In English we have the word "map" but in French there are 2 words: Plan and Carte. Which one must we use ?

  1. Plan is for a house, building, neighborhood, town or city and similar size locations. It originally comes from plant, derived from planter, see implanter, implantation, but lost its final t when it merged with plan (flat).

  2. Carte is for anything larger (e.g.: region, country, continent, Earth). It comes from the Latin charta (paper) and Greek kartès (sheet of paper, papyrus).

The Latin mappa (towel, handkerchief) gave mappe in ancient French and map in English but the word only survives with this from in modern French in mappemonde (flat representation of the whole world in two circular areas representing two hemispheres).

Mappe quickly evolved in nappe in old French and is now used for "tablecloth", "slick", "layer" but never for a geographical map.

Sticking to the strict etymology, a mappe was then originally drawn on fabric, a carte was drawn on paper and a plan(t) was showing where were set (i.e. planted) things.

English has the word plan but it is seldom used in this context because of its competing usage related to "planning" so you'll find almost only "San Francisco Map" or "London Tube Map" while we would use Plan de San Francisco and Plan du métro de Londres.

  • The English word 'plan' is in very common use, and invariably for design drawings or areas on which designed infrastructure is to be built, whereas a map is a symbolic (usually of smaller scale and therefore of a larger area) aerial representation facilitating way-finding. Perhaps the French words are used in the same way? – Harry Audus Aug 9 '19 at 4:20
  • @Harry They aren't always used the same way, as the end of my reply states. – jlliagre Aug 9 '19 at 4:42

Long story short, in this context:

  • "un plan" = "a drawing", a "blueprint", "schematics", "a plan"

    "Nous avons fini avec les plans architecturaux." = "We are done with the architectural drawings".

    "Auriez-vous les plans de ce sous-marin ?" = "Would you have the blueprints of this submarine?"

    "La mairie a fourni un plan de la ville." = "The city hall provided a city plan."

  • "une carte" = "a map".

    "Quand tu pars en randonnée, prends toujours une carte." = "When you go hiking, always take a map."


In this context (map), a plan is generally used for a town (plan de la ville) or for a construction or a communication network (plan d'un bâtiment, plan d'une maison, plan d'évacuation, plan du métro, etc.). A carte is larger and it could be a carte routière (road map), carte d'un pays, carte du monde etc. See here for more details


Les plans sont des dessins qui représentent une ville, un quartier ou une maison vus de haut: on y indique les rues, les places et les avenues.

Les cartes, de leur côté, représentent des espaces plus grands que ceux qui sont indiqués sur les plans, comme une province, un pays ou le monde. Elles ne sont donc pas aussi détaillées.


Plans are drawings that represent a city, a neighborhood or a house seen from above: streets, squares and avenues are indicated.

Cartes, on the other hand, represent larger spaces than those shown on the plan, such as a province, a country, or the world. They are not so detailed.


L'échelle à laquelle on travaille représente la principale différence qui existe entre un plan et une carte. Dans les plans, on n'utilise pas de représentation cartographique pour représenter les éléments, alors que les cartes, qui ont une échelle plus petite, doivent utiliser un certain type de projection pour palier la courbure de la planète Terre.


The scale one works for is the main difference between a carte and a plan. In the case of plans, we do not use a cartographic representation to represent the elements, whereas the cartes, which have a smaller scale, must use a certain type of projection to overcome the curvature of the planet Earth.

NB: Map is considered an anglicism for carte. One could also find the difference between carte and plan in any good dictionary, even online one, such as



A plan is always practical, e.g. to finds one's way in a building or a town. A carte needs not be (but may, e.g. carte routière). An aerial picture of the whole country can be a carte (arguably borders should be added if it is to be a map specifically of that country). But an aerial picture of a town would not be a plan, it would be a picture.

  • Your definitions of "plan" and "carte" are sort of overlapping and not quite clear, backed up by wrong points and arguments. It can even mislead someone reading it. – Paradox Aug 5 '19 at 16:03

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