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Qu'est-ce qu'un meuble ?

There are a few words in French that are more than a little challenging for English-speakers to translate. One of these words is "un meuble". The quick version is that it's "a piece of furniture". In the plural, "les meubles" refers to "furniture". As an adjective, "meublé" means "furnished" so "un appartement meublé" means "a furnished apartment". But when someone says "les assiettes sont dans le meuble", how do we deal with the idea that "un meuble" is "a piece of furniture"?

Let's dig a little deeper and see what "un meuble" really is. From Larousse, "un meuble" is a movable object that contributes to the furnishing or decoration of living quarters (bed, chair, table, wardrobe, etc.). The word "movable" is key to understanding the breadth of the word. "Les meubles meublants" is literally "the movables", a specialized term to refer to household furniture/furnishings. So "le meuble" may refer to virtually any movable functional or decorative object to which one would collectively ascribe the term "furnishings", including:

  • Dans le salon: un canapé, un coussin, une table, une table basse, un tapis, un fauteuil, une chaise, une commode, une étagère, un tableau, des rideaux, un bouquet de fleurs, un vase, une affiche, etc.
  • Dans la cuisine: un placard, une cuisinère, un four, un congélateur, un lave-vaisselle, un réferigéateur, etc.
  • Dans la chambre: un lit, une lampe, un oreiller, des draps, une couette, une couverture, un réveil, une armoire, etc.

Source: Vocabulaire Progressif du Français, 2010, CLE International

While all of these things would be considered "furnishings" in a broad sense of the word, an English-speaker is unlikely to use the term "piece of furniture" to refer to each individual item on this list. Rather, we would call it by its name. Collectively, we would say "furnishings" and we have no problem with referring to the collection of objects as "des meubles" in the broad sense of furniture or furnishings. Armed with this information, let's revisit the sentence "Les assiettes sont dans le meuble". So, where are those pesky plates anyway? This is where one must pause to consider what is the item to which "piece of furniture" refers. We would not suggest that the answer is any of the following: un lit, une couverture, un tableau, or in fact most of the items listed. Perhaps it is a cupboard, a cabinet, a sideboard, or a buffet. Or maybe they are in l'évier or le lave-vaisselle. These are all perfectly reasonable terms used in English to refer to a place where the dishes might be. But is "un meuble" semantically equivalent to "cupboard" or indeed any specific "piece of furniture"? No, it is not. We have already seen that the term meuble is far too broad to back-translate to such a specific item. For EN>FR, wouldn't we rather say "un placard" (cupboard) or "un buffet" (sideboard) or even "un cabinet" (cabinet)? There are also more specific terms: un buffet de cuisine, un placard de cuisine, but we wouldn't look for dishes in un placard à vêtements (a wardrobe/closet) or un placard de salle de bains (bathroom cabinet).

Context: So how does a francophone understand such a general term in such a specific way? It can only be attributed to habit, familiarity and context. When French speakers use "le meuble" (an incredibly broad term) to refer to something specific (a place where dishes are kept), it is primarily because the speaker and the hearer share something about their environment, i.e., context. They also share a common speech in which one would naturally assume that when one says "les assiettes sont dans le meuble" that they are in "le meuble" where they are always kept (not on the bed, not on the sofa, not on the chair), i.e., they are "dans le meuble (de rangement)", a storage unit (from the verb "ranger": to put away). So the context of "les assiettes" informs us what kind of "meuble" it must be. For a francophone, it may be natural enough to communicate in such a way where context carries a lot of the weight. For anglophones to understand this more clearly, we need to fill in (at least in our minds) that the plates are in the cupboard, the usual term for a storage unit for dishes. But remember that this does not mean that the term "cupboard" will necessarily apply to "meuble" in another situation. The terms are not semantically equivalent and are not interchangeable.

Some francophones may avoid the term "cabinet" when interacting with anglophones because the plural "les cabinets" is commonly used to refer to "the toilet/loo/bathroom" and would not be taken as a plural of "cabinet". It shouldn't be a problem when one remembers that "faire sa toilette" is not speaking of the facilities, but of taking care of one's personal hygiene (i.e., having a wash) after getting out of bed in the morning, but "les toilettes" and "les cabinets" refer to the place where you do your business, i.e., faire pipi. But I digress.

In summary, whereas all the possible items we see around the house are indeed "des meubles", we are hard put to say that a specific item is "un meuble" and expect anyone to know what we're really talking about. So if someone asks you "Où sont les assiettes ?", maybe it's time to learn the names of the individual items and respond in a meaningful way. And dictionaries are great at helping us find the answers to these questions. http://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais-anglais

November 12, 2017



That's pretty comprehensive! I can't see anyone remaining confused after reading that. :-)

Worth noting that these movable "meubles" are often found located in the large immovable structure that we call a building. Or in French, an "immeuble"


You don't realize how much I appreciate this post! My confusion over the term "meuble" has actually been clarified. I remember asking a question about that when I first entered the discussions, but none of the answers were as in depth as this one. Even more, the extra information was especially interesting. Bless you, sir!


Vous êtes très gentille de le dire. J'aime aider les autres.


Wao. I also apreciate that. In my case being a Spanish speaker I had in clear the concept of "meuble/mueble" but didn't thought about how the concept of "furniture" was different.


I wonder if the final conclusion is that it is just a way to say "the plates are put away". More literaly "the plates are in 'the thing plates are put into'".


Thank you that will help so many understand the subtleties of language differences.


Bravo, tu es ce que tout professeur devrait être. Tu aimes partager.

Que penses-tu de cette phrase de notre grande écrivaine Colette lorsqu'elle dit : « Mon Dieu ! Que la vieillesse est donc un meuble inconfortable ! »


Bravo et merci pour vos infos, bien utiles pour progresser en traduction; il resterait à rédiger un article sur: "meubler une conversation!!" que je me sens bien incapable de faire en anglais! au plaisir de lire d'autres conversations meublées et...très utiles!


Thanks for this post.


Thank you for this. It really is very interesting.

I would say the English equivalent to this is "on the side".

"Where are my keys?" "Oh, they are on the side."

To any English native, they will instantly hone in on the location of their missing item, even though "the side" can refer to a table, worktop or chest of drawers (any item of furniture with a top and in plain view).

So considering that, I guess this could work: "Où sont mes clés?" "Sur le meuble!"


Some things are interesting and I guess it could help some people, but unfortunately the way you understood what "un meuble" refers to is mostly wrong.

Un coussin, un tapis, un fauteuil, un tableau, des rideaux, un bouquet de fleurs, un vase, une affiche, une lampe, un oreiller, des draps, une couette, une couverture, un réveil... ne sont absolument pas des meubles. Pour aucun francophone, nulle part.

And really, most of us would not consider un évier, une cuisinière, un four, un congélateur, un lave-vaisselle, un réfrigérateur as "un meuble" either.

Un meuble is an object you use to store things (une armoire, une commode, une étagère...), or something used to sit or lie on (un lit, un canapé, une chaise, un fauteuil...), or something on which you work or eat (une table, un bureau...). Everything else is not un meuble.

French is already difficult enough... You really don't need to create new difficulties. As I was a bit puzzled by what you wrote, I checked the wikipedia entry for "furniture". As I suspected, it's exactly the same as it is in french, even though you'd never say "a furniture". The items listed here are exactly the same as what we would call "un meuble" in french: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_furniture_types

I think I know where you went wrong. The distinction you use, "movable" vs "immovable" is only a legal term, used, for instance, for inheritances. In that case, your "immovable", ("l'immobilier") is all the land you own, your house, etc... What you possess but can't move.

And yes, in that particular case, and in that case only, everything else, everything that can be moved, is seen as your "meubles". Even your jewelry or the cash you left in your drawers. But you'll only ever see that in legal documents (if you ever see it).

In everyday situations, all those things are certainly not "des meubles", and if you refer to your pillow or your wedding ring as un meuble, any native french speaker will raise an eyebrow and think you're pretty weird. :)

As I'm not sure people will read my reply, it might be a good idea to correct your post...

Et concernant les francophones ci-dessus qui disent bravo, je m'interroge fortement sur ce que vous avez effectivement lu avant d'applaudir, parce que si tout cela vous a paru normal, il faudra m'expliquer...


Voici une explication!! En français, le mot meuble a une utilisation très large: il peut être utilisé comme nom ou comme adjectif ou comme verbe;

un meuble: tout objet ou ensemble d'objets destinés au service d'une maison, qui peut être déplacé; tout objet mobile de formes rigides reposant sur le sol et participant à l'aménagement d'une pièce, d'une maison: un fauteuil est un meuble; De plus: un vase, un réveil, une lampe, une affiche, un tableau, un bouquet de fleurs, sont des objets meubles, et ils meublent (garnissent) mon bureau ou mon salon; je peux les déplacer; certes, ce sont des objets, mais des objets meublants qui peuvent être inclus quand on dit: "mes meubles".

Pour plus de précisions, je renvoie au tome 4 du dictionnaire Le Grand Robert en six volumes, page 1437;
Ainsi donc, en espérant avoir rendu service, j'ai meublé cette conversation!


Hello, yapisme. Thanks for your insight from a francophone perspective. The issue is that Duolingo tends to want to translate "un meuble" very specifically to "a piece of furture" and "des meubles" to "furniture". It is more complicated than that. The notion is that "des meubles" refers to not just items of furniture but furnishings as well. That is why there are many items listed there that are certainly not considered to be items of furniture. My motivation for writing up a little investigation is that in English it makes no sense to say "the plates are in the item of furniture". So we need to understand what "un meuble" can be. While you may not personally identify many of the terms listed as "des meubles", they do demonstrate the very wide concept of the term "meuble" and of the English counterpart "furnishings". In short, there is not a simple or neat comparability from one language to another in this case. In the specific sense of "les assiettes sont dans le meuble", this may make perfect sense to you, but "meuble" is poorly defined in Duolingo and I have even experienced resistance to using "cabinet" because of its association with "les toilettes" in French. In English, there is no such association. So the situation is not as specific and neat as you would like to have it, but your feedback is nevertheless appreciated.

BTW, I notice that your research took you to the English site for a "List of furniture types", but that is part of the problem. Because if we think in English, we will never understand "un meuble". And if we think only in French, we will never understand how one would never say "the plates are in the furniture". If you start thinking about it as "un meuble" = "a piece of furniture" and then look around at what "a piece of furniture is" in English, you have missed it. If you look at meuble from the French side, it is not simply "a piece of furniture", but includes "furnishings", i.e., all that stuff in the room, not just "pieces of furniture". When exercises are put together, they are often not well thought out so that someone may come up with "les assiettes sont dans le meuble" when in a reasonable world would refer to some specific type of place. Instead of using the specific name of the furniture(?) item, the general term "meuble" might be used. A francophone would probably understand that without a problem but now give us a word for it in English, because "a piece of furniture" doesn't do the job.


This reply is absolutely correct and should be upvoted so the original post doesn't mislead people. No native speaker would ever call a "réveil" or an "assiette" a "meuble". Dont be mislead by the discussion about movable stuff; for everyday life purposes a "meuble" means a piece of furniture (cabinet, chair, bed, etc.).

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