Skip to main content

English Words With French Origins (Or Why French Is Easy!)

Celeste enjoys travel and learning about different cultures. She is especially interested in how language and food define culture.

An English-French connection

An English-French connection

French Might Be Easier to Learn Than You Think

I took French in ninth grade. It wasn’t too bad, but I was young. Don’t ask me to speak it now. I don’t remember any of it, except a curse word our teacher used often. I won’t repeat it. I guess we were a bit of a handful.

I have convinced myself that French was a complex language to learn, and since I’m older now, it would be too difficult. To prove it, I looked for a list of the top 10 most challenging languages to learn, and French didn’t appear in any of the lists. The list featured Finnish, Hungarian, and Japanese as examples. That shot my theory out the window.

When Did French First Influence English?

You may not realize it, but there are many French words in the English language. We typically don’t use them with the French pronunciation. However, there are a few exceptions. Déjà vu is an example where the pronunciation mainly stayed the same.

French influence on the English language originated after the Normans conquered England in 1066. The Old Normans spoke a dialect of French, which influenced the birth of the new Anglo-Norman language in England.

Today French is in the top five most widely spoken languages on earth. It’s the official language of 24 countries across the globe, including a large part of east Africa, France (of course), Haiti, Seychelles, Switzerland, Togo, and more.

English Words With French Origins

More than a third of the English language is formed by cognates of the French version. There are over 7,000 known French words in the English language.

A cognate word or phrase is one where the meaning is the same in both languages. Sometimes the spelling is a little different. The pronunciation is almost always different, but the definition is the same or similar. Spanish and French are cognate languages too. So, if you speak Spanish, you might be speaking some French as well.

Similarities Between English, French and Spanish Words

EnglishFrenchSpanish

Broccoli

Broccoli

Brecol

Cactus

Cactus

Cactus

Carton

Carton

Carton

Cream

Crème

Crema

Dolphin

Dauphin

Delfin

Guitar

Guitar

Guitara

Kiwi

Kiwi

Kivi

Lamp

Lampe

Lampara

Panda

Panda

Panda

Pipe

Pipe

Pipa

Pistachio

Pistache

Pistacho

Salad

Salade

Ensalada

Ski

Ski

Esqui

Telephone

Telephone

Telefono

Train

Train

Tren

an-english-french-language-affair

True Cognates Between English and French

A true cognate is a word or short phrase in one language that has the same meaning and spelling in another language. The only difference between the two will be their pronunciation.

The French refer to true cognates as 'vrais amis.' Translated to English, it means 'true friends.' English and French share at least 1,700 true cognates.

Cognate English and French Words With the Same Spelling and Definition

Cognate English and French Words

EnglishFrench

Apostrophe

Apostrophe

Baquette

Baquette

Bouquet

Bouquet

Cadet

Cadet

Debris

Débris

Faux

Faux

Gazette

Gazette

Homage

Homage

Illussion

Illusion

Liaison

Liaison

Machine

Machine

Omelette

Omelette

Petite

Petite

Restaurant

Restaurant

Technique

Technique

False Cognates: Similar Spelling but Different Definition

Some words in French are spelled the same or similar to English, but the definition is entirely different. These are what we call false cognates and can be confusing.

Here is an example where I assumed that the French word is a cognate of the English, but it isn't. It demonstrates some of the confusion we might encounter when learning a new language.

I love linguistics. It's as fun and fascinating as it's frustrating.

Example of a False Cognate

‘Avertissement! Don’t attendre on the coin with one bra extended. You might look like a con.’

Translated to English would be:

‘Warning! Don’t wait on the corner with one arm extended. You might look like an idiot.’

False Cognates

EnglishFrenchFrench Definition

Actual

Actuel

Right, now or at present

Addition

Addition

A bill, such as a bill at a restaurant.

Advertisement

Avertissement

Warning

Agenda

Agenda

Diary

Assist

Assister

To attend

Attend

Attendre

Wait

Bras

Bras

Arms

Cent

Cent

One hundred

Chair

Chair

Flesh

Coin

Coin

Corner

Con

Con

Idiot

Crayon

Crayon

Pencil

Entree

Entrée

Entrance

Office

Office

A task or a duty

Report

Report

Postponement

Anglicism in French

In this century, the tables have turned a little as the French adopted some English words and added them to their vocabulary. It happens more often in office or professional settings because there are no convenient French alternatives for some of these words. This development in the French language is upsetting French speaking purists. Some call it Anglicism in French, and others have coined the phrase, ‘English loan words.’

If you visit France and use the following English words, chances are that a French person will know exactly what you’re talking about.

  • Selfie - but they might say ‘le selfie’
  • Sandwich - became ‘le sandwich’
  • Smartphone - it’s easier than saying ‘téléphone intelligent’
  • Networking - ‘la mise en réseau' is a bit of a mouthful

There are many more examples, and I’m sure the list is growing with our technological era.

Learning a New Language Is Not Impossible

Learning another language may not be as difficult as we imagine it to be. I might try to learn at least a few phrases again. I’m going to start with food and culture first. If you understand the food and culture of a nation, you know what is important to them. Besides, I love food. It will be a delicious motivator.

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Celeste Wilson