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For example, the people who live there, les Americains, most commonly refer to their country as "the U.S." in casual contexts. (At least in my experience as an American.) "USA" is generally used when someone's emphasizing patriotism in their statement, "United States" is more formal, and "United States of America" is barely said except in songs and celebratory announcements. Lastly, "America" is also quite common, though less so than "the U.S.," and again slightly emphasizes patriotism.

I know it's les États-Unis or les E.U. in French, but which is most common, and are there others?

  • It's probably just artistic license (and in Joe's L'Amérique it’s not clear if he’s singing about a single country or of one or more continents), but judging by all the place-name references in Mon Amérique à moi it seems that Johnny’s singing about the US. – Papa Poule May 7 '16 at 19:03
  • EU is more used to speak about the European Union, which is a tad closer than the USA. – MakorDal May 9 '16 at 8:12
  • For example, talking about les américains, one would casually say they live en Amérique. The continents are called les amériques and in casual French, l'amérique seems to point to the US of A. To talk about the continent containing Mexico and Canada, we would probably say l'amérique du nord. – GAM PUB May 9 '16 at 12:17
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Generally, it's either « les États-Unis » or « les USA ». Ironically, we barely use « les EU », apart from formal writing. Here's a quick list of the terms we use :


Les États-Unis

By far the most used, you can use it in almost any situation.


Les USA

Less formal, can sometimes be seen as an attempt to 'brag about one's mastery of English', because why say it in English when we have a word for this ?
That's why it is more used in books or on the radio than in everyday life. It's relatively common though.


Les E.-U. / EU

Apart from books, I don't know anyone who uses it...


US

Same here, I mostly see it in books about English, i.e. dictionaries, trip books, and the like.


The States

Unless it's obvious you're from there, never ever use it. It is THE word for people who don't know a thing about English, but still want to pretend.


To sum up, in general, « États-Unis » > « USA » > « EU - US » > « States ».
Voilà !

  • 3
    Plus fréquent que les USA : les US. À signaler aussi qu'on dit parfois, les States (prononcés /steɪts/). Ça se dit plus que ça ne s'écrit mais on le trouve aussi écrit dans des blogs perso (ici ou ici et parfois dans la presse. – Laure May 6 '16 at 18:09
  • To confirm on what @Laure said: In 30+ years living in France, I have heard "US" being said more often than I have heard any other denomination for the country. I think that everyone knows what you are talking about just saying those two letters. As an added comment, les States is heard more often than not as either derogatory or ironic (or a 1% talking about their latest vacations.. I don't have the word in mind right now, but you know what I mean) – LuckyPenny May 6 '16 at 18:15
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    EU = Union Européenne ! – guillaume girod-vitouchkina May 6 '16 at 20:44
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    @guillaumegirod-vitouchkina Nope, Union Européenne = UE en français. – user10155 May 7 '16 at 6:28
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    Rajouté US et States @L'aditdabenlà Edité pour toi – user10155 May 7 '16 at 6:38
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To complete the good answer of Nathan, it must be noted that the adjective form behaves differently.

Indeed, l'Amérique points to the continent, and les États-Unis, les US or – more colloquial – les states are proper ways to refer to the country. Nevertheless, the corresponding adjective is américain as in “les voitures américaines”. It is expected to rely on context to tease apart “américain” for the country or for the continent, with a huge bias towards the country.

The “proper” form "étatsunien" exists but is extremely rarely used, especially orally.

  • +1 for stating "étatsunien" but I'd rather see it written "états-unien" myself. – jldupont May 8 '16 at 10:36
  • À l'oral, US est très souvent utilisé comme adjectif également. "Ils font de la cuisine US dans ce resto", "Ça fait très US, comme raisonnement", "Niveau lois du travail, je préfère les européennes aux US". On peut facilement substituer américain(e) à US dans toutes ces phrases, donc c'est un adjectif épicène. – Eau qui dort May 8 '16 at 20:21
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    À vrai dire, l'Amérique est parfois utilisé pour le pays. Joe Dassin n'évoquait pas le continent dans sa chanson. – mouviciel May 10 '16 at 13:01
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Another common expression that isn't mentioned: if you want to say "in the USA", then you can say "outre-Atlantique", literally "over the Atlantic". For example, "Outre-Atlantique, il est de bon ton de manger des hamburgers" = "In the US, it's good manners to eat hamburgers." Another example: "Cette voiture nous vient d'outre-Atlantique" = "This car comes from the US." (An analogous expression, "outre-Manche" = "over the Channel", refers to GB.)

It cannot be used in all contexts, and it's a ambiguous as it could refer to anywhere in the Americas, but it's often used. This is of course an expression centered on Europe, and I doubt someone from Québec would use it, for obvious reasons.

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