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demi, demie

… sometimes a noun, sometimes an adjective, sometimes an adverb!

demi and demie are very common in French but are also the source of confusion for learners. Let's take a closer look.

As a noun in its own right, we can have either un demi or une demie, for example:

  • Un demi de bière s'il vous plaît.
    = A half [glass] of beer, please.
  • Les Français devaient se contenter de trois pénalités de leur demi de mêlée.
    = The French had to make do with three penalties from their scrum half.
  • Il est déjà la demie, dépêche-toi!
    = It's already half past, hurry up!

As an adjective, demi is invariable and is written with a hyphen when it precedes a noun. Consider the following:

  • un demi-litre
    = a half litre
  • une demi-pomme
    = half an apple
  • un demi-succès
    = a partial success (littéralement 'a half success')
  • un demi-échec
    = a partial failure

Placed after the noun, demi agrees in gender with the noun to which it refers and remains in the singular:

  • deux heures et demie
    = two and a half hours
  • trois jours et demi
    = three and a half days

Sometimes demi functions as an adverb:

  • Exemple: un nageur à demi-nu
    = a half-naked swimmer

Finally, let's not forget the invariable expression à demi, used to convey the idea of half-doing something:

  • Il ne faut pas faire les choses à demi.
    = You mustn't do things in half measures.
  • Ces enfants sont à demi morts de froid.
    = Those kids are half dead with cold.
  • Elle parle à demi-voix.
    = She's speaking in a quiet voice.

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