Académie française

The Académie française (French pronunciation: ​[akademi fʁɑ̃sɛːz], English: French Academy) is the pre-eminent French council for matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII.[1] Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution, it was restored as a division of the Institut de France in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte.[1] It is the oldest of the five académies of the institute.

The Académie consists of forty members, known informally as les immortels (the immortals).[2] New members are elected by the members of the Académie itself. Academicians hold office for life, but they may resign or be dismissed for misconduct. Philippe Pétain, named Marshal of France after the victory of Verdun of World War I, was elected to the Academy in 1931 and, after his governorship of Vichy France in World War II, was forced to resign his seat in 1945.[3] The body has the task of acting as an official authority on the language; it is charged with publishing an official dictionary of the language. Its rulings, however, are only advisory, not binding on either the public or the government.

Institut de France - Académie française et pont des Arts
L'Institut de France building
Académie française
French Academy logo
MottoÀ l'immortalité
(To immortality)
Formation22 February 1635
HeadquartersParis, France
40 members known as les immortels (the immortals)
Perpetual Secretary
Hélène Carrère d'Encausse
WebsiteAcadémie française website


Cardinal de Richelieu
Cardinal Richelieu, responsible for the establishment of the Académie

The Académie had its origins in an informal literary group deriving from the salons held at the Hôtel de Rambouillet during the late 1620s and early 1630s. The group began meeting at Valentin Conrart's house, seeking informality. There were then nine members. Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister of France, made himself protector of the group, and in anticipation of the formal creation of the academy, new members were appointed in 1634. On 22 February 1635, at Richelieu's urging, King Louis XIII granted letters patent formally establishing the council; according to the letters patent registered at the Parlement de Paris on 10 July 1637,[1] the Académie française was "to labor with all the care and diligence possible, to give exact rules to our language, to render it capable of treating the arts and sciences". The Académie française has remained responsible for the regulation of French grammar, spelling, and literature.

Richelieu's model, the first academy devoted to eliminating the "impurities" of a language, was the Accademia della Crusca, founded in Florence in 1582, which formalized the already dominant position of the Tuscan dialect of Florence as the model for Italian; the Florentine academy had published its Vocabolario in 1612.[4]

During the French Revolution, the National Convention suppressed all royal academies, including the Académie française. In 1792, the election of new members to replace those who died was prohibited; in 1793, the academies were themselves abolished. They were all replaced in 1795 by a single body called the Institut de France, or Institute of France. Napoleon Bonaparte, as First Consul, decided to restore the former academies, but only as "classes" or divisions of the Institut de France. The second class of the Institut was responsible for the French language, and corresponded to the former Académie française. When King Louis XVIII came to the throne in 1816, each class regained the title of "Académie"; accordingly, the second class of the Institut became the Académie française. Since 1816, the existence of the Académie française has been uninterrupted.

The President of France is the "protector" or patron of the Académie. Cardinal Richelieu originally adopted this role; upon his death in 1642, Pierre Séguier, the Chancellor of France, succeeded him. King Louis XIV adopted the function when Séguier died in 1672; since then, the French head of state has always served as the Académie's protector. From 1672 to 1805, the official meetings of the Académie were in the Louvre; since 1805, the Académie française has met in the Collège des Quatre-Nations (known now as the Palais de l'Institut). The remaining academies of the Institut de France also meet in the Palais de l'Institut.


The Académie française has forty seats, each of which is assigned a separate number. Candidates make their applications for a specific seat, not to the Académie in general: if several seats are vacant, a candidate may apply separately for each. Since a newly elected member is required to eulogize his or her predecessor in the installation ceremony, it is not uncommon that potential candidates refuse to apply for particular seats because they dislike the predecessors.

Members are known as les Immortels (the Immortals) because of the motto, À l'immortalité ("To Immortality"), that is on the official seal of the charter granted by Cardinal Richelieu.[2]

One of the Immortels is chosen by his or her colleagues to be the Académie's Perpetual Secretary. The Secretary is called "Perpetual" because the holder serves for life, although he or she may resign, and may thereafter be styled as Honorary Perpetual Secretary; indeed the three post-World War II Perpetual Secretaries resigned due to old age. The Perpetual Secretary acts as a chairperson and chief representative of the Académie. The two other officers, a Director and a Chancellor, are elected for three-month terms. The most senior member, by date of election, is the Dean of the Académie.

New members are elected by the Académie itself. (The original members were appointed.) When a seat becomes vacant, a person may apply to the Secretary if she or he wishes to become a candidate. Alternatively, existing members may nominate other candidates. A candidate is elected by a majority of votes from voting members. A quorum is twenty members. If no candidate receives an absolute majority, another election must be performed at a later date. The election is valid only if the protector of the Académie, the President of France, grants his approval. The President's approbation, however, is only a formality. (There was a controversy about the candidacy of Paul Morand, whom Charles de Gaulle opposed in 1958. Morand was finally elected ten years later, and he was received without the customary visit, at the time of investiture, to the Palace Élysée.)

Poincare larger
Raymond Poincaré was one of the five French heads of state who became members of the Académie française. He is depicted wearing the habit vert, or green habit, of the Académie.

The new member is then installed at a meeting of the Académie. The new member must deliver a speech to the Académie, which includes a eulogy for the member being replaced. This is followed by a speech made by one of the members. Eight days thereafter, a public reception is held, during which the new member makes a speech thanking his or her colleagues for their election. Once, a member (Georges de Porto-Riche) was not accorded a reception because the eulogy he made of his predecessor was not considered satisfactory, and he refused to rewrite it. Georges Clemenceau refused to be received because he feared that he might be received by his enemy, Raymond Poincaré.

Members remain in the Académie for life. However, the council may dismiss an academician for grave misconduct. The first dismissal occurred in 1638, when Auger de Moléon de Granier was expelled for theft. The most recent dismissals occurred at the end of World War II: Philippe Pétain, Abel Bonnard, Abel Hermant, and Charles Maurras were all excluded for their association with the Vichy regime. In total, twenty members have been expelled from the Académie.

There have been a total of 732 immortels,[2] of whom nine have been women (the first woman, Marguerite Yourcenar, was elected in 1980 – besides the nine elected women, 25 women were candidates, the first one in 1874). Individuals who are not citizens of France may be, and have been, elected. Moreover, although most academicians are writers, one need not be a member of the literary profession to become a member. The Académie has included numerous politicians, lawyers, scientists, historians, philosophers, and senior Roman Catholic clergymen. Five French heads of state have been members (Adolphe Thiers, Raymond Poincaré, Paul Deschanel, Philippe Pétain, and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing) and one foreign head of state (the poet Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal, who was also the first African elected, in 1983).[5] Other famous members include Voltaire; Charles, baron de Montesquieu; Victor Hugo; Alexandre Dumas, fils; Émile Littré; Louis Pasteur; Louis de Broglie; and Henri Poincaré.

Many notable French writers have not become members of the Académie française. During 1855, the writer Arsène Houssaye devised the expression "forty-first seat" for deserving individuals who were never elected to the Académie, either because their candidacies were rejected, because they were never candidates, or because they died before appropriate vacancies arose. Notable French authors who never became academicians include Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jean-Paul Sartre, Joseph de Maistre, Honoré de Balzac, René Descartes, Denis Diderot, Romain Rolland, Charles Baudelaire, Gustave Flaubert, Molière, Marcel Proust, Jules Verne, Théophile Gautier, and Émile Zola.


The official uniform of a member is known as l'habit vert, or green clothing.[6] The habit vert, worn at the Académie's formal ceremonies, was first adopted during Napoleon Bonaparte's reorganization of the Institut de France. It consists of a long black coat and black-feathered bicorne,[6] both richly embroidered with green leafy motifs, together with black trousers or skirt. Further, members other than clergy carry a ceremonial sword (l'épée).[6]

The members bear the cost of their uniform themselves. The robes cost around $50,000, and Amin Maalouf said that his induction cost him some $230,000 overall.[7]

Role as authority on the French language

Title page of the 6th edition of the Académie's dictionary (1835)

The Académie is France's official authority on the usages, vocabulary, and grammar of the French language.


The Académie publishes a dictionary of the French language, known as the Dictionnaire de l'Académie française, which is regarded as official in France. A special commission composed of several (but not all) of the members of the Académie compiles the work.[1]

The Académie has published thirteen editions of the dictionary, of which three were preliminary, eight were complete, and two were supplements for specialised words.[8] These are:

Preliminary editions
  • Le Dictionnaire de l'Académie française (from A to Aversion), pre-edition, Frankfurt am Main, 1687
  • Le Dictionnaire de l'Académie française (from A to Confiture), pre-edition, Frankfurt am Main, 1687
  • Le Dictionnaire de l'Académie française (from A to Neuf), pre-edition, Paris, 1687
Complete editions
  • Le Dictionnaire de l'Académie française dedié au Roy ("1st edition"), Paris, 1694
  • Nouveau Dictionnaire de l'Académie française dedié au Roy ("2nd edition"), Paris, 1718
  • Le Dictionnaire de l'Académie française ("3rd edition"), Paris, 1740
  • Le Dictionnaire de l'Académie française ("4th edition"), Paris, 1762
  • Le Dictionnaire de l'Académie française ("5th edition"), Paris, 1798
  • Dictionnaire de l'Académie française ("6th edition"), Paris, 1835
  • Dictionnaire de l'Académie française ("7th edition"), Paris, 1879
  • Dictionnaire de l'Académie française ("8th edition"), Paris, 1932–1935
Supplementary editions for the sciences, arts, and technology
  • Corneille, Thomas, Le Dictionnaire des Arts et des Sciences, Paris, 1694
  • Barré, Louis, Complément du Dictionnaire de l'Académie française, Paris, 1842

The Académie is continuing work on the ninth edition, of which the first volume (A to Enzyme) appeared in 1992,[1] Éocène to Mappemonde was published in 2000, and Maquereau to Quotité in 2011. In 1778, the Académie attempted to compile a "historical dictionary" of the French language; this idea, however, was later abandoned, the work never progressing past the letter A.


As the use of English terms by media increased over the years, the Académie has tried to prevent the Anglicization of the French language. For example, the Académie has recommended to avoid loanwords from modern English (such as walkman, computer, software and e-mail), in favour of neologisms, i.e. newly coined French words derived from existing ones (baladeur, ordinateur, logiciel, and courriel respectively, the first three being at present well-established words of the French language but the last being rare).

However, the Académie has also noted that anglicisms have been present in the French language since the 1700s, and has criticized the view that anglicisms present an "invasion" on the French language. It distinguishes anglicisms into three categories: some that are useful to the French language and introduced vocabulary which didn't have a French equivalent at the time (the Académie cites the word "confortable" as an example, from the English "comfortable"); others that are detrimental and only establish more confusion as the original meaning of the word is distorted in translation; and others still that are useless or avoidable, a category of anglicisms used by "snobs" who use words from an English provenance to demarcate themselves from society and appear "in vogue". For the last category of anglicisms, the Académie writes that those words are typically short-lived in French parlance.[9]

Alleged conservatism

The Académie, despite working on the modernization of the French orthography, has sometimes been criticized for allegedly behaving in an overly conservative manner. A recent controversy involved the officialization of feminine equivalents for the names of several professions. For instance, in 1997, Lionel Jospin's government began using the feminine noun "la ministre" to refer to a female minister, following the official practice of Canada, Belgium and Switzerland and a frequent, though until then unofficial, practice in France. The Académie, however, insisted in accordance with French grammar rules on the traditional use of the masculine noun, "le ministre", for a minister of either gender. Use of either form remains highly controversial.


The Académie française is responsible for awarding several different prizes in various fields (including literature, painting, poetry, theatre, cinema, history, and translation). Almost all of the prizes were created during the twentieth century, and only two prizes were awarded before 1780. In total, the Académie awards more than sixty prizes, most of them annually.

The most important prize is the Grand prix de la francophonie, which was instituted in 1986, and is funded by the governments of France, Canada, Monaco, and Morocco. Other important prizes include the grand prix de littérature (for a literary work), the grand prix du roman (for a novel), the grand prix de poésie (for poetry), the grand prix de philosophie (for a philosophical work), the grand prix du cinéma (for film), and the grand prix Gobert (for a work on French history).

Opposition of regional languages

The Académie française intervened in June 2008, to oppose the French Government's proposal to constitutionally offer recognition and protection to regional languages (Flemish, Alsatian, Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Occitan, and Francoprovençal).[10]

Current members

The current members of the Académie française are:

Seat number Name Year elected
1 Claude Dagens 2008
2 Dany Laferrière 2013
3 Jean-Denis Bredin (Dean) 1989
4 Jean-Luc Marion 2008
5 Andreï Makine 2016
6 Marc Fumaroli 1995
7 Jules Hoffmann 2012
8 Vacant
9 Patrick Grainville[11] 2018
10 Florence Delay 2000
11 Gabriel de Broglie 2001
12 Vacant
13 Vacant
14 Hélène Carrère d'Encausse (Perpetual Secretary) 1990
15 Frédéric Vitoux 2001
16 Valéry Giscard d'Estaing 2003
17 Érik Orsenna 1998
18 Michel Serres 1990
19 Jean-Loup Dabadie 2008
20 Angelo Rinaldi 2001
21 Alain Finkielkraut 2014
22 René de Obaldia 1999
23 Pierre Rosenberg 1995
24 Vacant
25 Dominique Fernandez 2007
26 Jean-Marie Rouart 1997
27 Pierre Nora 2001
28 Jean-Christophe Rufin 2008
29 Amin Maalouf 2011
30 Danièle Sallenave 2011
31 Michael Edwards 2013
32 François Weyergans 2009
33 Dominique Bona 2013
34 François Cheng 2002
35 Yves Pouliquen 2001
36 Barbara Cassin 2018
37 Michel Zink 2017
38 Marc Lambron 2014
39 Jean Clair 2008
40 Xavier Darcos 2013

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e "L'histoire". Academie Française official website. Retrieved 2010-01-13.
  2. ^ a b c "Les immortels". Academie Française official website. Retrieved 2018-03-09.
  3. ^ Sanche de Gramont, The French: Portrait of a People, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1969, p. 270
  4. ^ Einar Ingvald Haugen and Anwar S. Dil, The Ecology of Language, (Stanford University Press) p. 169.
  5. ^ "Message from Mister Leopold Sedar Senghor, President of the Republic, to the Senegalese People". World Digital Library. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  6. ^ a b c "L'habit vert et l'épée". Académie Française official website. Retrieved 2018-06-14.
  7. ^ Nossiter, Adam (3 March 2019). "The Guardians of the French Language Are Deadlocked, Just Like Their Country". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  8. ^ Classiques Garnier numérique Archived 2014-07-25 at the Wayback Machine, Corpus of Dictionaries of the French Academy (from the 17th to the 20th Century), Retrieved 2011-03-17
  9. ^ "Questions de langue | Académie française". Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  10. ^ Allen, Peter (16 August 2008). "France's L'Académie française upset by rule to recognise regional tongues". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
  11. ^ "Patrick GRAINVILLE". Académie française official website. Retrieved 2018-03-09.


  • Vincent, Leon H. (1901). The French Academy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

External links

Alexandre Dumas fils

Alexandre Dumas fils (French: [alɛksɑ̃dʁ dyma fis]; 27 July 1824 – 27 November 1895) was a French author and playwright, best known for the romantic novel La Dame aux Camélias (The Lady of the Camellias), published in 1848, which was adapted into Giuseppe Verdi's opera La traviata (The Fallen Woman), as well as numerous stage and film productions, usually titled Camille in English-language versions.

Dumas fils (French for 'son') was the son of Alexandre Dumas père ('father'), also a well-known playwright and author of classic works such as The Three Musketeers. Dumas fils was admitted to the Académie française (French Academy) in 1874 and awarded the Légion d'honneur (Legion of Honour) in 1894.

André Roussin

André Roussin, (22 January 1911 – 3 November 1987), was a French playwright. Born in Marseille, he was elected to the Académie française on 12 April 1973.

Angelo Rinaldi

Angelo Rinaldi (born 17 June 1940 in Bastia, Haute-Corse) is a French writer and literary critic.

Claude Dagens

Claude Jean Pierre Dagens (French pronunciation: ​[klod ʒɑ̃ pjɛʁ daʒɑ̃]; born 20 May 1940 in Bordeaux, Gironde) is a French prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, serving as bishop of Angoulême.

Previously the auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Poitiers from 1999 to 2005, he is a specialist in Catholic doctrine, and was elected the twentieth member to occupy seat 1 of the Académie française April 2008. He has written abundantly about the role of the Church in French society and its relationship with secularism.

Because of his dialogue with members of Freemasonry, he has provoked the irritation of some Traditionalist Catholics (see Catholicism and Freemasonry).

Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

The Dictionnaire de l'Académie française is the official dictionary of the French language.

The Académie française is France's official authority on the usages, vocabulary, and grammar of the French language, although its recommendations carry no legal power. Sometimes, even governmental authorities disregard the Académie's rulings.

Edmond Jaloux

Edmond Jaloux (19 June 1878, Marseille – 22 August 1949, Lutry) was a French novelist, essayist, and critic. His works tended to be set in Paris or his native Provence. He was interested in German Romanticism and English writers. In 1936 he joined the Académie française. He died in Switzerland in 1949.

François Mauriac

François Charles Mauriac (French: [moʁjak]; 11 October 1885 – 1 September 1970) was a French novelist, dramatist, critic, poet, and journalist, a member of the Académie française (from 1933), and laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1952). He was awarded the Grand Cross of the Légion d'honneur in 1958. He was a lifelong Catholic.

Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française

Le Grand Prix du Roman is a French literary award, created in 1918, and given each year by the Académie française. Along with the Prix Goncourt, it is one of the oldest and most prestigious literary awards in France. The Académie française gives out over 60 literary awards each year, the Grand Prix du roman is the most senior for an individual novel.

Gui-Jean-Baptiste Target

Gui-Jean-Baptiste Target (17 December 1733 – 9 September 1806) was a French lawyer and politician.

Hugues-Bernard Maret, duc de Bassano

Hugues-Bernard Maret, 1st Duc de Bassano (1 May 1763 – 13 May 1839), was a French statesman, diplomat and journalist.

Jean-Denis Bredin

Jean-Denis Bredin (born 17 May 1929) is a French attorney and founding partner of the firm Bredin Prat. He is the twentieth, and current occupant of seat 3 of the Académie française, elected on 15 June 1989. His daughter, Frédérique Bredin, currently serves as President of the National Center of Cinematography and the moving image.

Jean-Jacques Amelot de Chaillou

Jean-Jacques Amelot de Chaillou (30 April 1689 – 7 May 1749, Paris) was a French politician. He was marquis of Combrande, baron de Châtillon-sur-Indre, seigneur de Chaillou.

Jean-Loup Dabadie

Jean-Loup Dabadie (born 27 September 1938) is a French journalist, writer, lyricist, award-winning screenwriter and member of the Académie française.

List of members of the Académie française

This is a list of members of the Académie française (French Academy) by seat number. The primary professions of the academicians are noted. The dates shown indicate the terms of the members, who generally serve for life. Some, however, were "excluded" during the reorganisations of 1803 and 1816 and at other times.

Marcel Pagnol

Marcel Pagnol (French: [maʁsɛl paɲɔl]; 28 February 1895 – 18 April 1974) was a French novelist, playwright, and filmmaker. Regarded as an auteur, in 1946, he became the first filmmaker elected to the Académie française. Although his work is less fashionable than it once was, Pagnol is still generally regarded as one of France's greatest 20th-century writers and is notable for the fact that he excelled in almost every medium—memoir, novel, drama and film.

Philippe-Antoine Merlin de Douai

Philippe-Antoine Merlin, known as Merlin de Douai (30 October 1754 – 26 December 1838) was a French politician and lawyer.

Pierre Corneille

Pierre Corneille (French pronunciation: ​[pjɛʁ kɔʁnɛj]; Rouen, 6 June 1606 – Paris, 1 October 1684) was a French tragedian. He is generally considered one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine.

As a young man, he earned the valuable patronage of Cardinal Richelieu, who was trying to promote classical tragedy along formal lines, but later quarrelled with him, especially over his best-known play, Le Cid, about a medieval Spanish warrior, which was denounced by the newly formed Académie française for breaching the unities. He continued to write well-received tragedies for nearly forty years.

René Grousset

René Grousset (5 September 1885 – 12 September 1952) was a French historian, curator of both the Cernuschi and Guimet Museums in Paris, and a member of the prestigious Académie française. He wrote several major works on Asiatic and Oriental civilizations, with his two most important works being History of the Crusades (1934–1936) and The Empire of the Steppes, a History of Central Asia (1939), both of which were considered standard references on the subject.

Roch-Ambroise Cucurron Sicard

Roch-Ambroise Cucurron Sicard (20 September 1742 – 10 May 1822) was a French abbé and instructor of the deaf.

Born at Le Fousseret, in the ancient Province of Languedoc (now the Department of Haute-Garonne), and educated as a priest, Sicard was made principal of a school for the deaf at Bordeaux in 1786, and in 1789, on the death of the Abbé de l'Épée, succeeded him at a leading school for the deaf which Épée had founded in Paris. He later met Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet while traveling in England, and invited him to visit the school.

Sicard's chief works were his Eléments de grammaire générale (1799), Cours d'instruction d'un sourd-muet de naissance (1800) and Traité des signes pour l'instruction des sourds-muets (1808). The Abbé Sicard managed to escape any serious harm in the political troubles of 1792, and became a member of the Institute in 1795, but the value of his educational work was hardly recognized till shortly before his death at Paris.In 1803 Sicard became a member of the Académie française, occupying Seat 3 as the successor to the François-Joachim de Pierre de Bernis, who was a diplomat.

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