I was trying to translate portafinestra in English, and I think I found the correct term (French window) whose definition seems to match with what I would define portafinestra: "each of a pair of casement windows extending to the floor in an outside wall, serving as a window and door."

Can I call French window those doors that are opened by sliding them? If it is not the right term, what is a term that I could use also for sliding doors facing on an outside wall?

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    You can always apply the Google images test – J.R. Feb 23 '13 at 10:21
  • For some of the images shown in that page, I would use the term window, not French window. – kiamlaluno Feb 23 '13 at 10:28
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    I can’t resist mentioning the humourist Gerard Hoffnung, who spoke of receiving a letter from an Austrian hotel proprietor about the attractions of his establishment, which included a French widow in every bedroom, affording delightful prospects. – Barrie England Feb 23 '13 at 10:53
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    kiamlaluno: Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that link would answer everything. I only meant to share a hint that can get us started in the right direction. If I'm unsure I'm using the right term for something, I'll sometimes do a Google images search to check (but it's not infallible: see this ELU question and this Google search). – J.R. Feb 23 '13 at 11:08
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    Sometimes "French window" means a window that opens like a French door, which is why "French door" is sometimes used in place of "French window". What a pane in the glass! – J.R. Feb 23 '13 at 11:21

There are a lot of factors at work here.

As Barrie mentioned, doors that open to the backyard are called patio doors. Patio doors can have two styles: sliding, or hinged.

In the U.S., the sliding style doors are often called "sliding glass doors." The term "French doors" is used for double doors that open outward or inward, particularly when they are made of paned glass.

I found these two images on a retail web site:

patio doors

The door on the left is listed as a Sliding Patio Door; the one on the right is a French Inswing Patio Door. However, in day-to-day conversation, I'd probably refer them as "the sliding glass door" or "the French doors" – although either of them could be called "the patio door."

With all that said, though, I still found a website that sells "French-Style Sliding Doors," which sounds like an oxymoron to me.

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  • Would glass doors be understood to mean both the type of doors? I remember that at first I translated portafinestra with glass doors, and the friend of mine (born in the USA) understood what I meant. – kiamlaluno Feb 23 '13 at 10:54
  • A glass door could be any door made out glass, including a glass storm door, a glass entry door, or the glass door to a commercial establishment. We're dealing with a tricky mixed taxonomy here, because there's the function of the door (entry, patio, storm, shower, interior), the material (wood, metal, vinyl, glass), the style (hinged or sliding), and the type of glass (paned, stained, etc.) – J.R. Feb 23 '13 at 11:06
  • Supposing to be at somebody's home, would glass door be understood to mean also sliding glass door, or would I see the owner of the house going to open the entrance door to check the glass storm door? – kiamlaluno Feb 23 '13 at 11:24
  • If my house had a glass storm door in the front, and a sliding glass door in the back, and I gave you a key so you could get inside, I would not say "this is a key to the glass door," because that would be ambiguous. I'd probably either say, "This is the key to the storm door in the front," or, "This is the key to the sliding glass door in the back," because storm door and sliding glass door are two of the more common ways to refer to those two doors. – J.R. Feb 23 '13 at 11:28

In the UK, sliding doors of the kind you describe are referred to as patio doors when they open onto an external paved area.

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I can't speak for common usage in the US, but in the England, we used to just have doors, which were mostly solid wood and opened all the way to the ground, and windows, which were glazed and didn't. Some hundreds of years ago, however, it was noted that in France, some rooms had windows (with glazed panes much like ours) that extended all the way to the ground. These "long" windows, often be in pairs (and only ever of the hinged type) would provide access to the balcony or the garden and facilitate a nice air flow in warmer weather. Architects in England started to incorporate the full-length hinged windows into their designs and they were referred to as "french windows", but only used in place of a window - the main front door of a house would still be largely solid wood. The term "french door" is meaningless - unless you mean a door in France. If you are talking about a pair of hinged, glazed doors, say just that. In England, we should say "french windows" (or "patio doors" if they slide).

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