French word of the week: cadet

Our French word of the week is cadet. Click the icon below to hear its pronunciation:

The French word looks exactly like the English word cadet, but while many of us recognise the English term as a noun that refers to a police or military trainee, the French word cadet is mainly used to refer to someone younger, and it can be used as either an adjective or a noun. The feminine form of the word in French is cadette.

There is an interesting historical link between the English and French words to highlight. In French, le cadet/la cadette has a more specific meaning of the second-born in a family (though it is often used in modern French to refer to the youngest child in a family). It is believed that cadet comes from an early French dialect word meaning captain. It was traditional in the Middle Ages for second-born sons in a family to become soldiers, and eventually the word acquired this meaning of second-born, too. So while the modern English and French terms are understood slightly differently today, they do share the same roots in terms of their etymologies.

But let’s get back to the present day for now. As we’ve mentioned, the adjective cadet/cadette in today’s French is usually taken to mean either younger or youngest in English (very often in the context of referring to family members):

ma sœur cadette my younger sister

ses frères cadets her younger brothers

leur fils cadet their youngest son

la fille cadette du président the president’s youngest daughter

You can also use cadet or cadette as a noun to refer to the youngest sibling in a family:

C’est le cadet de la famille. He’s the youngest in the family.

When saying that someone is younger than someone else in French, then it is the noun form of cadet/cadette that is often used, rather than the adjective (as in English). When used to compare two people in this way, cadet/cadette doesn’t have to refer to a relative; it can apply to anyone who is junior to someone else:

Elle est ma cadette. She is younger than me.

Il est son cadet de deux ans. He’s younger than her by two years. / He’s two years her junior.

One common turn of phrase you may come across in French that features the noun cadet is the idiom le cadet de mes soucis, which means the least of my worries in English:

Sa démission est le cadet de leurs soucis. His resignation is the least of their worries.

We hope this blog has helped to shed a little light on this French term…and its English cousin! Come back next time as we consider another French word of the week.

Written by Gina Macleod, language content editor.

All opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of Collins, or its parent company, HarperCollins.

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