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Covid-19 epidemic vocabulary in English and in French - Illustration by Yolaine Bodin

The words to talk about COVID-19 pandemic

by | 6 Mar 2021 | English-French Vocabulary


With the coronavirus pandemic that started to spread throughout the world late 2019 came an array of vocabulary that has crept into our everyday lives. Internet, television, radio, newspapers, private conversations… We read, hear and use a whole range of words describing the situation every day. 


I have often been asked about the English or French vocabulary on the current pandemic. So here is a list of words you may need to talk about COVID-19.


This list is already quite long and could be much longer indeed. I had to select the vocabulary we frequently use or see and hear in the media and in everyday conversations. If there is any other word you have heard and that you don’t understand about the coronavirus epidemic, feel free to ask about it in the comments section at the bottom of this page.


pandemic  une pandémie
epidemic une épidémie
public health crisis une crise sanitaire
disease une maladie
a virus un virus
coronavirus un coronavirus
COVID le/la* covid
contagious contagieux – contagieuse
to contaminate, to infect contaminer, infecter
give, spread transmettre, propager
symptom un symptôme
clinically vulnerable person une personne à risque
comorbidity une comorbidité
protective measures les gestes barrière
to sanitise  désinfecter
mask un masque
surgical mask un masque chirurgical
visor une visière
social distancing une distanciation physique
lockdown un confinement
to self-isolate s’isoler
isolation un isolement
curfew un couvre-feu
quarantine une quarantaine
to get tested se faire tester, se faire dépister
PCR-test un test PCR
LFT (Lateral Flow Test), antigen test  un test antigénique
antibody test un test sérologique
swab un écouvillon
saliva test un test salivaire
vaccine un vaccin
jab un vaccin, une piqûre


For French, you can see the nouns preceded by the article un or une so you know if it is masculine or feminine. Remember it is always a good idea to learn a new word with its article straight from the start. It makes it easier to learn the gender of the new noun and it is not extra work for your brain to memorise the article as you are learning a new word because it is just as if you were learning a word with an extra syllable.

* Note: most people in French will use the masculine for “Covid”. You will hear or read “le Covid”. It was the gender used to start with. Then the French Academy (l’Académie française) recommended using the feminine and saying “la Covid”. As a result, you will now see both being used. Sometimes you will hear “le Covid”, sometimes you will hear “la Covid”. The reason why the French Academy decided it should be feminine is because COVID stands for COronaVIrus Disease, i.e. in French “la maladie du coronavirus”. Since “maladie” is feminine, it makes sense to say “la Covid”. However, do not worry too much about this. Since the French use both, I wouldn’t say it is wrong to say “le Covid”, except maybe in an official, formal situation where you want to make sure that the French you are using is absolutely correct.


If you want to learn and practice, try this exercise. You can use the flashcards to review English-French vocabulary on COVID-19 and the epidemic.

There you are! You now know how to talk about coronavirus and the pandemic. Stay well, stay safe! 🙂


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