Should You Use 'le Courriel' for 'Email'?

The answer is yes, in official documents. Colloquially, stick with 'email.'

The august Académie française (French Academy) chose courriel, pronounced "koo ryehl" as the official French word for "email," but that doesn't necessarily mean the French man on the street uses it.

Courriel is an amalgamation of courrier and electronique created in French-speaking Canada as a portmanteau word—a word that combines the meaning of two words, formed usually by joining the first part of one word and the last part of the other, as with courriel (courri, from courrier, plus el, from electronique).

The creation of courriel was promoted by the Office québécois de la langue française and endorsed by the Académie française.

Courriel is a singular masculine noun (plural: courriels) signifying internet email, both the message and the system. Synonyms are: mél (email message), message électronique (electronic message), and messagerie électronique (the system of electronic messaging.)

Usage and Expressions With 'Courriel'

Courriel, c'est officiel. > Courriel, it's official.

envoyer qqch par courriel > to email something

adresse courriel > email address

adresse courriel > email address

chaîne de courriel > email chain

appâtage par courriel > [email] phishing

hameçonnage par courriel > [email] phishing

publipostage électronique / envoi de courriels > email blast

courriel web > web email, web-based email

Elle m'a envoyé un courriel ce matin. > She sent me an email this morning.

Assurez-vous de fournir la bonne adresse de courriel lors de votre commande.

> Please be sure to provide the correct email address when placing your order.

Votre nom : Votre courriel : Courriel du destinataire : Sujet : Activités à venir > Your name: Your email address: Recipient email address: Subject: Upcoming Events

Adresse courriel: communications@providencehealth.bc.ca > Email address: communications@providencehealth.bc.ca

The French Academy and Courriel

The Académie française, created in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, is charged with defining the French language and elaborating it in its dictionary, which fixes French usage. The Dictionnaire de l’Académie française is...a prescriptivist dictionary, recording the ways in which French words should be used. 

The primary role of the Académie française is to regulate the French language by determining standards of acceptable grammar and vocabulary, as well as adapting to linguistic change by adding new words and updating the meanings of existing ones. Since the French have borrowed a large number of English words, especially for new technology, the Académie's task tends to be focused on lessening the influx of English terms into French by choosing or inventing French equivalents.

Officially, the Academy's charter states, "The primary function of the Academy will be to work, with all possible care and diligence, to give our language definite rules and to make it pure, eloquent, and capable of dealing with art and science."

The Academy fulfills this mission by publishing an official dictionary and by working with French terminological committees and other specialized organizations.

The dictionary is not sold to the general public, so the Académie's work must be incorporated into society by the creation of laws and regulations by these organizations.

The Academy Chooses 'Courriel' for 'Email'

Perhaps the most famous example of this occurred when the Académie chose "courriel" as the official translation of "email." The move to ban email was announced in mid-2003 after the decision was published in the official government register. Courriel thus became the term that official France used in official documents to refer to electronic mail. 

The Academy does all this with the expectation that French speakers will take these new regulations into consideration, and in this way, a common linguistic heritage can theoretically be maintained among French speakers around the world.

In reality, this does not always happen with the words the Academy promotes, including for courriel, which doesn't seem to have caught on in everyday French to the extent the Academy had hoped.

Has 'Courriel' Caught on in France?

It continues to be used in official government documents, as well as by companies working with the administration, by opponents of Franglais (French corrupted by the addition of too many English words), and by the older population.

But colloquially, most French speakers still say "email" (just as they talk about "foot" and "basket" instead of "football" and "basketball"), "mail," or "mél" (a portmanteau of "message electronique"). The latter is favored by the same people who use courriel. In France, the word courriel does not sound correct to most French, and mél does not sound as weird. Mél is also a comfortable​ counterpart to the abbreviation "Tél." used for the telephone number field on official documents.

In Quebec, where courriel was created, people don't like using English words in French, and English words are less common than in France. So they create words like courriel, which they use frequently, even in colloquial contexts.

Ultimately, the fact that some of the French in France have adopted courriel makes it a moderate success there, compared to the words the Academy created to replace blog, web, and chat, which have faded into the distant mists of memory.