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Uses and misuses of the word ‘delay’ in English, or ‘délai’ in French

The confusion arises mainly for French speakers and is commonly encountered in Geneva.

Delay (English) vs délai (French)

This word is often categorized as a false friend, or a word that French speakers frequently confuse with a similar English word.

The French word délai usually means a deadline, time period or timeframe in English, whereas the English word delay means being late.

Here are some examples of correct usage:

All the arrivals were delayed because of ice on the runway.

Owing to the national strike, the meeting was delayed by one week.

We must not delay the decision or we might miss out on the opportunity.

(There is, however, one example where the two mean the same thing:
without delay is sans délai in French, with a similar meaning.)

Test yourself

What is wrong with these uses of delay? How can you fix them?

1          What is the delay for this document?

2          Any complaint must be made in a delay of two years of the purchase date.

3          We can grant a 10-day delay for submission of the report.

Answer key

1          What is the deadline for this document?

2          Any complaint must be made within two years of the purchase date.

3          We can grant a 10-day timeframe for submission of the report.

________________________________________________
Carol Waites (PhD)
Email: carolswritingtips@gmail.com
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Presentation/editing by Christina O’Shaughnessy (editor)
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