French Vocabulary in English
French words and expressions commonly used in English
French Influence in English | French Vocabulary in English
Over the years, the English language has borrowed a great number of words and expressions from French. Some of this vocabulary has been so completely absorbed by English that speakers might not realize its origins. Other words and expressions have retained their "Frenchness" - a certain je ne sais quoi which speakers tend to be much more aware of (although this awareness does not usually extend to actually pronouncing the word in French). The following is a list of French terms which are commonly used in English.
French Literal meaning Notes
adieu until God Used like "farewell": when you don't expect to see the person again until God (when you die and go to Heaven)
agent provocateur provocative agent A person who attempts to provoke suspected individuals or groups into committing unlawful acts
aide-de-camp camp assistant A military officer who serves as a personal assistant to a higher-ranking officer
aide-mémoire memory aid 1. Position paper
2. Something that acts as an aid to memory, such as crib notes or a mnemonic devices
à la carte on the menu* French restaurants usually offer a menu with choices for each of the several courses at a fixed price. If you want something else (a side order), you order from the carte. *Note that menu is a false cognate in French and English.
à la mode in fashion, style In English, this means "with ice cream" - apparently someone decided that having ice cream on pie was the fashionable way to eat it.
amour-propre self love Self respect
apéritif cocktail From Latin, "to open"
après-ski after skiing The French term actually refers to snow boots, but the literal translation of the term is what is meant in English, as in "après-ski" social events.
à propos (de) on the subject of In French, à propos must be followed by the preposition de. In English, there are four ways to use apropos (we leave out the accent and the space):
1. Adjective - appropriate, to the point: "That's true, but it's not apropos."
2. Adverb - At an appropriate time, opportunely: "Fortunately, he arrived apropos."
3. Adverb/Interjection - by the way, incidentally: "Apropos, what happened yesterday?"
4. Preposition (may or may not be followed by of) - with regard to, speaking of: "Apropos our meeting, I'll be late"; "He told a funny story apropos of the new president."
art déco decorative art Short for art décoratif
attaché attached A person assigned to a diplomatic post
au fait conversant, informed Au fait is used in British English to mean "familiar" or "conversant": She's not really au fait with my ideas.
au gratin with gratings In French, au gratin refers to anything that is grated and put on top of a dish, like breadcrumbs or cheese. In English, au gratin means "with cheese."
au jus in the juice Served with the meat's natural juices.
au naturel in reality, unseasoned In this case naturel is a semi-false cognate. In French, au naturel can mean either "in reality" or the literal meaning of "unseasoned" (in cooking). In English, we picked up the latter, less common usage and use it figuratively, to mean natural, untouched, pure, real.
au pair at par A person who works for a family (cleaning and/or teaching the children) in exchange for room and board
avant-garde before guard Innovative, especially in the arts
avoirdupois goods of weight Originally spelled averdepois
bête noire black beast Similar to a pet peeve: something that is particularly distasteful or difficult and to be avoided.
billet-doux sweet note Love letter
blonde fair-haired This is the only adjective in English which agrees in gender with the person it modifies: blond is for a man and blonde for a woman. Note that these can also be nouns.
bon appétit good appetite The closest English equivalent is "Enjoy your meal."
bon vivant good "liver" Someone who lives well, who knows how to enjoy life.
bon voyage good trip English has "Have a good trip," but Bon voyage is more elegant.
brunette small, dark-haired female The French word brun, dark-haired, is what English really means by "brunette." The -ette suffix indicates that the subject is small and female.
carte blanche blank card Free hand, ability to do whatever you want/need
cerise cherry The French word for the fruit gives us the English word for the color.
c'est la vie that's life Same meaning and usage in both languages
chaise longue long chair In English, this is often mistakenly written as "chaise lounge" - which actually makes perfect sense.
chargé d'affaires charged with business A substitute or replacement diplomat
cheval-de-frise Frisian horse Barbed wire, spikes, or broken glass attached to wood or masonry and used to block access
cheval glace horse mirror A long mirror set into a moveable frame
chic stylish Chic sounds more chic than "stylish."
cinéma vérité cinema truth Unbiased, realistic documentary filmmaking
coup de grâce mercy blow Deathblow, final blow, decisive stroke
coup d'état state blow Overthrow of the government
crème brûlée burnt cream Baked custard with carmelized crust
crème caramel caramel cream Synonym of flan - custard lined with caramel
crème de cacao cream of cacao Chocolate-flavored liqueur
crème de la crème cream of the cream Synonymous with the English expression "cream of the crop" - refers to the best of the best.
crème de menthe cream of mint Mint-flavored liqueur
crème fraîche fresh cream This is a funny term. Despite its meaning, crème fraîche is in fact slightly fermented, thickened cream.
crêpe de Chine Chinese crepe Type of silk
critique critical, judgment Critique is an adjective and noun in French, but a noun and verb in English; it refers to a critical review of something or the act of performing such a review.
cuisine kitchen, food style In English, cuisine refers only to a particular type of food/cooking, such as French cuisine, Southern cuisine, etc.
cul-de-sac bottom of the bag Dead-end street
debutante beginner In French, débutante is the feminine form of débutant - beginner (noun) or beginning (adj). In both languages, it also refers to a young girl making her formal debut into society. Interestingly, this usage is not original in French; it was adopted back from English.
décolleté low neckline
lowered neckline The first is a noun, the second an adjective, but both refer to low necklines on women's clothing.
dégustation tasting The French word simply refers to the act of tasting, while in English "degustation" is used for a tasting event or party, as in wine or cheese tasting.
déjà vu already seen This is a grammatical structure in French, as in "Je l'ai déjà vu"=> I've already seen it. It can also disparage a style or technique that has already been done, as in "Son style est déjà vu" => His style is not original.
In English, déjà vu refers to the scientific phenomenon of feeling like you have already seen or done something when you're sure that you haven't.
demimonde half world 1. A marginal or disrespectful group
2. Prostitutes and/or kept women
demitasse half cup Refers to a small cup of espresso or other strong coffee.
démodé out of fashion Same meaning in both languages: outmoded, out of fashion
de rigueur of rigueur Socially or culturally obligatory
dernier cri last cry The newest fashion or trend
de trop of too much Excessive, superfluous
double entendre double hearing A word play or pun. For example, you're looking at a field of sheep and you say "How are you (ewe)?"
du jour of the day "Soup du jour" is nothing more than an elegant-sounding version of "soup of the day."
eau de cologne water from Cologne This is often cut down to simply "cologne" in English. Cologne, which is the French/English name for the German city Köln, is capitalized in the French expression.
eau de toilette toilet water Toilet here does not refer to a commode - see toilette, below. Eau de toilette is a very weak perfume.
en banc on the bench Legal: indicates that the entire membership of a court is in session.
en bloc in a block In a group, all together
encore again A simple adverb in French, "encore" in English refers to an additional performance, usually requested with audience applause.
enfant terrible terrible child Refers to a troublesome or embarrassing person within a group (of artists, thinkers, etc).
en garde on guard Warning that one should be on his/her guard, ready for an attack (originally in fencing).
en masse in mass In a group, all together
en route on route On the way
en suite in sequence Part of a set, together
esprit de corps group spirit Similar to team spirit or morale
fait accompli done deed Fait accompli seems more fatalistic to me than done deed, which is so factual.
faux false, fake I once saw an ad for "genuine faux pearls." No worries that those pearls might be real, I guess - you were guaranteed fake ones. :-)
faux pas false step, trip Something that should not be done, a foolish mistake.
femme fatale deadly woman An alluring, mysterious woman who seduces men into compromising situations
fiancée engaged person, betrothed Note that fiancé refers to a man and fiancée to a woman.
film noir black movie Black is a literal reference to the stark black-and-white cinematography style, though films noirs tend to be figuratively dark as well (e.g., morbid, bleak, depressing, etc).
finale final In French, this can refer to either the final in sport (e.g., quarter-final, semi-final) or the finale of a play. In English, it can only mean the latter.
fin de siècle end of the century Hyphenated in English, fin-de-siècle refers to the end of the 19th century.
fleur-de-lys flower of lily A type of iris or an emblem in the shape of an iris with three petals.
folie à deux craziness for two Mental disorder which occurs simultaneously in two people with a close relationship or association.
force majeure greater force Refers to superior/greater force, or to an unexpected or uncontrollable event.
little girl Refers to an impish or playful girl/woman.
gauche left, awkward Tactless, lacking social grace
genre type Used mostly in art and film - "I really like this genre..."
haute couture high sewing High-class, fancy (and expensive) clothing styles
haute cuisine high cooking High-class, fancy (and expensive) cooking or food
hors de combat out of combat Out of action
hors d'oeuvre outside of work An appetizer. Oeuvre here refers to the main work (course), so hors d'oeuvre simply means something besides the main course.
idée fixe set idea Fixation, obsession
je ne sais quoi I don't know what Used to indicate a "certain something," as in "I really like Ann. She has a certain je ne sais quoi that I find very appealing."
joie de vivre joy of living The quality in people who live life to the fullest
laissez-faire let it be A policy of non-interference
maître d'hôtel master of
master of hotel The former is more common in English, which is strange since it is incomplete: "The 'master of' will show you to your table."
mal de mer sickness of sea Seasickness
matinée morning In English, refers to the day's first showing of a movie or play. Can also refer to a midday romp with one's lover.
mot juste right word Exactly the right word or expression.
nom de plume pen name This French phrase was coined by English speakers in imitation of nom de guerre.
nom de guerre war name Pseudonym
née born Used in genealogy to refer to a woman's maiden name: Anne Miller née (or nee) Smith.
nouveau riche new rich Disparaging term for someone who has recently come into money.
papier mâché mashed paper Used for art
par excellence by excellence Quintessential, preeminent, the best of the best
peau de soie skin of silk Soft, silky fabric with a dull finish
petite small, short It may sound chic, but petit is simply the feminine French adjective "short."
petit-four little oven Small dessert, especially cake
pièce de résistance piece of stamina In French, this originally referred to the main course - the test of your stomach's stamina. In both languages, it now refers to an outstanding accomplishment or the final part of something - a project, a meal, etc.
pied-à-terre foot on ground A temporary or secondary place of residence.
protégé protected Someone whose training is sponsored by an influential person.
raison d'être reason for being Purpose, justification for existing
rendez-vous go to In French, this refers to a date or an appointment (literally, it is the verb se rendre - to go - in the imperative); in English we can use it as a noun or a verb (let's rendez-vous at 8pm).
repartee quick, accurate response The French repartie gives us the English "repartee," with the same meaning of a swift, witty, and "right on" retort.
risqué risked Suggestive, overly provocative
roman-fleuve novel river A long, multi-volume novel which presents the history of several generations of a family or community. In both French and English, saga tends to be used more.
rouge red The English refers to a reddish cosmetic or metal/glass-polishing powder, and can be a noun or a verb.
RSVP respond please This abbreviation stands for Répondez, s'il vous plaît, which means that "Please RSVP" is redundant.
sang-froid cold blood The ability to maintain one's composure.
sans without Used mainly in academia, although it's also seen in the font style "sans serif" => without decorative flourishes.
savoir-faire knowing how to do Synonymous with tact or social grace.
soi-disant self saying What one claims about oneself; so-called, alleged
soigné taken care of 1. Sophisticated, elegant, fashionable
2. Well-groomed, polished, refined
soirée evening In English, refers to an elegant party.
soupçon suspicion Used figuratively like hint: There's just a soupçon of garlic in the soup.
souvenir memory, keepsake A memento
tableau vivant living picture A scene made up of silent, motionless actors
table d'hôte host table 1. A table for all guests to sit together
2. A fixed-price meal with multiple courses
tête-à-tête head to head A private talk or visit with another person
toilette toilet In French, this refers both to the toilet itself and anything related to toiletries; thus the expression "to do one's toilette" - brush hair, do makeup, etc. See eau de toilette, above.
touché touched Originally used in fencing, now equivalent to "you got me."
tour de force turn of strength Something which takes a great deal of strength or skill to accomplish.
trompe l'oeil trick the eye A painting style which uses perspective to trick the eye into thinking it is real. In French, trompe l'oeil can also refer in general to artifice and trickery.
vis-à-vis (de) face to face In French, vis-à-vis must be followed by the preposition de. Used in English to mean "compared to" or "in relation with": His feelings vis-à-vis my ideas are irrelevant.
vol-au-vent flight of the wind In both French and English, a vol-au-vent is a very light pastry shell filled with meat or fish with sauce.
French has also given English scores of words in the domains of ballet and cooking. The literal meanings of the French words are (in parentheses).
Ballet terms: barre (bar), chaîné (chained), chassé (chased), développé (developed), effacé (shaded), pas de deux (two step), pirouette (turn), plié (bent), relevé (lifted)....
Cooking terms: blanch (from blanchir => to bleach), sauté (fried over high heat), fondue (melted), purée (crushed), flambée (burned)....
FRENCH FY BSC. In H&HA
Les jours de la semaine : Days of the week
Les mois de l’année – months of the year
1. The French week starts on a Monday
2. The months and weeks are not capitalized.
DATES IN FRENCH
Taking about the date in French is a little bit tricky. There are two things to keep in mind: The definite article must be used and (attn. American English speakers) the number always precedes the month.
To ask What’s the date? Say Quelle est la date?
Use the following construction to respond:
On est +le+day+month(+year)
C’est le 8 avril 2000
On est le 30 octobre
Nous sommes le 2 janvier 2000
On the first day of the month, you have to use the ordinal number primer (first) or 1e (1st) rather than the cardinal number.
It’s april 1st- C’est le premier avril – C’est le 1e avril.
It’s july 4th – C’est le 4 juillet
To write the short form of the date in french it is essential to remember that the date goes first, and then the month. This can be very confusing for the American English speaker!
American English – April 8, 2000 =4/8/2000
French – le 8 avril 2000 = 8/4/2000
If you want to answer the day of the week use the following construction:
On est +day +le+date+month(+year)
C’est samedi, le 8 avril 2000
Nous sommes mardi, le premier décembre 2000
To ask What Day (of the week) is it? Say Quel jour sommes-nous/ or Quel jour est-ce? To answer just use one of the three beginnings listed above + the day of the week.
Nous sommes samedi
On est jeudi
French Numbers - Les Nombres
Learn how to count in French (French cardinal numbers)
Learn how to count in French - click on a link to hear that number pronounced in French.
21 vingt et un
31 trente et un
200 deux cents
201 deux cent un
41 quarante et un
2,000 deux mille
1,000,000 un million
2,000,000 deux millions
71 soixante et onze
a billion un milliard
The French numbers 0 through 19 are easy enough, right?
For 20 through 69, counting is almost just like in English: the tens word (vingt, trente, quarante, etc.) followed by the ones word (un, deux, trois). The only difference is that for 21, 31, etc., the word et is introduced between the tens word and one: vingt-et-un, trente-et-un, quarante-et-un, etc.
70 to 79 is trickier. In French, 70 is soixante-dix, literally "sixty-ten." 71 is soixante et onze (sixty and eleven), 72 is soixante-douze (sixty-twelve), and so on, up to 79.
80 is quatre-vingts, literally four-twenties (think "four-score"). 81 is quatre-vingt-un (four-twenty-one), 82 is quatre-vingt-deux (four-twenty-two), and so on, all the way up to ninety. 90 is quatre-vingt-dix (four-twenty-ten), 91 is quatre-vingt-onze (four-twenty-eleven), etc.
100 to 999 work just like in English, except that when you have cent at the end of the number, it takes an s, but when cent is followed by another number, the s is dropped. Also, note that you cannot pause after the word cent.
• 200 = deux cents
• 500 = cinq cents
• 350 = trois cent cinquante
• 872 = huit cent soixante-douze
1,000+ are similar to English, except that the separator is a period or space, rather than a comma. When reciting a number, you can pause to take a breath at the separator (after mille, million, or milliard). Note that mille never takes an s.
• 5.000 or 5 000 = cinq mille
• 2.500 or 2 500 = deux mille cinq cents
• 10.498 or 10 498 = dix mille quatre cent quatre-vingt-dix-huit
• 2.700.102 or 2 750 102 = deux millions sept cent mille cent deux
The numbers cinq, six, huit, and dix drop the final sound when followed by a word beginning with a consonant (cent, mille, million, milliard, francs). For example, 8 is normally pronounced [weet], but 800 is pronounced [wee sa(n)].