10 Confusing French Words & Expressions for English Speakers

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10 Confusing French Words & Expressions for English Speakers
A great number of words of French origin have entered the English language just as many Latin words have come to the English language. While 45 percent of English words are of French origin, many of them no longer retain the same meaning they had in French, and most are pronounced differently in the two languages. These false cognates, faux amis, can be tricky for learners of either language. Let’s explore the most common “false friends” and the mistakes English speakers predictably make when using them. 1 Supporter (F) versus to Support ( E ) In French The verb supporter in French means to bear, to stand « Il ne supporte pas le bruit. » He can’t stand noise. In English To support means to help, to give moral help. « Il la soutient dans ce moment difficile » meaning “He supports her in this difficult moment or for a sport team. « Il soutient l’équipe de Manchester. » He supports the Manchester team. Frequent mistake: « Je supporte le club du Real Madrid » What you should say: « Je soutiens l’équipe l’équipe du Real Madrid » 2 Monnaie (F) and Money (E) In French La monnaie means currency or coins. « Désolée, je n’ai pas de monnaie. » « Sorry, I have no loose change. » You could easily have no monnaie, but plenty of money. In English Money in English is translated by argent in French. « Il a beaucoup d’argent. » « He has a lot of money. » Frequent mistake : « Il est pauvre et n’a pas beaucoup de monnaie. » What you should say : « Il est pauvre et n’a pas beaucoup d’argent. » 3 Sensible (F) versus Sensitive (E) In French Sensible is used in French in the sense of being sensitive to something. « Mes yeux sont sensibles à la lumière » meaning « My eyes are very sensitive to the light. » Or it’s employed to describe being emotionally sensitive. « C’est une personne très sensible. » « She is someone who’s very sensitive ». Information can also be sensible in French. « Les données sensibles sont protégées » which means in English « Sensitive data is protected. » In English Sensitive means sensible in French. Just like in French, the word can be used to describe a person, a body part, or information. In addition, it can also be used for someone who is touchy, over sensitive. In that case, in French the word is susceptible. « Claire est une personne très susceptible. » « Claire is an over sensitive person. » Frequent mistake: « Jane est très sensible, elle déteste être critiquée. » What you should say: « Jane est très susceptible, elle déteste être critiquée. » 4 Eventuellement (F) versus Eventually (E) In French Eventuellement means possibly, potentially. It indicates a possibility with no certitude. « Je peux éventuellement vous proposer une alternative si c’est cette solution ne vous convient pas. » « I can eventually offer you an alternative if this solution is not convenient for you. » In English Eventually is used in the sense of in the end, especially after a long delay, dispute, or series of problems. « After three hours of delay, the plane eventually took off. » « Après un délai de tois heures l’avion a finalement décollé. » Common mistake « Ils ont marché pendant 3 heures sur des rochers et ils sont éventuellement retrouvé leur chemin. » What you should say « Ils ont marché pendant 3 heures sur les rochers et ils ont finalement retrouvé leur chemin. » 5 Confus (F) / Confused ( E) In French The adjective confus is used for something unclear, confused or vague. « Ses explications sont confuses. » « Her explanations are unclear. » When it is used relating to a person, it is a very formal and old-fashioned way to say that someone is embarrassed. « Je suis confus d’être arrivé très en retard » which means in English « I am terribly sorry to be so late. » In English To confuse means to mix up someone’s mind or ideas, or to make something difficult to understand. We frequently hear « I am confused » which is commonly literally translated into French by « Je suis confus(e) ». Unfortunately it is wrong. It could be translated into French two different ways. « Je suis embrouillé(e ) » or more common « Ce n’est pas clair pour moi ». And regarding the expression « It’s confusing » it could be translated into French by « Ca porte à confusion » or « Ce n’est pas très clair ». Common mistake : « La réunion est finalement prévue à 3h ou à 5h ? je suis confus( e). » What you should say « La réunion est finalement prévue à 3h ou à 5h ? ce n’est pas clair pour moi. » 6 Librairie (F) Library (E) In French This is another, often confused faux ami. There is a book connection, but une librairie is where you go to buy a book, not to borrow one. It means a bookshop or newsstand. In English If you go to a library, une bibliothèque or these days, at the médiathèque, it’s a place where you will either study or borrow a book. Common mistake : « Cet après-midi je vais étudier à la librairie. » What you should say : « Cet après-midi, je vais étudier à la bibliothèque. » 7 Actuellement (F) versus Actually (E) In French Actuellement means currently in English, now, at the present time. « Tim est actuellement à New York pour 6 mois » means « Tim is currently in New York for 6 months. » In English Actually can be translated as “in fact,” to indicate that a situation exists or happened, or to emphasize that something is not true. « He…

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Based in Paris, Florence is the founder of French a la Carte, an agency that offers private and tailor-made French lessons to expats and also immersion in Paris with private tours in easy French for French learners. Florence is a "Parisienne" with her eyes turned toward abroad, and she has as an endless curiosity for Paris. She feels both like a native and an expat who likes to play the tourist in her own city. She was first a press attachée for ARTE, a Franco-German cultural TV channel, before turning to French language teaching. She founded French à La Carte in 2012. For lovers of Paris who would like to improve their conversational French in a efficient and enjoyable manner, French à La Carte also offers private tours which immerse the students in the vibrancy of Paris, with fulfilling outdoor activities adjusted to the level in French of each student. A pastry and chocolate tour in Saint-Germain-des-Près, the discovery of Paris vibrant neighborhoods, a private visit to the Rodin museum or a tour on the influential & feminist women in Paris, these are examples of what French à La Carte can offer. You can contact her at http://www.private-frenchlessons-paris.com/contact for more information on French lessons or private tours.


  • Steven Davidian
    2019-03-02 11:03:05
    Steven Davidian
    I greatly enjoyed your article! As a long-time student of francais these are helpful to know. (I am a VERY slow learner.) I would like to suggest, however, that when you visit the USA, be careful how you use the word "excited." As in french, there may be a second meaning which could raise more than an eyebrow.