Pardon my French! The French False cognates

The false friends of the French language

There are numerous false cognates between French and English that often mislead students when learning French. For example, « coin » in French has nothing to do with money.

The French false cognates can be harmless, inconvenient, or downright embarrassing.

In this article we provide some of the most common French faux amis that students encounter when studying the language.

1. Excited vs. Excité(e)

You want to tell your French friend you’re very excited about something? « Excité » sounds like the word you should use, right? Unfortunately not. You just told your friend you were “aroused”, probably not what you were going for. « Enthousiaste » is much better.

2. Actuellement vs. Actually

Most French words ending in “-ement” or « -amment » have their English equivalent ending in “ally”. For instance:

  • Naturellement:  naturally
  • Accidentellement:  accidentally
  • Exceptionnellement:  exceptionally

But “actuellement” doesn’t mean “actually”, it means “currently”

3. Eventuellement vs. Eventually

In France “éventuellement” means “possibly” and not “eventually”.

4. Plus or Plus?

What a deceptive little word. Depending on how you pronounce it, it can mean two opposite things – either “more” or “none”. Eg: Il y en a plus (pronouncing the ‘s’) means there is more. Il n’y en a plus (‘s’ silent) means there isn’t any left. See this article to learn about the prononciation rules of « plus ».

5. Person vs. Personne

This also has two opposite meanings: no one and someone.
Il y a une personne dans le café means “There is one person in the coffee shop”.
Il n’y a personne dans le café means « There is no one in the coffee shop ».

5. Library vs. Librarie

Ask for the “librairie” in France and you’ll be directed to a bookshop (where you have to pay) rather than a library (which is free). The word for library is bibliothèque.

6. Sensitive vs. Sensible

Identical, right? Not so. “Sensible” means “sensitive” in French and it’s probably not the best word to use when describing yourself in a job interview. Try « raisonnable » instead.

7. Money vs. Monnaie

Monnaie doesn’t mean money in French, it means loose change. So technically it’s easy to pay for things in France when you have no monnaie (you could have notes, after all) – but if you have no money, well then you’re going home empty handed.

8. Introduce vs. s’introduire

As if an introduction in France wasn’t a fraught experience already, one of the most two-faced of false friends in French is the verb “s’introduire”. Naturally, you would think it means ‘to introduce’. It actually means to insert or enter. So next time you meet a group of French people and you want to suggest you should all introduce each other”, the verb you’re looking for is “se présenter”.

9. Rester vs. Rest

“Rester” looks like the English verb “to rest”, but it actually means “to stay”. “To rest” is “se reposer”.

10. Attendre vs Attend

Attendre à means to wait for: Nous avons attendu pendant deux heures – We waited for two hours. To attend is translated by assister (see above): I attended the conference – J’ai assisté à la conférence.

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