Fifty False Friend Favorites in French

Fifty False Friend Favorites in French

Native English speakers often have enough problems when learning the French language as it is. There are the complex grammatical rules, the obstinate pronunciation problems, abstruse accents, confounding gender patterns and those fickle French adjectives, just to name a few of the challenges to overcome. But then, in addition, to add insult to injury so-to-speak, there are also those multifarious and treacherous vocabulary landmines that no self-respecting Francophile can ever avoid stepping on: The infamous faux amis.

Faux amis or “false friends” are words or phrases in both languages that look or sound the same but quite simply are not. What you see is not what you get. Because of the French word’s obvious similarity to its English cousin, the English-speaking student of French naturally and falsely assumes that these words have the same meaning. And when they don’t, the confusion is complete. This unfortunate so-called linguistic interference has always been a great cause of frustration for students of French and, unfortunately, the only way to surmount this problem is to recognize these false friends for being just that and to memorize the different meanings accordingly. By the way, it is only fair to note that the French have this same problem when learning English as well.

So why all the confusion? What’s with all this deception, you ask? History wanted it that way, it seems. For one thing, both French and English took many of the same words from Latin and Greek long, long ago, but their spelling and meaning then developed differently with the passage of time. More recently, linguistically speaking–after William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066 and the 300 years of Norman occupation that followed–many French words were lent to English and well, quite francophonely, never given back. And here too, of course, their meaning changed with time.

But blaming William the Conqueror won’t help you very much when you see the word “librairie” and assume it means library only to find out later it means bookshop instead. It would be better for all of you French students out there to finally accept the grievous fact that your two languages are occupied by a small army of deceptive false friends who will have to be defeated in arduous hand-to-hand combat. And like it or not, you will have to fight every battle single-handedly. So are you ready? Here’s your first round of fifty false friends.

French to English

  1. caution = guarantee
  2. cave = cellar (wine cellar)
  3. coin = street corner
  4. compétence = expertise
  5. commodité = convenience
  6. conducteur = car driver
  7. conférence = lecture
  8. consistant = solid, thick
  9. contrôle = check
  10. costume = suit
  11. déception = disappointment
  12. essence = gasoline
  13. extra = first-rate
  14. figure = face
  15. finalement = eventually
  16. gentil = nice, kind
  17. grave = serious
  18. habit = clothes
  19. hasard = chance
  20. indulgence = leniency
  21. injurier = insult
  22. ignore = not to know
  23. isolation = insulation
  24. issue = exit
  25. itinéraire = route
  26. large = wide
  27. lecture = reading (what you are reading)
  28. location = renting, lease
  29. nurse = nanny
  30. médecin = physician
  31. monnaie = change (coins)
  32. parents = relatives (in addition to father and mother)
  33. photographe = photographer
  34. physicien = physicist
  35. prétendre = to claim
  36. propre = clean, decent
  37. queue = tail
  38. raisin = grape
  39. retard = delay
  40. roman = novel
  41. route = road
  42. rude = hard, rough
  43. sensible = sensitive
  44. séparation = partition
  45. supplier = to beg
  46. susceptible = touchy
  47. tape = slap
  48. timide = tentative
  49. tour = stroll, drive, turn
  50. wagon = car

Originally from California’s Central San Joaquin Valley and washed ashore on the coast of old West Berlin, Charles Larson is a freelance writer well versed in German and German culture. For more info, feel free to visit his website at EnglishPro & Co.

Source by Charles Larson

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