In French, the common translation for English suburb seems to be banlieue. Unfortunately, however, this term has quite a lot of (negative) pragmatic baggage at least in France (cf. Wikipedia); Is there no way of referring to a "suburb" in a truly neutral manner, without resorting to the use of qualifiers or euphemisms?

I'm not sure about the situation in e.g. Belgium or Switzerland, but I've heard that term is not "loaded" in this manner in Quebecois French.

  • 1
    Maybe "périphérie [de la ville]"
    – Jylo
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 14:03

2 Answers 2


In late 20th/21st centuries banlieue used without a qualifier refers to what would be called "Inner city" in the US. Faubourg is the neutral one word translation of "suburb" but the word banlieue will mostly be used with a qualifier to endorse a different connotation e.g. une banlieue résidentielle would correspond to a "suburb" in some English speaking countries. If used without a qualifier it can still be understood with its original geographical meaning if context is clear. If someone tells you :

J'habite une belle maison en banlieue.

Then there's no doubt as to what sort of area they live in. They would not use the phrase if they lived in a ZUP (more or less the equivalent of the US "housing projects").

In a different context when you see newspaper titles such as:

Les jeunes de banlieue, ces « étrangers de l'intérieur assignés à résidence »

Portrait noir de la crise économique en banlieue

we know straight away (and especially when referring to youth) the word banlieue is in this context associated with minorities, poverty, violence, drugs, etc.

  • +1 for faubourg, but if “inner city” has come to mean “banlieue,” where does “urbain/e” fit in? It’s curious how the negative baggage associated with suburbs/suburban/suburbia in English (i.e., boring/provincial) is not present in banlieue. Does faubourg capture this negative (boring/provincial) sense of suburbia? Thanks!
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 20:28
  • Just be aware that you will never hear Faubourg in Québécois French. You will not be understood.
    – ApplePie
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 21:59
  • @PapaPoule Not a geographical but sociological issue. OP was mentioning the negative baggage of banlieue in France. That's because when you speak of * les jeunes de banlieue* (it's not an opinion, just google the phrase and read the press) it is associated with minorities, poverty, violence, drugs, delinquency, ... A sociology paper about what the term carries. Correct me if I'm wrong, but seen through the press (I've never lived in the US) it's the same with US inner cities.
    – None
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 5:52
  • @PapaPoule Faubourg does not carry any negative sense, it's not much used nowadays anyway, people still prefer banlieue + qualifier. I can't find a better word than banlieue résidentielle to fit suburbia.
    – None
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 7:24
  • Does this mean that e.g. j'habite dans une banlieue (résidentielle) de Paris conjures no negative images in the mind of the reader/hearer, even in an indirect way such as in e.g. I live in a nice part of the inner city (the "nice part" used as a qualifier doesn't "prevent" the negative connotations but rather dismisses them after the fact)? Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 8:44

There are several ways to translate "suburb" in a more neutral way than banlieue.

In addition to périphérie already suggested by Jylo's comment, here are two other that come to mind, despite being euphemisms which you rule out in your question:

  • autour de
  • dans les environs de


Je cherche à louer une maison dans les environs de Lyon.

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    All those three terms only deal with the geographical issue, not the sociological issue. In France les banlieues (unqualified) are in the périphérie/ environs... for which you'd use the word "outskirts" in English. Besides dans les environs and autour cover a larger geographical area than banlieue and périphérie, the latter imply continuity with the city, environs doesn't.
    – None
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 6:37
  • @Laure I precisely suggested these terms because they do not convey any sociological baggage, which is how I understand the main part of the OP question. Whether they perfectly match "suburb" definition might not be an issue. I agree autour de and les environs de are slightly wider and less precise than banlieue and périphérie, but even the latter are somewhat fuzzy. There is no continuity with the city when banlieue is taken as its grande banlieue acception.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 8:40
  • 1
    While these terms do "work", are they not euphemisms?-- périphérie de la ville literally means "outskirts of the city", which may mean in some cornfields depending on the city (since not all cities have satellite towns/suburbs around them). In other words, you're avoiding saying where you really live (dans la banlieue) even though everyone knows that's what you mean through context (e.g. since there are no cornfields surrounding Paris proper-- only suburbs) Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 9:02
  • Precisely, I'm avoiding to say the banlieue because you asked for a neutral term which banlieue is not. In any case, it is hard to expect a single French word to exactly match an English one, especially whithout knowing in what context that word will be used and given the fact it covers many different realities, including in the English speaking countries. One inhabitant of Versailles is unlikely to state he is living in the banlieue of Paris and to some extents, some French suburbs correspond to US inner cities.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 13:08

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