85 French False Friends in English - Watch Out for These!

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French False Friends

You think an English false friend is a friend you can't trust? Well not at all, it's an English word that's identical or sounds like a French word but means something completely different. Unlike the hundreds of French cognates that are an exact, or very close, matching between English and French words and mean just the same thing. French false friends can be complete, absolute, or strict but chances are always high that you find yourself in a funny or very embarrassing situation!

For instance, let's say you're on holiday in Paris and you tell your new French friends that you would like to "introduire" your new girlfriend, boyfriend or partner. Not sure they like the idea and they might think you're just a... jerk. And if your Parisian neighbour tells you that he has lots of "affaires" on the go, it doesn't mean that he's very enterprising and collects love conquests. It just means he's a great entrepreneur who may be conquering many markets! So thanks to French false friends, some clichés could fall by the wayside. 😉

The trickiest issue is to know if the French word you encounter and looks like an English word you know is a French false friend or a French cognate. The resemblance between so many French and English words is not really due to chance. Many English words are derived from French or have Latin roots. They can be spelt exactly the same way or vary a little bit. Or, their spelling might be totally different but when you pronounce them, they sound like a French word. French false friends are words that have been borrowed from the French language but their use has been distorted over the years in English. Or their meaning was never understood but sounded great in certain contexts. Either way, these French false friends are an integral part of the English vocabulary.

We've compiled a list of the most common French false friends so you don't fall into their traps! You can keep these words in your pocket and check their meaning whenever you are in doubt, and make sure they are not French cognates. You just have to download French Translator & Dictionary + for free on your iPhone & iPad or your Android device. 📲

85 Common French English False Friends

actuellement - now, at present
actually - en fait, en realité

une affaire - business, matter (law)
affair - une aventure, une liaison

assister - to attend
to assist - aider

attendre - to wait
to attend - assister, participer

blanquette - veal stew
blanket - une couverture

blesser - to wound, to injure, to hurt
to bless - bénir

un bras - arm
bra - un soutien-gorge

brillant(e) - bright, shiny
brilliant - génial, super

une caméra - video camera
camera - un appareil photo

un car - coach, bus
car - une voiture

un caractère - personality, nature
character - un personnage (movie, book)

une caution - bail, guarantee
caution - la prudence

une cave - cellar (wine)
cave - une caverne, une grotte

la chair - flesh
chair - une chaise

la chance - luck, good luck, probability
chance - le hasard, le destin

charger - to load
to charge - facturer, faire payer

des chips - crisps [UK]
chips [UK] - des frites

choquer - to shock
to choke - s'étouffer

un coach - trainer, coach
coach - un autocar, un car

un coin - corner
coin - une pièce, une pièce de monnaie

le collège - middle school, high school, secondary school
college - la fac, l'université, une grande école

la commodité - convenience, usefulness
commodity - une marchandise, un article

une compétition - tournament
competition - la concurrence

compréhensive - understanding
comprehensive - complet(ète), exhaustif(ve)

la concurrence - competition
concurrence - une concomitance, une coïncidence

conducteur - driver
conductor - un chef d'orchestre

couramment - commonly, frequently
currently - actuellement

courant - common, ordinary, usual
current - actuel, en cours

une déception - disappointment, disillusion
deception - une tromperie, une supercherie

décevoir - to disappoint
to deceive - tromper, duper

demander - to ask
to demand - exiger

une douche - shower
douche - une poire ou douche vaginale

dramatique - terrible, tragic
dramatic - tthéâtral(e), spectaculaire

engagé(e) - committed, involved
engaged - fiancé(e)

une entrée - starter, first course [US]
entrée [US] - le plat principal, le plat de résistance

éventuellement - possibly, potentially
eventually - finalement, pour finir

une évidence - forgone conclusion, obvious
evidence - un indice, une preuve

une face - side, face
face - le visage, la figure

la figure - face
figure - un chiffre

formidable - astounding, terrific
formidable - redoutable, impressionnant

fortuné(e) - rich, wealthy
fortunate - chanceux(euse)

une friperie - second hand clothes store
frippery - des frivolités

génial(e) - brilliant, of genius
genial - sympa, aimable

une grappe - bunch, cluster
grape - le raisin, la vigne

grave - serious
grave - une tombe

un habit - item of clothing
habit - une habitude

injurier - to insult
to injure - blesser, se blesser

introduire - to insert
to introduce - présenter, faire les présentations

joli - pretty, attractive
jolly - joyeux(euse), gai(e)

une journée - day, daytime
journey - un voyage, un trajet

la lecture - reading
lecture - une conférence, un cours magistral

librairie - bookshop [UK] / bookstore [US]
library - une bibliothèque

la location - rental, renting, hire
location - un lieu

une main - hand
main - principal(e)

la médecine - medicine
medicine - un médicament (or 'médecine' depending on context)

mémoire - memory, recollection
memory - un souvenir, des souvenirs

misérable - wretched, unfortunate
miserable - malheureux(euse), très triste

la misère - extreme poverty, impoverishment
misery - une grande tristesse, la détresse

la monnaie - change, currency
money - l'argent

les nouvelles - piece of news (event, person)
the news - les infos, les informations

une opportunité - appropriateness, opportuneness
opportunity - une occasion, une possibilité, un moment opportun

le pain - bread
pain - la douleur

une partie - part, section
party - une fête, une réception

passer un exam - to take an exam
to pass an examen - réussir un examen, être reçu(e) à un examen

un patron - boss
patron - un mécène (art) or un parrain/une marraine (event)

petite - small, short
petite - menue, très mince

un(e) photographe - photographer
photograph - une photo, une photographie

une phrase - sentence
phrase - une expression (group of words)

un préservatif - condom
preservative - un conservateur

prétendre - to claim, to say
to pretend - faire semblant

prévenir - to warn, to let know
to prevent - empêcher, éviter

une race - breed
race - une course (horses, cars, etc.)

regarder - to watch, to look at
to regard - considérer, estimer

relatif(ve) - related to, linked with, regarding
relative - un parent, un membre de la famille

relever - to lift up, to pick up
to relieve - soulager

rester - to stay, to remain
to rest - se reposer

résumer - to summarise, to sum up
to resume - recommencer, relancer

une réunion - meeting
reunion - des retrouvailles

sale - dirty
sale - une vente, les soldes

sensible - sensitive, delicate
sensible - raisonnable, sensé(e)

une sentence - sentence (trial)
sentence - une phrase

un slip - pants, underpants
slip - une glissade

un store - blind, awning
store - magasin

surveiller - to supervise, to watch, to monitor
to survey - mener une enquête, faire un sondage, interroger

une tentative - attempt, try
tentative - timide, hésitant(e)

Eager to discover more French vocabulary or expressions you don't learn at school? Here are some articles you might find interesting!
- Funny French idioms
- French Slang Words and Phrases
- French Love Words and Phrases
- French Medical Terms
- Songs to Help you Learn French
- Canadian French words and phrases

Have you written an article about learning French that you think we should link to? Don't hesitate to email us atoutreach@vidalingua.com and we might link to it.

If you're looking for an app offering lessons with interactive exercises to practice French words and sayings, download Learn French + for free on your iPhone or iPad.

À plus ! (So long!)

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Christine Ducos-Restagno
Lead French linguist

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