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French-English chess glossary: Checkmate! Echec et mat !

by Catherine Jan on March 12, 2012

To play chess well, you must be able to:

  • visualize
  • memorize
  • recognize patterns
  • use logic
  • plan ahead
  • accept the consequences of your actions

Aren’t chess players a lot like freelance translators?

Chessboard - Echiquier

In both my Canadian and French families, we play chess. I lose more than I win, but I attempt to put up a good fight.

We play in English and French. But being bilingual in the language of chess doesn’t really matter unless you like to read about chess (like me). And no matter what language a chess player speaks, he’s sure to understand “checkmate”!

Nevertheless, English speakers who play in French should take note of the following terms:

  • A queen is a dame (not a reine).
  • A bishop is a fou (not an évêque).
  • A rook is a tour (not a château).

chess exercises - exercices échecs


If you’re a chess nut, you might like this:

blitz blitz
check échec
checkmate échec et mat
chessboard échiquier
clock pendule
double attack double attaque
draw nulle
en passant en passant
endgame finale
exchange échange
file colonne
isolated pawn pion isolé
king roi
kingside castling petit roque
knight cavalier
middlegame milieu de partie
opening ouverture
pawn pion
pinning clouage
promote promouvoir
queen dame
queenside castling grand roque
rank rangée
resign abandonner
rook tour
scholar’s mate mat du berger
stalemate pat

chess exercises

If you know the language of chess, you can add more terms in your language to the above list (even if you’re not Magnus Carlsen). Get in touch via the comments, and I’ll fill in another column of this glossary.

Your turn!



EP March 13, 2012 at 21:48

Interesting post. I’m surprised that many of the French terms for chess pieces are so similar to the German ones. The Germans also say Dame, and Turm for tour (rook). Even échec sounds similar: Schach.

Catherine Jan March 14, 2012 at 19:31

Thank you, EP. Very interesting!

Eve Bodeux March 13, 2012 at 22:22

LOVE IT! My kids love chess – in French and English and will suck this right up! Great – thanks for sharing!

Catherine Jan March 14, 2012 at 19:31

Glad to be of help, Eve.

Riccardo March 15, 2012 at 06:29

One thing to add: if you pick up older English chess books (or older Spanish chess books, for that matter), instead of using algebraic notation (e.g. 1. e2-e4), they use the descriptive notation (the same move would be 1 – P – K4 in an old English chess book – or 1. P4R in an old Spanish book).

It takes a while to get accustomed to descriptive notation if you are used to algebraic, because instead of being always from the same point of view, descriptive notation alternates between the White and Black point of view (1. … e7-e5 translates to 1…. P – K4) .

Catherine Jan March 15, 2012 at 17:59

Riccardo, I only know algebraic notation, and it does seem simpler. What I find amazing is that some chess players can play blind chess; they just hear what moves their opponents make, thanks to this notation system, and can play out a whole game without having to see the pieces. If you had a look at the video of Magnus Carlsen, you’ll see him playing blind chess—with several people at once!

Nicolás Vercesi March 16, 2012 at 04:22

And I thought I was the only translator interested in Chess! Great post, Catherine.

You might want to check my post on some analogies between Translation and Chess:


Catherine Jan March 16, 2012 at 07:17

Yes, we do “gain insight from each and every game” and could potentially read hundreds books on the subject. I really enjoyed your post, thanks.

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