After reading the following dictionaries entries:

I've realized that "ville" is an agglomeration of people and buildings, which can be translated to English as "city" or "town", depending on the context. On the other hand, "cité" usually refers to a poor suburban area with homogeneous architectural style ("ghetto" or the US euphemism "project" in English). Other less usual meanings are "historical center" of a city and "city-state", a term commonly used to refer to some ancient independent cities such as Athenas and Rome in olden times.

What is confusing to me is that it seems that "cité" can also be used as a synonym of "ville". Ex: La cité de Paris n'est pas très étendue. I have never heard the word "cité" with such meaning in the news or in TV movies/series which take place nowadays, so I think this meaning is rarely used these days?


1 Answer 1


La cité de Paris n'est pas très étendue is not an idiomatic sentence. In the case of Paris, cité is more related to the old historic center as in l'île de la Cité.

We'd rather say, la ville de Paris n'est pas très étendue or le territoire de Paris intra-muros n'est pas très étendu.

Cité, as you already state in your question is either used to name an historical town (la cité des Papes) or its center (la cité de Carcassonne). Technically, the cité used to be the part of a town surrounded and protected by walls.

Cité can also be a neighborhood (grand ensemble) often but not necessarily poor or suburban (la cité radieuse, la cité universitaire). It is also used to name some large museums like la cité des sciences et de l'industrie, la cité de l'espace.

In conclusion, cité is indeed very rarely synonymous with ville.

  • Tout-à-fait d'accord, "cité" is not interchangeable with "ville". Il est bon d'ajouter que derrière ce mot, il y a en général une idée d'organisation, de planification de construction. Un cas typique à cet égard est l'utilisation du terme "cité antique" qui relie avec l'origine latine du mot ("civitas"). Feb 5, 2022 at 23:11

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