What is a word that describes the closed-ness of a door and what is another for locked-ness of a door in French?

Long story: I was told by my French girlfriend when we woke up that the door was not "closed" (in English); I nearly had a heart attack thinking that we got robbed during the night, only to find out that the door was very much closed in the sense that people outside cannot get in without a key. So I said, the door "was closed, but it's just that it's not locked the second time" So I asked why she said it was NOT closed and she said that's what she'd say in French. I looked it up a bit and it indeed says "fermé" is locked.

I think this is really, really unusual to mix up the possible states of a door.

4 Answers 4


In speaking French there is not two different words to explain that (as usual) ... You can give more details on your sentence.

The door is closed > La porte est fermée

The door is locked > La porte est fermée à clef

It is possible to use the word verrouillée for locked (La porte est verrouillée), but as far as I know it is not often used.

  • May I ask, then, what is a context in which you will use vérouillée?
    – Nik So
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 7:17
  • Technically, verrouillée means not only the door is locked with its primary key lock but also with one or more extra locks, named verrous.
    – jlliagre
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 7:41
  • And in french, you don't really say "verrouillée" for a door, it's more used in software now "the account is locked" => "le compte est verrouillé", I'd rather saying "fermée à clef" for a door. But technically I agree with @jlliagre
    – Gautier C
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 7:46
  • @GautierC It might not be very common but you can definitely say, hear and read la porte est verrouillée.
    – jlliagre
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 7:53
  • @jlliagre I said "more used" not "only used" ;) I completely agree with you, except you don't hear it often, but read it.
    – Gautier C
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 8:06

To complete Flows's answer, which I don't entirely agree with. (Sorry I can't comment)

Fermé(e) -> Closed

Fermé(e) à clef -> Locked, with a key. Can be used for anything that can be opened with a key, a door, a treasure chest, a lock...

Verrouillé(e) -> Locked, with anything else than a key. Even a door (especially automatic doors).

Fermé(e) fermé(e) -> When you're too tired to properly speak ;) I means the thing is closed and you can't open it. This formula comes directly from the ambiguity you're talking about and I think is a good way to remember it ;)

Un verrou is the lock you have on public bathrooms for instance, the ones that don't have keys, that you have to slide or turn.

You might also be interested in ouvert(e), entrouvert(e), grand(e) ouvert(e) and déverrouillé(e).

Ouvert is opened, and can be used as unlocked.

Entrouvert means ajar (slightly opened; almost closed). (Between opened and closed)

Grand ouvert means that the door is fully opened.

Déverrouillé is unlocked, same rules as before.

So basically, next time your girlfriend tells you the door is closed or opened, you can have this typical conversation:

  • -T'as fermé la porte ? - oui. - Fermé, fermé ? - Oui, j'ai fermé à clef.
  • -Quand je suis arrivé, la porte était ouverte... - ouverte... grande ouverte ? - Non non, elle n'était juste pas fermée à clef mais quand même... c'est grave !
  • 1
    In french, it's "entrouvert" (the verb is entrouvrir) not entre ouvert. But you say Grand ouvert. Fermé fermé isn't an expression, it's what we call an "anaphore". Please edit your message ! :)
    – Gautier C
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 8:16
  • Damn, I wrote entrouvert first and then looked it up on Google haha. Shouldn't have, thanks Commented May 31, 2016 at 8:18
  • @GautierC I don't think "fermé fermé" is a ananphore...
    – Random
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 9:02
  • @Random more a repetition than a anaphore, but it's not exactly the same. If you find the proper word, tell me !
    – Gautier C
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 9:13
  • 1
    It's more an oral expression and is not particularly linked to the word "fermé". Some other examples are used: "-Je crois que cette fille me plait. -Tu veux dire, elle te plait, elle te plait ?" ("I think i like this girl." "You like her, like, you like her?") ; "-J'ai fini !" "Tu as fini, fini ?" "Pas vraiment, il m'en reste un peu à faire, mais ça attendra demain." ("I finished." "You finished, like, you finished?" "Well, not really, but i can wait tomorrow.") Commented May 31, 2016 at 14:06

La porte est fermée.

means that the door have been closed, with no details on the level of lockedness.

La porte est verrouillée.

means that the door have been locked, whatever the way it have been locked.

La porte est fermée à clef.

means that the door is verrouillée and you need a key to open it.

La porte est fermée à double tour.

means that the door is fermée à clef and you need to turn the key twice in the keyhole to open it. It is often considered more safe because of some tricks to open a locked door that don't work anymore when the key have been turned twice.

Here some other states that can take a door:

La porte est barrée.

means there is a plank making the door impossible to open, a key won't be of any help !

La porte est coincée.

You can't open the door, but it is due to a malfunction and not to the will of someone that it stays closed.

La porte est condamnée.

The door should not be used anymore. Some piece of wall can have been built on it, or furniture can have been set up in front of it.

  • Verrouillé means closed with a verrou and its meaning surely has been extended, but I never hear anybody use this word when there is a keyhole. Commented May 31, 2016 at 8:42
  • Tu as en effet raison, verrouillé signifier fermé avec un verrou. Par contre là où tu te trompes c'est sur le sens du mot verrou. Un verrou c'est un type de mécanisme qui maintient fermé une porte. La plupart des portes à serrures utilisent bel et bien un verrou (et c'est même le cas de certaines portes à cartes magnétique). Les autres options pour maintenir une porte fermée sont à ma connaissance le cadenas, la barre et les aimants. Commented May 31, 2016 at 9:07
  • Dans tous les cas, comme je l'ai dis dans un autre commentaire, verrouillé est un terme désuet et n'est utilisé de façon récurente qu'en informatique (session verrouillée etc...), ou à l'écrit, dans les oeuvres littéraires ou pour donner une notion dramatique.
    – Gautier C
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 10:09
  • 3
    À titre d'information, barrer/débarrer fait l'objet d'un emploi particulier au Québec dans le sens de fermer à clé, verrouiller. Merci.
    – user3177
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 11:40
  • @GautierC: Peux-tu fournir une source qui appuierait tes propos ? De mon côté, je peux citer par exemple le Larousse: larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/verrouiller/81631 qui ne fait pas mention d'un registre particulièrement désuet. Commented May 31, 2016 at 12:01


French-speakers use fermé for both meanings and usually the context can help you to determine whether they want to say closed or locked.

Funnily enough, the word ouvert (open) is subject to the same ambiguity (open / unlocked).

French-speakers do not often use the word verrouillé (locked) and most of the time refer to it by fermé à clé. Also they often refer to closed but not locked simply by ouvert.

If the context is too ambiguous to be sure what meaning has the word fermé, then just ask if the person is talking about fermé à clé (locked) or just fermé (closed).

Long version

Usually, when a french-speaker says La porte est fermée, he or she means by it The door is locked. This is a shortcut for the regular expression la porte est fermée à clé. [by the way, for those wondering, "clé" is another correct spelling for "clef" which, as a native speaker, I do prefer.]

As a result this can be a little ambiguous but usually the context tells you whether the person is speaking about closed or locked.

As-tu fermé la porte en partant ?

Did you lock the door when leaving?

Here it seems quite obvious the person is talking about locking the door, because you rarely forget to close the door when leaving but could possibly forget to lock it.

- Comment es-tu entré ?

- La porte n'était pas fermée.

- How did you get in?

-The door was not locked.

In this case again you can understand the second character is speaking about the door being locked. If the door was supposed to be closed but not locked, the first person wouldn't have asked how the second managed to enter in the first place.

Quand ma porte est fermée, c'est que je ne souhaite pas être dérangé !

When my door is closed, it means it don't want anyone to disturb me!

There, the person informs somebody that when he or she doesn't want to be annoyed by people entering the room, he or she closes his or her door so people know they are not welcome to enter. He or she wouldn't have had to say this if it was about a door being locked - in which case people simply couldn't enter.

In the case of your girlfriend, if the door was not closed, then she would have nuanced her affirmation in a more explicit and somehow "dramatic" way : she would have said "The door was open!".

That being said, the word ouvert, "open", is as ambiguous as its antonym. We often use it to indicate a door is closed but unlocked.

- Pourrais-tu aller chercher du papier dans mon bureau ?

- N'est-il pas fermé ?, demanda-t-il.

- Non, répondit-elle, il est ouvert.

- Could you please go and get some paper in my office?

- Isn't it locked?, he asked.

- No, she answered, it is unlocked.

Here you can see the double meaning of both the word fermé and the word ouvert.

The masculine character doesn't need to know of the door is closed, it wouldn't be useful to ask. However he needs to know if it is locked because if it is, he just can't do what the feminine character is asking him. Hearing the question, the feminine character understands that because it seems logic, so she answers with the word ouvert to tell him her office is unlocked.

However despite the context helping most of the time to find out if we are talking about locked or closed, all cases are not obvious enough . This is why it is not rare nor strange to ask:

- La porte n'est pas fermée.

- Tu veux dire fermée à clé ?

- The door isn't closed.

- You mean locked?

(well this isn't exactly translatable but you get the idea)

If you are wondering what the other person is meaning, just ask. As simple as that ;)

  • 1
    Et c'est ainsi que nous nous apercevons que parler notre langue, avec toutes ses nuances, est extrêmement dur pour un étranger...
    – Gautier C
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 12:12
  • @GautierC Effectivement, j'ai toujours pensé que le français était horriblement pénible à apprendre pour les étrangers, et j'ai énormément d'admiration pour ceux qui en ont le courage !
    – user10527
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 12:15
  • +1, especially for covering nicely the ambiguity with “ouverte,” which curiously also exists in English (“Knock-knock”… “[Come on in,] it’s open”) where “It’s open”=“It’s not locked/It’s unlocked” (in spite of the fact that we haven’t extended this ambiguity to “It’s closed” = “It’s locked”)! Also (& this could just be another example of me not using a French word correctly & my French wife is just too tired of correcting me), I usually ask “Est-ce que la porte est [bien] bouclée ”? or “As-tu [bien] bouclé la porte”? & I’m pretty sure she takes “[bien] bouclée” to mean “[bien] fermée à clé.”
    – Papa Poule
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 16:06
  • @PapaPoule I never heard anyone saying "La porte est bouclée", however if you said it to me I would probably understand. The only case where "bouclé" = "fermé" is when you are talking about an area in case of a military / police intervention : "Tout le quartier est bouclé" here means "The whole area is closed" (I don't know if english-speakers would say that though), meaning the police is forbidding the access to it.
    – user10527
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 7:36

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