Could someone clarify rules for "ans" vs. "années" when referring to a plural number of years? For example, "2 ans", "3 annêes", etc?

I'm trying to figure out a software development question that happens to relate to French, in this case how to localize these phrases when presenting information to French-speaking users. A question from a different Stack Exchange site got me thinking about it.

Google Translate shows different choices for different numbers, but I don't know if it's correct and I don't know what rule applies if it is:

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In short, the built-in localization system on iPhones always uses "ans" and I'm wondering if that's correct or not. If the built-in system gives incorrect results, I'd file a bug report with Apple to get it fixed, but I don't have enough French to be sure that this is wrong.

  • 5
    The plural of an is ans and the plural of année is années. Which one to use between an and année is not a matter of numbers. See french.stackexchange.com/questions/6657/…
    – jlliagre
    Feb 24, 2016 at 2:36
  • That makes sense. So is Google just wrong here? Feb 24, 2016 at 2:40
  • Not exactly sure - but for me, deux années is much more an expression of a duration whereas deux ans is much more "two years ago/from now, something happened/will happen". J'ai passé deux années (entières) en prison ... I spent two years in prison (emphasis on length of time) YMMV. You wouldn't say "dans deux années...something will happen", whereas "dans deux ans... sthing will happen" seems much more natural to me.
    – Vérace
    Feb 24, 2016 at 4:55

1 Answer 1


There is no such rule as the one that would seem to be used in Google Translate: no reason at all to use "6 ans" and "7 ans" versus "5 années" or "8 années." In this case, the iPhone localization system has the advantage.

Unfortunately there are no simple rules that would simply lay out the use of "an" vs "année." Along with a few rules, there are fairly long lists of specific cases that require "an" ou "année." There are more cases where "an" is more appropriate than "année" rather than the opposite. So I think the default is best chosen as "an."

Here is a summary thread on wordreference discussing the subject: http://forum.wordreference.com/threads/an-ans-ann%C3%A9e-ann%C3%A9es.9547/

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