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French Vocabulary

35 Top False French Friends

By Steve Oswald on September 9, 2019
False French Friends

French English words that look alike but mean different things got me in so much trouble!

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Like “une librairie” (‘bookstore’) and ‘a library’ (which is “la bibliothĂšque” in French… In this bilingual practice story, Steve will share with us situations where false cognates, French English words look alike led him to totally misunderstand a situation, then he will give us a list of 35 common false friends type of pairs to watch out for.

1 – Why Are There So Many French Words in English Today?

AprĂšs l’invasion de l’Angleterre par les Normands en 1066, les mots français ont commencĂ© Ă  entrer dans la langue anglaise. Aujourd’hui il y a des milliers de mots anglais originaires du français.

After the invasion of England by the Normans in 1066, French words began to appear in the English language. Today, there are thousands of English words that have their origin in French.

2 – False Friends, False Cognates

Tous les Ă©tudiants de langue française apprennent vite qu’il y a un groupe de mots français Ă©crits comme en anglais (ou presque) mais qu’ils n’ont pas le mĂȘme sens. On les appelle les faux amis.

All French language students quickly learn that there is a group of French words spelled like English words (or nearly so) but that do not have the same meaning. They are called false friends (or false cognates).

Voici des exemples pour illustrer plusieurs piÚges courants, et oui, ces anecdotes sont un peu exagérées !

Here are some examples to illustrate several common traps, and yes, these anecdotes are a bit exaggerated!

3 – False Friend Embarrassment – “Un prĂ©servatif” – ‘A Preserve’

Je descends les escaliers et entre dans la salle de petit dĂ©jeuner de mon hĂŽtel. Je prends un croissant et une tasse de cafĂ© avant de m’asseoir Ă  une table.

I come down the stairs and go into the breakfast room of my hotel. I take a croissant and a cup of coffee before sitting at a table.

Comme il y avait seulement du beurre sur la table, et que j’avais envie de pratiquer mon français, je demande Ă  la serveuse s’il y a un peu de prĂ©servatif pour le pain. J’avais envie de fraise.

Since there was only butter on the table, and I wanted to practice my French, I ask the waitress if there is a bit of preserve for the bread. I felt like strawberry.

Elle glousse, est devient toute rouge et me dit qu’elle serait heureuse de m’apporter un peu de confiture Ă  la place. Heureusement qu’elle devait souvent avoir des clients anglais !!

She chuckles and blushes, and tells me she’d be happy to bring me some jam instead. Good thing she must have had many English customers!
Note: be careful of this one! The French word “prĂ©servatif” means a condom. To ask for jam or preserves you would use “de la confiture”.

confusing french pairs

4 – French English False Cognate – “Le Coin” ≠ ‘A Coin’

Plus tard, j’ai entendu parlĂ© des gens « du magasin du coin » qui se situait Ă  deux pas de mon hĂŽtel. J’ai pensĂ© que mon ami John, un numismate novice, apprĂ©cierait une nouvelle piĂšce de monnaie pour sa collection.

Later, I overhead people speaking of a “magasin du coin” located near my hotel. I thought my friend John, a novice coin collector, would appreciate a new coin for his collection.

Je n’ai rien compris quand je n’ai trouvĂ© que des produits alimentaires dans l’Ă©picerie.

I was totally lost when I only found food products in the shop.
Note: the French word “coin” means corner or local area, so “magasin du coin” signifies a corner store or local shop.

5 – French English False Friend – “Un Patron” – ‘A Patron’

Le cafĂ© Ă©tait presque plein mais j’ai pu m’asseoir Ă  une table au fond de l’établissement. Je mourais de faim et, heureusement, un serveur est arrivĂ© tout de suite.

The café was nearly full, but I was able to sit at a table near the back of the establishment. I was starving and fortunately a waiter arrived immediately.

Le serveur venait de prendre ma commande lorsqu’un autre employĂ© s’est approchĂ© du premier. J’ai entendu cet employĂ© dire Ă  mon serveur:

The waiter had just taken my order when another employee approached the first. I heard this employee say to my waiter:

  • Tu as parlĂ© au patron ?
  • Oui.
  • Qu’est-ce qu’il voulait ?
  • Rien du tout, vraiment.
  • Did you to talk to the ‘patron’?
  • Yes.
  • What did he want?
  • Nothing at all, really.

A ce moment-lĂ , j’ai dĂ©cidĂ© d’interrompre, et j’ai dit « Excusez-moi, mais j’ai commandĂ© un croque-monsieur. Est-ce qu’il y a un problĂšme ? »

At that moment, I decided to interrupt, and I said “Excuse me, but I ordered a croque-monsieur. Is there a problem?”
Note: the French word “patron” means boss. You would say “le client” in French to refer to the customer, the patron.

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6 – French English False Cognate – “La Location” ≠ ‘The Location’

Plus tard, je suis allĂ© dans une agence de location pour voir « Les meilleures locations dans la ville » je pensais Ă  des photos de vacances comme sur Instagram. J’ai vite rĂ©alisĂ© mon erreur quand l’employĂ© voulait absolument me montrer un appartement…

And later, I went in a ‘location” store to see “the best locations in town” : I was thinking of vacation spot pictures like on Instagram!. I soon realised my mistake when the employee wanted to show me an apartment.
Note: The French word “location” means rental. Therefore, “agence de location” indicates a rental agency.

7 – Lost in Translation – “Déçu” ≠ ‘Deceived’

Une conversation entre deux amis a été entendue par hasard par un autre, un apprenant débutant en français.

A conversation between two friends was overheard by another, a French beginner.

La femme venait d’acheter un sofa et elle racontait Ă  son amie qu’elle “Ă©tait déçue” parce qu’elle n’avait pas reçu la remise qu’on lui avait promise.

The woman had just purchased a sofa and she was telling her friend that she was “déçue” because she hadn’t received the discount that was promised to her.

L’auditeur a alors cru que le vendeur avait trompĂ© cette femme. Mais, en fait, lorsque la femme a achetĂ© le sofa, les soldes s’étaient terminĂ©es la veille, et donc c’était une dĂ©ception pour elle et pas une tromperie.

The listener believed that the salesman had cheated this woman. But, in fact, when the woman bought the sofa, the sales had ended the day before, and so it was a disappointment for her not a deception.
Note: the French words “dĂ©ception” and “dĂ©cevoir” mean disappointment and to disappoint.

8 – French English Confusing Pairs – “Une Blessure” ≠ ‘Blessing’

Selon son habitude, le jeune Ă©tudiant a parcouru les titres Ă  la une de son journal et s’est dirigĂ© vers sa section prĂ©fĂ©rĂ©e, les faits divers. L’article de tĂȘte parlait d’un voleur qui a reçu une blessure par un prĂȘtre en essayant d’arrĂȘter le vol de la boĂźte de dons dans son Ă©glise.

As usual, the young student browsed the headlines of his newspaper and headed to his favorite section, miscellaneous news items. The lead article was about a thief who received a “blessure” by a priest while trying to stop the theft of the donation box in his church.

Il pensait que c’était bizarre que ce curĂ© ait consacrĂ© quelqu’un qui avait Ă©tĂ© pris en flagrant dĂ©lit d’un vol.

He thought it was unusual that a priest would bless someone who had been caught red-handed during a theft.
Note: the French word “blessure” means a wound or injury. To say “blessing” in French you would use either the verb “bĂ©nir” or the noun “une benediction”.

9 – French English False Cognate – – “La Chair” ≠ ‘A Chair’

Et puis, sur la page 7 du journal, il est tombé sur une publicité pour un cirque qui allait venir dans sa ville la semaine suivante.

And then, on page 7 of the newspaper, he found an advertisement for a circus that was coming to his city the next week.

L’annonce indiquait, qu’il y aurait un spectacle avec des animaux fĂ©roces, des grands mangeurs de chairs.

The announcement indicated that there would be a show with savage animals, large “chair” eaters.

C’est trĂšs inhabituel, pensait l’étudiant. Pourquoi permettre aux animaux de manger les siĂšges ?

That’s weird, thought the student. Why let the animals eat the seats?
Note: The French word “la chair” indicates flesh or meat.

french false friends

10 – How To Avoid The False French Friend Trap?

Il faut ĂȘtre conscient des faux amis pour Ă©viter la confusion et mĂȘme l’embarras. Cela vaut l’effort de les mĂ©moriser. La liste suivante est un Ă©chantillon des faux amis que vous trouverez frĂ©quement.

You must be aware of false friends to avoid confusion or even embarrassment. It’s worth the effort to memorize them. The following list is a sample of false friends that you will find frequently.

35 False French Friends

I’ll first list the French word with its English equivalent. Then the English word and its French equivalent.

  1. Actuel (adj) = current, contemporary
    Actual = réel, vrai
  2. Actuellement (adv) = at the moment, currently
    Actually = en fait, vraiment, en réalité
  3. Un Avertissement = a warning
    Advertisement = une publicité
  4. Assister Ă  (vtr) = to attend, be present at
    To Assist = aider
  5. Blesser (vtr) = to wound, injure
    To Bless = bénir
  6. La chair = flesh, meat
    Chair = la chaise
  7. La chance = luck, opportunity
    Luck = le hasard
  8. Charger (vtr) = to load [sth] up
    To charge = faire payer
  9. Un coin = corner, local area
    Coin = une piĂšce de monnaie
  10. Le collĂšge = secondary school, middle school
    College = l’universitĂ© (nf)
  11. Commander Ă  = to order
    To command = ordonner Ă 
  12. La déception = disappointment
    Deception = une tromperie
  13. DĂ©cevoir (vtr) = to disappoint
    To deceive = tromper
  14. Demander Ă  (vtr) = to ask
    To demand = exiger
  15. Disposer (vtr) = to arrange, place
    To dispose = jeter, se débarrasser de
  16. Une Entrée = entrance of a house, 1st course of a meal
    Entrée = le plat principal (main course of a meal)
  17. L’envie (nf) = desire, longing
    Envy = la jalousie
  18. Éventuellement (adv) = might, possibly
    Eventually = finalement
  19. Finalement (adv) = eventually
    Finally = enfin
  20. Formidable (adj) = astounding, terrific (usually positive in French)
    Formidable = impressionant, terrifiant (usually negative in English)
  21. Une grappe (nf) = a bunch, cluster
    Grape = le raisin
  22. Le raisin (nm) = grape
    Raisin = le raisin sec
  23. Un habit (nm) = an item of clothing
    Habit = une habitude
  24. Ignorer (vtr) = to not know, be ignorant of
    To ignore = ne pas prĂȘter attention Ă 
  25. Une journée = day span
    Journey = un trajet, un voyage
  26. Une librairie = a bookstore
    Library = une bibliothĂšque
  27. Un magasin (nm) = a store, a shop
    Magazine = un magazine
  28. La monnaie = currency in coin, change
    Money = l’argent (nm)
  29. Un patron = the boss
    Patron = le client
  30. Un, une photographe = a photographer
    Photographe = une photographie
  31. Prévenir (vtr) = to warn
    To prevent = empĂȘcher, Ă©viter
  32. Relever (vtr) = to raise or pick [sth] up
    To relieve = soulager
  33. Sensible (adj) = sensitive
    Sensible = raisonnable
  34. Surveiller (vtr) = to watch or monitor
    To survey = examiner, questionner
  35. Une tentative = an attempt
    Tentative (adj) = timide, hésitant

adj = adjectif
adv = adverbe
nm = nom masculin
nf = nom féminin
vtr = verbe transitif

Et vous ? est-ce que vous avez une anecdote sur les faux amis Ă  partager ? Laissez un commentaire !

What about you? Do you have a false friend anecdote to share? Leave a comment!

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