False friend: Does 'verbalisation' in French mean warning?

It is common to read in French media about people receiving a 'verbalisation' by police for breaking Covid-related rules. We explain whether it means they have been warned by police or given a fine.

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Reader question: I read an article in The Connexion about the police cracking down on Covid curfew breakers and fining people. However, I often read in French media about someone being given a ‘verbalisation’ for breaking Covid-related rules. Does this mean they are receiving a warning from police or they are actually being fined?

The word 'verbalisation' in French, in the context of an infraction, is something of a faux-ami (false friend) for English speakers as it sounds like it could mean a 'verbal warning'.

In fact, a 'verbalisation' is a fine, given on the spot by a police officer to someone who has broken a law. The closest translation of the sentence, “l’homme a été verbalisé par le policier” would be, “the man was booked by the police officer”.

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The word ‘verbalisation’ stems from the Latin word “verbum”, meaning “word”.

In this sense, 'verbalisation' does not mean a spoken remark, but a recorded remark. Hence why a “verbalisation” in modern French means to “book” or “report” someone (give them a fine), rather than just warn them verbally.

Another way of saying 'verbalisation' would be 'une amende'.

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