Les Intraduisibles : dizaine

The French noun une dizaine, and indeed, all the other numbers that are modified by the suffix ‘-aine’, such as une trentaine, or une vingtaine, are used to convey the idea of an approximation in quantity. Therefore, one might say ‘il y a une dizaine de canettes dans le placard’ (‘there are around ten cans in the cupboard’) or ‘il a une vingtaine d’enfants dans la classe’ (‘there are about twenty children in the class’). This estimative term can also be used to give a rough idea of someone’s age. You can either say ‘il avait la quarantaine’ (‘he was about forty’ or ‘he was in his early forties’) or ‘c’était un homme d’une quarantaine d’années’ (‘he was a man of around forty).

Although there are plenty of ways of rendering the idea evoked by this suffix in English, including the phrases ‘around ten’, ‘about ten’ or ‘ten-or-so’, and colloquial words such as ‘ten-ish’, in order to properly translate the term, meaning must spill out across several words. There is no one suffix or prefix which captures the idea of approximation – although it would be very useful if such a morpheme existed – and so ‘-aine’ can be described as intraduisible.