20 November 2011

About prepositions and balconies

I'm fine with the French word « terrasse » as the name for the deck/porch/balcony on the front of our house. It's the English word "terrace" that sounds pretentious to me. But I've been reading the dictionary. Here's what the American Heritage says about "terrace":
1.a. A porch or walkway bordered by colonnades. b. A platform extending outdoors from a floor of a house or an apartment building. 2. An open, often paved area adjacent to a house serving as an outdoor living space; a patio.
I guess the main difference between a porch and a terrace is that a porch is at street level (or very slightly above it). A terrace is the size of a porch (compared to a balcony, which is smaller) but it's well above ground (apartment buildings have terraces). A terrace is a large, spacious balcony, except that a balcony protrudes beyond the walls of the building, whereas a terrace doesn't stick out so much as it fits in.

You can see how our terrace extends out
beyond the walls of the house.

Our terrace sticks out just a little. I have a feeling it was originally designed to be narrower, but then somebody decided to make it wider during construction of the house so that the terrace would be spacious enough to accommodate outdoor furniture. That's why it extends out just enough beyond the roof line that rain falls on the edge of the terrace. When the slope was wrong, the water formed a puddle in front of the door that separates the outdoor from the indoor space.

The roof doesn't completely protect the terrace from rain.

Okay, enough of that. I'm going to get used to calling it a terrace in English and I'm trying to stop feeling that "terrace" is a snooty-sounding term. By the way, a patio, to me, is always on the ground level.

As for « à la terrasse » vs. « sur la terrasse » in French, it seems to me that when you take an outdoor table at a café in Paris, you are « à la terrasse d'un café ». The waiter or host might tell you there's a table available « en terrasse ». At home, when we are sitting outside, we are « sur la terrasse ». But I'm not Parisian or French, so don't count on me for the definitive answer.

Here's how we cleaned the deck in pre-Kärcher days.

In a comment, I introduced two other constructions — « à Paris » and « sur Paris » — for comparison. I was joking. Even so, I hear such expression with « sur », which means "on", more and more often. I think that « sur Paris » or « sur Chartres », for example, means "in the Paris area" or "in the Chartres area." For Paris, it's always possible to say instead, for example, « je travaille en région parisienne » instead of « sur Paris ». But for Chartres, what are the possibilities? « Je travaille sur Chartres », meaning in and around the town, seems useful to me.

This balcony-like part of the terrace on
the north side of the house is pretty useless.

Be careful though, because purists will tell you that the preposition « sur » used with the name of a city or town is simply an error — une faute de français.

Isn't it fun learning a second language? Most native speakers of French never think much about questions like the ones above.

Mowing in mid-November

Did I mention how nice the weather still is here en région saint-aignanaise ? Walt actually got out the lawn mower and cleaned up the yard a little bit yesterday, after lunch. We are doing our best to take advantage of these unseasonably sunny days.


  1. I wonder how terraced houses became so? And add a Northern accent and the 'terrace' sounds more to do with a football pitch. I'm off to find out why terraced houses are so called. I get the football pitch thing, but not the house thing!

  2. As an Australian I would call this a verandah or a deck. Verandah implies an older building, deck a modern building. I think of terraces (in the sense of this discussion) as large, open, flat, paved (or sometimes gravelled) spaces, normally at the rear of grand houses, overlooking the gardens and connected to them by wide, generous steps, but not cantilevered over space.

    My sense is that 'sur terrasse' is more common here than 'à la terrasse', especially if the terrace in question is not on the street. I would normally say 'sur terrasse' (but as you know, my French is flaky). I have never heard 'sur Paris'.

  3. Ladyjustine, I have the same question about terraced houses. We don't use that term in America.

    Susan, I've never heard "sur terrasse" without the article. "En terrace" as opposed to "en salle", yes.

    In America, verandah is a Southern regionalism or a rural-sounding term, to my ear. And a deck is usually not covered by a roof of any kind.

    "Sur Paris" is an expression you hear often now, but purists don't like it. The other day I heard an interviewer ask somebody if he worked "à Chartres." "Oui... sur Chartres...", which I understood to mean not just in, or maybe not in Chartres at all, but in the area surrounding it, the suburbs (if Chartres has suburbs...).

  4. As an Australian, I would call that a terrace, a very large balcony. Sorry Susan. The north side balcony might mean you don't have to a window cleaner in.

  5. IMHO those two expression, or the like, "sur Paris" and "en région Parisienne" mean the same thing. Both are new additions — forty years or so — to the French language. In the old days people used to say "à Paris" and "dans la région Parisienne". I haven't the slightest idea what changing "sur" for "à" and "en" for "dans la" does for the language or its comprehension. A very dear friend of mine would say it is the evolution of the language, even though "sur" and "dans" have different meanings!

    To my French ear — or what's left of it — the first of these new expressions introduces some vagueness that the old one didn't carry. Again in my humble opinion, "sur Paris" is understood both as "à Paris" and "dans la région Parisienne". In the second expression "en" and "dans la" are interchangeable as far as meaning is concerned.

    Now "à la terrasse" and "sur la terrasse"; I thought about it and here is my explanation. I'm no grammarian, just plain, old Frenchman. As we have seen yesterday, the word "terrasse" implies a definite area, covered or not, where you can have some kind of furniture and where you can sit and relax. That would be "sur la terrasse" since yon would say "allons nous asseoir sur la terrasse" [let's have a sit on the terrace]. Now, cafés don't have a definite area where to put their tables and chairs, IT IS the sidewalk. By analogy, this temporary encroachment is called "terrasse" and since there is a very vague notion that it can expand or contract, that's where I'd use "à la terrasse." Please, don't quote me!

  6. Andrew, you make a good point about window cleaning. But then other windows in the second story of the house don't have balconies under them.

    CHM, as you know, the only language that doesn't evolve is a dead language. We say "en Touraine, en Champagne, en Normandie, etc." so why not "en région parisienne." You can also say "dans la région parisienne" and you will be understood by most French people (LOL). You might be considered old-fashioned and "pas dans le coup," however.

    I think "en" and "dans la" have the same meaning, but "à" and "sur" with a city name do not mean the same thing. "À" is more restrictive.

  7. My brain is so filled with Spanish words and phrases that, when I started reading your French lesson, my eyes rolled back into my head. I got as far as "terrase."

    I spent the second part of my childhood years (from around 11 to 17) in a 24-story building with terraces and balconies. My understanding of the difference was exactly how you describe it (after I skipped all the French).

  8. I think that, at least in English, this whole porch/verandah/terrace/deck thing is about what the word implies, in terms, in part, of where we grew up. We don't think about it, but certain words do conjure up the idea of luxury, or lack of it, or a different class.

    To me, verandah is totally associated with something in the south (of the U.S.). Where you sip mint juleps and wear chiffon.

    A porch, now that I think of it, is always something covered. We had a ground-level, screened-in porch (and no one would have called it anything else), but here in St. Louis, if you have an outside structure with a roof over it (small or not), even if it is up on the second floor, it's a porch.

    But, if it's not got a roof over it, and it's up on the upper levels of a hotel or apartment building, and it's got a metal fence-like structure around it, it's a balcony... although... wait... sometimes those DO have a roof over them *LOL*.

    To me, a deck is something totally made of wood (or, now, of pretend wood), added on as an addition outside of your suburban or country home, and without a roof. And I never saw or heard of one when I lived in New Jersey...everything was a porch!

    And, a patio is concrete or brick or flagstone, ground level, nothing over it.


  9. I have been taught that French is a less forgiving language, in terms of playing with it and making evolutionary changes, like changing prepositions.

    But, for American English, I constantly have to teach my students about what the proper way to say something is in our language, so that they can better understand the French or Spanish equivalent. Teenagers simply do NOT use whom, for example -- have no idea when to use it (one told me he thought it was for plural). Prepositions are regularly left hanging at the end of sentences ("Where you at?" "Where's that store at?" UGGGGH!). For a certain population, the verb to be has been completely thrown out the window (see above).

  10. Another interesting French leçon.

  11. I always get stumped by "en Avignon" and never "à Avignon". Paul told me that it was because Avignon was treated as an independent entity from the time the Popes were there, like the Vatican.
    Speaking of Paul, he, too, mowed the lawn yesterday. Paris suburbs. And if I remember correctly, last year we got snow in November!

  12. At this point, I'm outside on the terrasse with you Mitch! It just got too heady for me...

    I was also thinking like Andrew was as I looked at your recent photo of the northern continuation of the balcony: thinking perhaps the original owner asked about the cost of the extension so he/she could more easily wash the exterior of the window and decided to go for it!

    Mary in Oregon

  13. A "terraced house" sounds to me like a house with a terraced garden. Another possibility is a house in a terraced neighborhood, where the houses are built along leveled, parallel streets.

    Wikipedia says that a terraced house is "a style of housing where identical individual houses are cojoined into rows." That sounds British to me.

    It's too rainy to mow the lawn today, but I will be mowing Tony's hair.

  14. I'm just trying to imagine Ken sipping mint juleps and wearing chiffon...

  15. Hi Ellen, you can tell Paul that people do indeed say "en Arles". Both "en Avignon" and "en Arles" are fading as prepositional phrases however. The preposition 'à' is becoming more common with those city names, on the model of "à Arras, à Argenteuil, à Angers, à Avranches". That's the trend I read about, at least.

  16. Was the a (can't do accent)not used before the 'A' of the town as it would sound wrong? 'En A...' gives a better liason?
    These days anything goes, I was told that 'femme' is being replaced by the young as 'mefe'!!


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