While reading Paulo Coelho's novel, I came across a word that left me doubting whether it was of English origin. Following is the sentence:

She fell in love for the first time when she was eleven, en route from her house to school.

What is the meaning of the word en?

Please elaborate on its meaning, origin and usage.

3 Answers 3


The en here doesn't mean anything except as part of 'en route', which is imported from French and means 'on or along the way'. See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/enroute. There are other phrases of this kind, such as 'en banc' or 'en prise'.

There is another word 'en' which is printer's jargon and means the width on the page occupied by the letter 'n' (and is half an 'em').

  • 5
    +1 en and em are also used to indicate two types of dashes. It really has nothing to do with the question, but en and em dashes are one of those things that make books look good.
    – s.m
    Commented Jan 16, 2011 at 12:04
  • 1
    Oooh thanks! I've been using "em" in CSS for years, and never wondered where it came from!
    – o0'.
    Commented Jan 16, 2011 at 15:24

The word 'en' is actually of French origin. It can mean 'on', 'in', 'inside' or 'along' depending on context. The disambiguation page on Wikipedia says : "En route is a French phrase which means "on the way" or "along the way". "

  • 2
    The only other uses of "en" I can recall hearing in English are "en passant" and "en guarde". Those are both technical terms (from chess and fencing respectively), and were borrowed into English wholesale. I suspect "en route" is of the same provenence, but from road racing.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 21:23
  • 1
    @T.E.D. I don't think "en route" has anything to do with road racing specifically. I've mainly heard and used it to refer to something done incidentally to travel, for instance "we went from Lincoln to London but called in at Cambridge en route." I suspect that, if it has a specific origin, it comes from the 18th and 19th century Grand Tour.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 14:06

En is a French preposition that commonly appears in phrases borrowed from French. In this case, en route is a French phrase that means, roughly, on the way (OED).

Other common French loan phrases involving en include:

  • en avant - forward. 1823 Ld. Byron Let.

    22 Apr. (1980) X. 156 But never mind—‘En Avant!’ live while you can.

  • en banc - all or a quorum of judges.

    1986 J. Batten Judges 220 Before the Second World War, the appeal courts would sit en banc for the most part.

  • en déshabillé - in undress.

    1877 C. Reade Woman-hater I. vii. 172 Let me catch her en déshabille, with her porter on one side, and her lover on the other.

  • en l'air - in the air, figuratively meaning unsupported.

    1964 W. B. Pemberton Battles of Boer War vi. 164 The extreme right of the Boers was practically en l'air and deserted.

  • en plein - in full; betting entirely on one side or number in roulette.

    1966 C. Robertson Judas Spies i. 9 He had been sitting at a roulette table..playing the even chances mostly, occasionally trying his luck en plein.

  • en pointe - dancing on the toe in ballet.

    1959 Times 1 Sept. 11/3 Miss Doris Lainë..did a wonderfully neat hop en pointe.

  • en poste - in an official (usually diplomatic) position.

    1962 John o' London's 31 May 517/1 While he was en poste in Paris he gathered much of the material.

  • en suite - forming a suite, often of adjoining rooms.

    2006 Peak District Life Spring 33/3 Crisp blue and white striped bed linen and curtains give a fresh feel to the guest bedroom and en-suite bathroom.

Outside of French borrowing, this preposition en is not a generative English word. For instance, en the countertop, en road, or en top of the world don't work, except as an awkward substitution for in or on.

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