avoid peak traffic, for example.

To go back to encore in French. It doesn’t just mean again. It can also mean still, only, more, even and also – just to mention a few.

Elle s’est encore trompée de rue = She took the wrong street again.

Il restait encore du fromage = There was still some cheese left.

Ce matin encore, il me parlait de son petit fils = Only this morning, he was telling me about his new grandchild.

Encore un peu de thé ? = A little more tea?

Il est encore plus bête que je ne pensais = He’s even sillier than I thought.

Ce n’est pas seulement triste mais encore ridicule = It’s not just sad; it’s also ridiculous.

I’m sure you have lots of other examples with different words in English.

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14 thoughts on “Friday’s French – bis, ter and encore!”

  1. Good clear explanation. There are a couple there for encore that I hadn’t picked up on (although I think context would decipher them even if you weren’t aware of that meaning of the word).

    ‘Yet’ is another possible meaning for encore, as in pas encore = ‘not yet’.

    Typo alert for your final example. It should translate as ‘sad’, not ‘said’.

    1. I checked it out, Lesley. Bison Futé was the result of an advertising campaign orchestrated by Daniel Robert in 1976 as part of a campaign to reduce traffic jams during major “holiday” weekends but I can’t find any indication of why it’s called Bison Futé. I think that your aupposition that “bis” and “bison” are connected could easily be correct though.

  2. I don’t know the specifics regarding ownership vs. rental vs. postal delivery, but in the U.S. (at least the Midwest) there occur several varieties of address splitting. Sometimes the address includes the suffix “UPPER” or “LOWER” or “FRONT/REAR”; letters A and up; and my favorite, “1/2” (half). I always thought of “bis” as being sort of like the “1/2”. (E.g., 123-1/2 North Main Street would probably be an upstairs apartment.) We do have some situations where there are houses in the middle of the block–I like that “battle-axe” term!
    It’s not uncommon to have houses that were built as separate apartments to have multiple street numbers for the different apartments. This is sort of like a duplex house, except vertically arranged.
    Apartments that are rented sometimes become condominiums and separately owned spaces.
    I like the possible connection between bis and bison futé! I’ve always wondered what that meant too.

  3. There was a French tank designated the Char B1 bis (improved version of the B1) at the beginning of WW2. There was a further improved version planned to be designated the B1 ter but only a few prototypes were produced before the fall of France in June 1940.

  4. bis and ter are also used in English for naming of telecommunications standards. For example, back in the day that people used to use dial-up modems to connect to the Internet (and before that, BBSes), V.32bis was the standard that 14.4K modems implemented.

    V.32bis is one of the standards issued by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is an agency of the UN which among other things develops standards for the telephone system, and which habitually uses “bis” for the second version of a standard (so the second version of standard X.1234 would be X.1234bis), and “ter” for the third. Obvious French influence, but they do it in English too. And, due to this, some English-speaking IT people, like myself, have picked this habit up, although possibly not everyone who uses or understands it is aware of its French origins. (Indeed, right now at work, I am working on my second attempt at developing a code fix for bug number 2668, and so naturally I label my second attempt 2668bis.)

    1. This comment is super helpful, Sam, and also the rest of the post, Rosemary! I just stumbled upon this post after searching for a reason of why my French colleagues labeled a new index “ISU_BIS” next to it’s original “ISU”. Now I understand exactly what the column heading means from their view without this American having to ask dumb questions 😉

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