Continents in French

Instructor: Amy Brotschul

Amy has taught all levels of high school French and holds a Master of Arts in Teaching French and English as a Second Language.

How many continents are there? If you live in the United States, you'll probably say seven. But if you live in France, you'll probably say five. Let's explore why this difference exists and discuss how to talk about continents and their inhabitants in French.

The continents in French

Olympic rings

French students generally learn that there are five continents or cinq continents (cohn-tee-nahn). The five rings on the Olympic flags represent these five continents. (The modern-day Olympic Games were founded by a French man named Pierre de Coubertin.) The continent of l'Antarctique (ahnt-ark-teek), Antarctica, is not included because it uninhabited.

The five continents represented by the Olympic colors

color continent pronunciation in English
black / noir l'Afrique (ah-freek) Africa
red / rouge l'Amérique (ah-may-reek) America
yellow / jaune l'Asie (ah-zee) Asia
green / vert l'Europe (ö-rop) Europe
blue / bleu l'Océanie (oh-say-ah-nee) Oceania

In the United States, we have seven continents because we count l'Antarctique and make the distinction between l'Amérique du Nord (ah-may-reek dü nor) and l'Amérique du Sud (ah-may-reek dü süd). Joining these two continents is l'Amérique latine (ah-may-reek lah-teen). We refer to the seventh continent as l'Australie (oh-strah-lee) instead of l'Océanie.

It is worthy to note that all the continents in French are feminine in gender (except for l'Antarctique, which is masculine) and use the preposition en for ''in'' or ''to.''

For example:

  • J'habite en Amérique. I live in America.
  • Les Alpes se trouvent en Europe. The Alps are found in Europe.
  • Nous allons voyager en Asie. We are going to travel to Asia.

Other Continent Words

In French, le monde refers to the world.

Le monde, the world, can be divided into l'hémisphère nord and l'hémisphère sud, at the center of which you find le pôle Nord and le pôle Sud, respectively. You can also divide Earth, la Terre, into l'hémisphère est (also called l'Orient) and l'hémisphère ouest (also called l'Occident). Between les continents you will find large océans. Most maps of la Terre are oriented to the nord. Often, you will find the markings nord, sud, est and ouest.

vocabulary pronunciation translation
la Terre (tehr) the Earth
le monde (mohnd) the world
l'hémisphère nord (ay-mee-sfehr nor) Northern Hemisphere
l'hémisphère sud (ay-mee-sfehr süd) Southern Hemisphere
le pôle Nord (pol nor) the North Pole
le pôle Sud (pol süd) the South Pole
l'hémisphère est (ay-mee-sfehr est) Eastern Hemisphere
l'hémisphère ouest (ay-mee-sfehr ooest) Western Hemisphere
l'Orient (or-ee-ahn) the East
l'Occident (ok-see-dahn) the West
l'océan (o-say-ahn) the ocean
nord (nor) north
sud (süd) south
est (est) east
ouest (ooest) west

The Inhabitants

Les habitants (ah-bee-tahn) are the people who live in a certain region or country.

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