French Phrases: Types of business and talking about businesses

 See also: French translation service

The following is a list of what are probably the most common types of business in France and French-speaking countries. It is important to note that:

  • the precise legal details of these different business types depend on the French-speaking country in question;
  • the English equivalents are only approximate— as in French-speaking counties, the legal details of particular business types varies among English-speaking countries;
  • for more information on translating French contracts, see the separate page on French contracts/compromis de vente.
French business typeAbbreviationExplanationNearest English/US equivalents
Société Anonyme à Responsabilité Limitée SARL The typical model of a small to medium sized company in France. Limited-liability company with 2-100 associates (1-100 in Switzerland) and a minimum capital of around 7,500 Euro. Shares, strictly referred to as parts sociales, are not freely transferrable. Limited Liability Company/Corporation (US), Limited Company (UK)
Société Anonyme SA Limited liability company of 7+ shareholders, which must have a Board of Directors, and a minimum capital of just under 40,000 Euro. Shares transferrable. Corporation (US), Public Limited Company (UK)
Société en Nom Collectif SNC Partnership of at least 2 associates, who are personally liable for the company's debts, and who are taxed on income. Typical only of small, family businesses that don't have the capital to form a SARL. Partnership
Entreprise Individuelle Single trader whose personal assets are not legally separated from those of the business. Sole partnership/Proprietorship, Sole Trader (UK)
autoentrepreneur Simplified model of business introduced in 2009 aimed at individuals running business activities (e.g. translators, web site owners, students doing extra freelance work plus other freelancers) who do not want the overhead of setting up a fully-fledged "business". Sole trader
Entreprise Unipersonnelle à Responsabilité Limitée EURL Single trader whose personal and business assets are legally separated. Limited Liability Partnership

Translating names of business types

As in English, French business names are usually followed by the initials specifying the type of business (and in some circumstances, this is a legal requirement). In general, when quoting the name of a French business in an English text, it us usual to quote the name verbatim with its French company-type abbreviations.

Nowadays, the legal acts defining different company types are reasonably accessible via the Internet. So when referring to a business type by its full name within a text (i.e. not just the initials that are part of a company name), it is recommendable to simply quote the French name, possibly giving an English equivalent but with a phrase ("roughly equivalent to...", "similar to...") indicating that this is just an approximate equivalent. For example:

"Bonnaffaire, Société Anonyme fondée en 2001, ..."

could be translated as:

"Bonnaffaire, a Société Anonyme (a type of French company similar to a PLC) founded in 2001, ..."

To avoid interrupting the flow of the text, you could simply write:

The Société Anonyme Bonnaffaire, founded in 2001, ...

and include an appropriate footnote if you deem it necessary.

See also...

You may be interested in the following available on this site:

 Writing business letters in French
 French business glossary
 Automatic French/English translation

Page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright (c) Javamex UK 2014. All rights reserved.