To unburden me from punctuation marks, I highlight in gray action to refer to the English noun. action in bold italics refers to the French feminine noun.

action share some meanings with action. One similarity is act or deed. Another is lawsuit.

But in (conversational) English, action DOESN'T mean "shares". So how can action relate to shares at all? How can action mean shares, when "action" DOESN'T?

I quote Etymonline on action (n.) :

mid-14c., accioun, "cause or grounds for a lawsuit,"
from Anglo-French accioun, Old French accion, action (12c.) "action; lawsuit, case,"
from Latin actionem (nominative actio) "a putting in motion; a performing, a doing; public acts, official conduct; lawsuit, legal action" (source also of Spanish accion, Italian azione), noun of action from past-participle stem of agere "to do"
(from PIE root *ag- "to drive, draw out or forth, move").

Definitions of action, and corporate shares.

  1. FINANCE share 6. (BUSINESS) (= part dans une société) share

Le Petit Dico En Ligne

  1. Titre cessible et négociable représentant une fraction du capital social de certaines sociétés (➙ actionnaire). Actions et obligations. Cote des actions en Bourse.

"A share is a single unit of ownership in a company or financial asset."
"A “share” indicates a portion of ownership in a particular company. Stocks are divided into shares: a share is the smallest denomination of a company’s stock."

  • 3
    "But in (conversational) English, action DOESN'T mean "shares". So how can action relate to shares at all? How can action mean shares, when "action" DOESN'T?" Because English and French are not the same language., There are tons of examples like these between the two languages.
    – Lambie
    Jun 19, 2022 at 15:20

1 Answer 1


Many words in English come from French but once these loanwords get integrated into the language they won't necessarily share the same evolution as their original counterparts. Furthermore specialized lexicon may be grounded in different traditions. In English the word share is attested in 1600 (Etymonline). In French using action to mean "share" is attested since 1665 (DHLF); it seemingly expands on the semantics of the lawsuit (action) but its evolution is somewhat unclear:

[...]III. probablement par évolution sémantique à partir de II, terme de droit, dans le contexte suivant : dans une association, un associé muni d'une police ou billet, constituant une preuve de son droit sur le patrimoine commun, est capable d'intenter une action en justice sur les fonds de l'association; le terme action a été finalement retenu de préférence à billet ou police (d'après. Romeuf t. 1 1956, 19 b). − L'hypothèse d'un emprunt de sens au néerlandais Aktie, terme de finance, très vraisemblable du point de vue historique, fait difficulté sur le plan chronologique, ce néerlandais n'étant pas attesté comme terme de finance avant 1733 (Valkh. 1931, p. 42). − L'hypothèse d'une évolution sémantique de action sous l'influence de actif* substantif, finance, fait de même difficulté sur le plan chronologique, actif substantif n'étant attesté en ce sens qu'en 1762.

[ Trésor informatisé de la langue française (TLFi), action ]

The word action in French has evolved in a way it seemingly has not in English. Arguably from the analogy with private law and the rights of partners having a promissory note from the firm to leverage litigation against the partnership and claim against its pooled assets. So this meaning of action is seemingly based on what remedy the share provided rather than what the share stands for (part of the capital).

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