Second ou deuxième?
suh-gaw oo duh-zeeEM? Click below to hear this.*
Second or second?
A few days ago, I wrote about Le Jour J, and mentioned la Seconde Guerre mondiale. A reader named Suzanne countered with a great question: What is the rule that governs the use of second and deuxième?
The rule is simple, but not always observed. If there are more than two items in the series you are enumerating, you use deuxième. If there are only two items, you use second(e). That’s why some people say la Deuxième Guerre mondiale and others say la Seconde Guerre mondiale. For many years, the fear of a Third World War was so all-encompassing that people, unconsciously or no, used the more pessimistic phrase.
On a less cataclysmic scale, we say Il s’est marié avec Hélène en secondes noces—He married Hélène in a second marriage. There are only two weddings so far, and no reason to assume that there will be a third.
Likewise, when we say Elle est née la deuxième (She was born second), we learn more than one thing about her family: She is not the oldest child, and there are more than two children.
Thanks for asking, Suzanne!
*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file: