For members


SIDA to IRM to RIB: Everyday French initials and acronyms to know

Like many languages, French is increasingly addicted to initials and acronyms, which can be confusing for foreigners when used in everyday speech. Here are some of the most common.

French acronyms including PMA
Without knowing French acronyms it's hard to know what protestors are calling for. Photo: Jean-Francois Monnier/AFP

Many of these are obvious once you see the full name written out, but the different word order of French, where the adjective commonly comes after the noun, means that initials or acronyms are not always easy to work out.

Many of these are used in everyday speech, while official French communications are increasingly addicted to this type of alphabet soup.


Medicine is of course rife with acronyms but there are plenty of phrases that you will frequently hear used in a social or sporting context.

SIDALe syndrome d’immunodéficience acquise or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, better known as AIDS. HIV in French is VIH (virus de l’immunodéficience humaine). SIDA is an acronym so it’s pronounced see-da.

SDFSans domicile fixe – without a fixed abode or in other words homeless. Sans-abri (without shelter) is also used to describe the homeless but SDF (pronounced es-day-eff) is common too and not just in government publications. You might see headlines like Un SDF retrouvé mort au pied de la cathédrale – A homeless man was found dead in front of the cathedral.

IRMImagerie par résonance magnétique or Magnetic resonance imaging, commonly known as MRI. If you have a soft tissue injury you’re likely to be sent for an ee-aire-em if you are in France.

PMAProcréation médicalement assistée – medically assisted reproduction, usually known in English as IVF (In vitro fertilisation). IVF in France was recently extended to include lesbian couples and single women, so you will still hear people talking about PMA pour toutes – IVF for all. It’s pronounced pay-em-ah.

The PMU logo lets you know that you can place a bet. Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP

PMU – Not to be confused with PMA is PMU (Pari mutuel urbain) which is France’s leading gambling company. You will see their green logo everywhere, both at dedicated betting shops and at smaller cafés or tabacs where as well as having a coffee you can place a bet. These PMU (pay-em-oo) cafés are a popular hangout for old Frenchmen, especially in smaller towns.

JOJeux Olympiques. Immediately obvious once you see the full phrase, but whereas in English we tend to refer to the Olympic Games as simply ‘the Olympics’ in France it’s commonly shortened to Les JO (pronounced zhee-oh).


The financial world tends to be addicted to jargon, but even if you don’t work in this sector there are some very common acronyms related to money that you will need to know.

TVATaxe sur la valeur ajoutée or value-added tax known in English as VAT. This is the tax you pay when you buy goods or services, so if you’re getting a price estimate on something, make sure it includes TVA (tay-vay-ah) to let you know the amount you will actually be paying.

PIBProduit intérieur brut or gross domestic product (GDP). This one is often seen in headlines about France’s economic performance where PIB has either grown or shrunk.

SMICSalaire minimum de croissance, otherwise known as the minimum wage. This is an acronym so it’s pronounced ‘smeek’ and you’ll often hear it used in general conversation as written as a word – Smic, rather than SMIC.

This is important not just for people in low-wage jobs as it’s used as a general measure of subsistence, so for example visas that specify a minimum amount of money to ensure that people are financially self-sufficient will usually use the SMIC as a guideline amount. It changes regularly, but it’s currently €1,589.47 a month before tax for a full-time worker while the pre-tax hourly rate is €10.48.

QGQuartier général is the ‘general quarters’ known in English as headquarters or HQ. As in English QG (coo-shay) can be used in the specific sense of the head office of a business or political party, , or slightly more colloquially to describe the epicentre of something.

RIBRelevé d’Identité Bancaire. This doesn’t really directly translate into English but it means your bank account details. When you open a French account you will be given multiple copies of a RIB – a short document listing your bank account number, IBAN etc and when you set up a direct debit with companies you send them a copy of the RIB. It’s an acronym so it sounds like ‘reeb’.

READ ALSO The vocabulary you need to fill in French forms


Some organisations, both French and multinational, are commonly known by initials or acronyms so it’s worth knowing what they are.

OTANOrganisation du traité de l’Atlantique nord, in English North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, know to much of the world as NATO. It’s pronounced oh-toh.

OMSOrganisation mondiale de la Santé or World Health Organisation (WHO). This one is initials so pronounced oh-em-es.

A member of the SNCF security staff. Photo by ERIC PIERMONT / AFP

SNCFSociété nationale des chemins de fer français (National society of French railways). We had to look this up to write this guide as the full name of the French state rail operator is virtually never used, it’s always simply referred to as SNCF and it’s often used as a shorthand for ‘the railways’ as well as to specifically refer to the company. Pronounced ess-en-say-eff. 

RATPRégie Autonome des Transports Parisiens or the operator of the Paris public transport network. RATP runs the Metro, trams, buses and some of the RER lines, while SNCF runs the rest of the RER lines and the Transilien suburban train network – which is important to know if one or the other is on strike. We’re heard some anglophones pronounce this as rat-pee (in tribute to the substance that is fairly ubiquitous down in those Metro tunnels) but it’s actually aire-ah-tay-pay.

TGVTrain à grande vitesse. The much-loved French high-speed train is pronounced tay-zhay-vay. The TGV network covers intercity links, if you need to go to a smaller town or village you’ll likely need to connect via the slower local TER (tay-uh-aire) network.


While the above mostly refer to formal or semi-formal situations it’s also increasingly common to see abbreviations used in messages, especially on social media or text messages.

READ ALSO The abbreviations you need to navigate social media in French

SVP/STPs’il vous plaît/s’il te plaît. Quite commonly known even in English (such as RSVP on invitations) this is the abbreviation of the formal and informal way of saying please. You’ll commonly find these in informal messages like emails or text messages, and on signs requesting that customers do a certain thing. If you’re reading these out loud it would be more common to say the full s’il vous plâit/s’il te plâit than to spell out the initials.

CCcoucou. Unlike in English where Cc is most commonly used in a formal administrative sense (carbon copy, but usually used to mean copying someone into a message), cc in French is a common abbreviation for the informal greeting coucou. You’ll see it at the beginning of messages from friends, but it’s also common in unsolicited messages – especially on social media where they might have a picture of some genitalia attached. Lovely. 

JTMJe t’aime. Hopefully you’ll know someone pretty well before they send you this, it means they love you.

READ ALSO From ONS to JTM – How to tackle online dating in France

Member comments

  1. Non non 🙁 s’il vous plâit/s’il te plâit wrong accent location.
    S’il te plaît. S’il vous plaît. From placere latin for « être agréable ».

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For members


How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in French

It's a very common experience to have to give out your phone number or email address in France, or take down the address of a website, and there is some specialist vocabulary that you will need.

How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in French

The correct names for punctuation marks used to be fairly low down on any French-learner’s list, but these days they are vital whenever you need to explain an email address, website or social media account.

Likewise if you want to talk about websites, or social media posts, there are some things that you need to know. 


Obviously punctuation points have their own names in France, and making sure you get the periods, dashes and underscores correct is vital to giving out account details. 

Full stop/period . point. Pronounced pwan, this is most commonly heard for French websites or email addresses which end in .fr (pronounced pwan eff eyre).

If you have a site that ends in .com you say ‘com’ as a word just as you would in English – pwan com – and if the website is a government site such as the tax office it will end with (pwan goov pwan eff eyre).

At symbol @ Arobase – so for example the email address [email protected] would be jean pwan dupont arobas hotmail pwan eff eyre 

Ampersand/and symbol & esperluette

Dash – tiret

Underscore _ tiret bas 

Forward slash / barre oblique

Upper case/capital lettersMajuscule (or lettre majuscule)

Lower caseminiscule

The following punctuation points are less common in email or web addresses, but worth knowing anyway;

Comma , virgule. In France a decimal point is indicated with a comma so two and a half would be 2,5 (deux virgule cinq)

Exclamation mark ! point d’exclamation – when you are writing in French you always leave a space between the final letter of the word and the exclamation mark – comme ça !

Question mark ? point d’interrogation – likewise, leave a space between the final character and a question mark 

Brackets/parentheses ( ) parenthèse

Quotation marks « » guillemets 


If you need to give your phone number out, the key thing to know is that French people pair the numbers in a phone number when speaking.

So say your number is 06 12 34 56 78, in French you would say zero six, douze, trente-quatre, cinqante-six, soixante-dix- huit (zero six, twelve, thirty four, fifty six, seventy eight, rather than one, two, three, four etc)

Mobile numbers in France all begin with 06 and ‘zero six‘ is a slangy way of talking about your phone number.

Donne-moi ton zero six pour qu’on puisse se capter parfois. – Give me your number so that we can hang out sometime.

Social media

If you want to give out your Twitter or Instagram handle, the chances are you might need to know some punctuation terms as described above.

Otherwise the good news is that a lot of English-language social media terms are used in France too.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have the same names in France and have entered the language in other ways too, for example you might describe your dinner as très instagrammable – ie it’s photogenic and would look good on Instagram.

On Twitter you can suivre (follow), aime (like) or retweet (take a wild guess). You’ll often hear the English words for these terms too, though pronounced with a French accent.

There is a French translation for hashtag – it’s dièse mot, but in reality hashtag is also very widely used.

Tech is one of those areas where new concepts come along so quickly that the English terms often get embedded into everyday use before the Academie française can think up a French alternative.

There’s also the phenomenon of English terms being mildly ‘Frenchified’ such as having a slightly different pronunciation or being adapted to sound more French, such as the below UberEats advert, which uses the words ‘swiper, matcher, dater’ – not really correct French but clearly instantly understandable to the young demographic that the advert is aimed at. 

Photo: The Local

READ ALSO Why do French adverts love to use English words?