Tournez-le dans le sens des aiguilles d’une montre.

Tournez-le dans le sens des aiguilles d’une montre.

tour-nay-luh dahl sahss day zay-gwee-yuh dewn MAW-truh. Click below to hear this.

Turn it clockwise.

Whatever it is–a faucet, a screw, a doorknob–it seems to require a lot of words to tell you what to do with it!

Of course, if it turns out to refer to a feminine noun, you will say tournez-la instead of tournez-le. That’s for starters.

In English, -wise is a suffix (somewhat overused, I would like to point out) that acts as a shortcut for in the direction of or in the manner of, or even in regard to. So clockwise is in the manner/direction of a clock.

No such shortcut in French! We are stuck with saying dans le sens (in the direction of). And we can’t just say a clock: No, we’re going to have to in the direction of the hands of a clock. Because any self-respecting clock or watch has a set of gears that enable–in fact, force–the hands to move in a certain direction.

Moreover, clocks and watches don’t have hands. They have des aiguilles, which also means needles, as in sewing.

One odd thing about the pronunciation of aiguille: Normally, a u between a g and an e or an i signifies that the g is hard, as in the English word guest. But aiguille in French, though it has its origins in the Latin acutus (meaning “sharp”), is an outgrowth of the French adjective aigu, meaning sharp. So the pronunciation of aiguille /ay-GWEE-yuh/ is influenced by the pronunciation of aigu /ay-GHEW/. Think of it as aigu + -ille, which is a diminutive ending: An aiguille is nothing more than a small sharp thing.

And what about counterclockwise (or anticlockwise, as our British friends prefer to say? In French that will be en sens inverse des aiguilles d’une montre (in the opposIte direction from the hands of a clock.


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