Attention, Ballet, Lingerie: French Words Used in English

Tori Tornreviewed byIryna Andrus / more about Editorial Process13 min
Created: Apr 13, 2023Last updated: Nov 22, 2023
French

Remember how Phoebe from Friends tried to teach Joey some French for an audition? Yes, that did not go well! But what Phoebe never told Joey is that there are so many French words used in English, so he could have grasped the language much easier. 

If you regularly read the Promova blog, it means your English is so good that there must be at least some English words that come from French in your vocabulary. You just didn't know about that. Just think about croissants and café! Now, you see it. The truth is that over the centuries, the two languages have overlapped so much that you will be surprised how many French words are used in English on a daily basis. And a bunch of them have remained purely French.

So, today we will brush up on your language skill and improve your vocabulary with French words in English. Bon voyage!

Why Are French Words Used in English

Linguists always have a great answer when people start wondering why one language borrowed a lot of lexicon from another. And that simple genius answer is "due to historical events." Numerous invasions, expansions, and wars led to vocabulary sharing among different nations. And the 30% rate of French words in English proves that.

For centuries English has been influenced by the Latin language from which the French originated. However, the main reason there are so many French words in English is the Norman Invasion of 1066. Back then, William the Conqueror staked his claim to the British throne and won it in the Battle of Hastings. After his coronation, the royal court spoke French – the Norman nobility's language. So naturally, the French language influenced how administration, law, and culture workers spoke in England. 

Over time, the English language made its way to be recognized in its own right. As a result, the upper-class members of society bring it back into use. That resulted in stopping the influence of the French language. However, during the Renaissance, Latin made a huge comeback as a language of cultured people and scientists. 

Of course, today, English and French are two different languages. But they still have some things in common. For instance, there are suffixes that lead us to the French words used in English. The list includes, but is not limited to:

  • -isme, such as Impressionism/l’impressionnisme; racism/le racisme
  • -able, such as capable/capable; table/la table; adorable/adorable
  • -ssion, such as mission/une mission; passion/la passion
  • -tion, such as acceleration/l'accélération; attention/attention
  • -if/ive, such as furtive/furtif/furtive; creative/créatif/créative
  • -ation, such as nation/la nation; information/l’information

As you can notice, the spelling of the French and English words in such cases are not identical but close enough. So, if an English speaker decides to learn French, knowing this trick can make the learning process much more manageable. 

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The List Of French Words in English by Categories

We hope that after this short dive into history, you've finally wrapped your head around the fact that some French words that we use in English were simply borrowed from the French language. Some of them managed to keep their initial meaning along with complete French spelling. However, in most cases, the pronunciation was still simplified because, let's be honest, French pronunciation is not a picnic. 

In this part of the article, we've collected French words that are the same in English in terms of meaning and spelling. Memorizing this chunk of vocabulary will help you kill two birds with one stone – you will add your English and French vocabulary. 

Food

  • À la carte – separate items on the menu
  • Apéritif – a pre-dinner drink
  • Aubergine (British) – eggplant
  • Bon appétit – enjoy your meal
  • Béchamel – a dressing made of butter, milk, and flour
  • Café – coffee house
  • Cornichon (British) – pickle
  • Croissant – a half-moon-shaped pastry
  • Crouton – toasted/fried pieces of bread
  • Cuisine – a dish that is cooked in a particular way
  • Maître d’hôtel – head waiter
  • Menu – list of dishes offered
  • Omelette – the flat egg dish
  • Restaurant – a place where people order and eat food 
  • Sommelier – wine expert and advisor
  • Soufflé Fluffy – dish (sweet or savory)
  • Vinaigrette – salad dressing

Fashion

  • Armoire – wardrobe, closet
  • Blouse – loose-fitting top
  • Boutique – small shop
  • Bracelet – a piece of jewelry worn on the wrist or arm
  • Chic – stylish, elegant
  • Costume – outfit to dress like someone else
  • (Eau de) cologne – cologne
  • Eau de toilette – perfume
  • Haute couture – high fashion
  • Lingerie – female underwear
  • Petite – short, small

Arts

  • Avant-garde – forefront
  • Ballet – a classical type of dance
  • Cinéma – movie theater or movies
  • Crème de la crème – the very best
  • Début – beginning
  • Décor – the furnishing and decoration of a room
  • Film noir – dark movie
  • Genre – type, category, sort of
  • Papier mâché – a material made of pulped paper mixed with glue
  • Protégé – a person guided and supported by a more experienced or influential person

Other

  • Apostrophe – a punctuation mark (') used to indicate either the possession or the omission of letters or numbers
  • Au naturel – something is as it comes
  • Au pair – a nanny abroad, usually a student staying at a host family
  • Bizarre – weird
  • Bon voyage – have a nice trip
  • Bouquet – a bunch of flowers
  • Carte blanche – having permission to do what one wants
  • Certain – definite, positive
  • Cliché – stereotype  
  • Concierge – receptionist at a fancy hotel or residence building
  • Content – happy, satisfied
  • Courage – bravery
  • Cruel – hurtful
  • Entrepreneur – a person who has created a company
  • Femme fatale – seductive woman
  • Fiancé – an engaged man
  • Garage – a building where the car is kept
  • Mirage – illusion
  • Oh la la – synonym to OMG
  • Orange – fruit or color
  • Possible – capable of being done
  • Queue – line
  • RSVP – Répondez s’il vous plaît (Please answer to an invitation)     
  • Simple – plain or naive
  • Souvenir – memory or memento/keepsake
  • Tête à tête – oa private conversation or meeting between two people
  • Voilà – there it is
Exploring List Of French Words in English by Categories

False Friends: French Words That We Use in English Differently

Another interesting linguistic phenomenon is "fake friends," or as the French people call it, "faux amis." Those are the words that exist in both languages – they are written identically or with minor differences but have nothing in common regarding the meaning. Once such words were borrowed from one language to another, they had the same meaning. However, as the languages evolved, the terms also evolved to have very different meanings. Not being aware of such a phenomenon can lead to very awkward mistakes for both English speakers who learn French and French speakers who know English. So let's see what "fake friends" exist in French and English. 

1. Ancien and Ancient

These two words are both adjectives, but only the English "ancient" means something really old. For French people, "ancient" defines as "former" or "ex." 

2. Apologie and Apology

From the first look, it's difficult to guess that endings can affect the meaning of what seemed to be the same word so drastically in different languages. For example, in French, "apologie" has nothing to do with asking for forgiveness. Instead, it means a justification or a defense of a person or object. 

3. Affaire and Affair

This couple couldn't be more intriguing. If you say that you have an affaire/affair with a famous actor, people will be impressed in both cases. However, from the French point of view, they will think you signed a contract or did business with the person. When in English, everyone will believe that you are cheating on your partner. So, watch your mouth when switching between the languages. 

4. Bras 

We don't know who still wears bras after the pandemic, but let's discuss this tricky word too. Even though "bras" might seem logical for women's underwear in French, you are wrong. It's just a hand, yes, ONE hand, it's singular. If you are wondering what the French translation of the English "bra" is, we are happy to present you soutien-gorge.

5. Chair 

What is written as a chair in French doesn't mean what it is as a chair in English — got confused? So did we, when we first learned the meaning of chair in French. Well, that is flesh, like inside human and animal bodies. And the French word for English chair is chaise. So we won't even start that chain. 

6. Chat

In this particular case, pronunciation is the key to success. This word does exist in French and English but means things with nothing in common. So, English chat is a light conversation between people. While French chat, which must be pronounced with 'sh' instead of 'ch,' is a cat. Surprise! We mean, meow!

7. Coach

This word is written identically in both languages and pronounced slightly differently. In both languages, it means a trainer for the sports team. However, in French, people also use this term, meaning a car. 

8. Coin

A coin is another term in the list of French words in English that have a different meaning. Nothing special in this case. In French, coin simply means corner. 

9. Сollege

The American educational system might be confusing for people from the outside world. Whenever Americans say they go to college, Europeans start freaking out a bit. Why? Because for the US folks, it means university, and almost for everybody else, it's a high school. We have a great trick on how to remember the meaning of college in both – English and French languages correctly. It brings us to the Netflix series Emily in Paris. There was a genuinely awkward situation when the main character Emily who was in her late twenties, slept with the younger brother of her French friend. The guy told her that he had just finished college, so it had never even occurred for a girl to ask about her lover's age beforehand. When Emily found out that her fling was only 17, the job was done. 

10. Déception and Deception

Just one teeny-tiny thing can drastically change the meaning of the word. And déception and deception are a perfect illustration of that. The French term déception means disappointment or frustration. And it perfectly describes people's feelings when they learn that the English word deception is just a lie. 

11. Grappe and Grape

These two words look like twins, but they are not identical. And the truth is they don't share the same meaning. In English, grape refers to a specific type of berry growing in clusters. In French, grappe with two 'p' means "bunch." 

12. Habit

For English-speaking people, habit is all about a usual way of behaving, while for French-speaking folks, it means an item of clothing. Anyways, we all are creatures of habit.

13. Librairie and Library

These two words both refer to places where you can find books. However, in an English library, you can take a book for free for a limited time and obligate to return it by a specific date. This is because all the books in the library are for common use. In French librairie, you can buy books and take them home for good because it's a bookstore. So don't forget to pay in the librairie or else. 

14. Préservatif and Preservative

If you are an English speaker and mess up translating English preservative into French, you will experience a whole new lot of emotional damage. As we explained before, not all words written or pronounced similarly in two languages necessarily mean the same thing. So, if you say French préservatif, everyone will hear "condom." Be careful not to roast yourself. 

15. Gai/Gay

And one more example of English words that come from French that is just fascinating – gay. This French word was borrowed into English a long time ago. Back then, it was spelled as gai and meant joyful. Even now, you can hear the term gay in this connotation in some old texts. A great example is the Christmas song Deck The Halls, with lyrics "Don we now our gay apparel." Only at the end of the 20th century did the term gain another meaning – homosexual person. After that, the English "gay" was borrowed back into French. 

How to Learn English Words Borrowed from French

Learning English might seem pretty challenging, especially for adult learners. But if you want to succeed in life – get a better job, move to an English-speaking country, or simply travel more confidently – you just have to accept this challenge! Open yourself to a world full of opportunities, and let Promova help you achieve your goals! Once you do that, you will see that learning English is not rocket science. 

The truth is that learning English for those who speak other European languages, such as French, Spanish, and German, is much more manageable than you could've imagined. So, if you already speak any of those languages relatively fluently, you have a great starting point to begin the learning process. For instance, Promova online English tutors can build the whole learning plan considering English words with French origins if you speak French. Commonly used French words in English will help you to create a stronger vocabulary base or expand it if you are not a total beginner. We highly recommend adult learners sign up for private English classes at Promova. Our tutors create a personalized learning plan that meets every student's expectations, needs, and interests. We guarantee you'll get the most positive, fun, and entertaining learning experience with our professional English tutors. 

And when you find yourself craving more English after the private lesson, you can always open up the Promova app and play with our cute flashcards to memorize new vocabulary, grammar, and speaking with our new feature. Plus, there, you can roll in learning even more languages. For instance, Korean is the major trend right now. Who doesn't love BTS and anime, right?

We offer a free Conversation Club for those ready for conversations with fellow learners. The meetings are held every week. One of our English teachers is always present during the class to ensure everybody has time to express their opinion and practice the language. Also, don't forget to subscribe to Promova's Instagram – the bite-sized content is the best for effective learning. And check out the Promova Blog more regularly. We watch WednesdayEmily in ParisSex/Life, to help you expand your English vocabulary. 

Conclusion

As you can see, there are a lot of French words used in English. In most cases, they really complement the English language and add a bit of spice, making it a truly international language that borrowed and acquired words from different languages. However, when French words that are the same in English are your real friends, you should keep your eyes open and not forget about faux amis (fake friends). Even though you think you know them, they can embrace you in front of the whole world. But don't get intimidated by fake friends! Just stay woke, and they won't do any harm to your speech! And who knows, maybe realizing that you already know so many French words in English will push you to start learning French. It's always nice to turn into Emily in Paris for a moment, but with better French. 

FAQ

How many English words with French origins are there?

According to linguists, English and French share up to 27% of their words or lexical similarity. Moreover, almost 30% of all English words originated from French. However, it doesn't mean that those words are written or pronounced precisely the same in both languages. Sometimes they can even differ in meaning. Today, around 7,000 French words exist in the English language. They are related to anything you can imagine – food, arts, fashion, law, art, politics, etc. Nonetheless, only 1,700+ are identical across French and English. So, believe it or not, an average English speaker knows up to 15,000 French words without ever learning French. How bizarre! 

Should I pronounce borrowed French words in English with a French accent?

It's always a tough battle of common sense. Many bilingual people have such a problem when they can't decide how to pronounce the borrowed word from another language that also exists in the language they speak at the moment. The pronunciation of the loanwords is usually adopted, so it becomes a norm in the language. So, it's better to pronounce borrowed French words in English without a French accent. On the other hand, many people find it pretentious when someone tries to demonstrate their French accent by saying French words in English "the right way." Plus, applying a French accent in English, even to the initial French terms, might negatively affect the language perception. People might not understand you. C'est la vie. 

How hard is French to learn?

Since there is a list of the hardest languages to learn for English speakers, naturally, there is another one with the easiest languages to acquire. And according to the Foreign Service Institute, French indeed tops that list. The FSI calculated that English speakers could reach general proficiency in French in twenty-four weeks or 600 hours of active learning. And there are several good reasons for that:

  1. French and English share the Latin alphabet.
  2. As mentioned before, these two languages have many identical words.
  3. The core grammatical structures are very similar.

So, the French language won't seem like uncharted waters to an English speaker. You can swim a bit from the beginning and gain your language confidence with time.  

Which US state speaks the most French?

French is one of the most popular languages spoken in the US. It was brought to American soil by colonists, 19th and 20th-century Canadian migrants, French settlers, habitats, and voyageurs. Currently, more than 1,5M people in the US speak French alone. However, French is also ubiquitous as a second language in American schools, colleges, and universities. Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire are the American states where French is the most spoken language after English.

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