Friday’s French – horloge, pendule, clock, réveil, watch, montre

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We get up on Sunday morning after going back onto winter time and all the clocks are an hour out. “Il faut remettre les pendules à l’heure, c’est le cas de le dire”. “Resetting the clocks” is an expression in French which means to put the record straight or put things in their right place.

The town hall in Villiers-sur-Loir with its 2-metre diameter monumental clock
L’horloge de la mairie à Villiers-sur-Loir

Ce garçon devient impossible. Son succès lui monte à la tête. Il faudra remettre les pendules à l’heure. – That boy is getting impossible. Success has gone to his head. He needs to be brought down a peg.

Ce débat devient stérile. Il faut remettre les pendules à l’heure. – This discussion is getting out of hand. We need to get back on track.

So where does the French expression come from? Well, you know all those war and spy films where the characters all synchronise their watches so that their mission will be a success? That’s all it is!

Talking about pendules, the French have several different words for time-pieces: horloge, pendule, réveil, montre come to mind.

Horloge is used when it’s a big clock: l’horloge de la gare (station clock), horloge de l’église (church clock), horloge normande or de parquet or comtoise (grandfather clock), horloge astronomique (astronomical clock), etc.

Le buffet à horloge qui en fait est une pendule !
Le buffet à horloge qui en fait est une pendule !

Pendule obviously corresponds to pendulum so is used for a pendulum clock and a cuckoo clock (pendule à coucou), for instance, but can also be used for any clock (except an alarm clock) as in remettre les pendules à l’heure. But when the pendule is in a grandfather clock, it’s becomes horloge!

An alarm clock is always called a réveil or réveil-matin (a morning wake-up clock). Il faut mettre le réveil à 8 heures – you’ll have to set the alarm for 8 (o’clock). A travel alarm clock is a réveil de voyage.

Watch and montre indicate the same object with a few variations according to type. A wrist watch is a montre-bracelet, a fob watch is montre de gousset (which gave our word gusset), a watch with a winder is a montre à remontoir and a diver’s watch is a montre de plongée. The others are vitually the same: montre analogue/digital/numérique/de précision/à quartz/à répétition = analog/digital/precision/quartz/repeating.

There are all sorts of expressions that revolve around the word clock that are sometimes rendered by montre in French and sometimes by horloge or heure or something else again!

A race against the clock = une course contre la montre

To keep your eyes on the clock = surveiller l’heure

To work around the clock = travailler vingt-quatre heures d’affilée

To do something by the clock = faire quelquechose en respectant l’horaire

To turn the clock back = revenir en arrière

I’m sure you have lots of other examples of time-related expressions to share!

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9 thoughts on “Friday’s French – horloge, pendule, clock, réveil, watch, montre”

  1. What would be a neat way of saying that my walk is ‘clockwise’ one day and ‘anti-clockwise’ the next? It feels a bit of a mouthfull to talk about the hands/pointers of the clock.

    1. Spontaneously I’d say “Un jour je me promène dans le sens des aiguilles d’une montre et le lendemain je fais l’inverse.” However, Jean Michel says it doesn’t sound French so I’m consulting my FB friends!

    2. Yes please. This a.m. as I walked around the village, I was thinking about when driving onto a round about, we would enter at six o’clock and (here in France) go anti clockwise to exit at three, twelve or nine.

      1. So here are the suggestions:
        Un jour je fais un circuit et le lendemain je le fais dans l’autre sens.
        Je me promène un jour dans le sens des aiguilles d’une montre et le lendemain en sens inverse.
        When talking about a roundabout in France, your would say “dans le sens giratoire” and the correct name for the traffic roundabout with a central island is a “carrefour giratoire”. I think here you would say “première sortie”, “deuxième sortie” etc.

        1. Hmmm! Thanks for that: it does sound a trifle longwinded so I shall just keep quiet about my route! BTW I speak my best French when out walking and talking with The Dog.

          1. Yes, clockwise in French is not nearly as neat as it is in English! You could just say “un jour je vais dans un sens et un jour dans l’autre”. When I was learning French at school I always spoke French to my dog. I used to call him “mon ange”. Jean Michel tells me you should say “t’es beau t’es beau” to barking dogs to stop them barking. I haven’t noticed it works though.

  2. Interesting reference for time-related terms and expressions in French. Not only did you explained the terms literally, you also shared with us how the words are used in figurative expressions and what they mean. Thanks!

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