Over the years, the English language has borrowed a great number of French words and expressions. Some of this vocabulary has been so completely absorbed by English that speakers might not realize its origins. Other words and expressions have retained their "Frenchness" - a certain je ne sais quoi
which speakers tend to be much more aware of (although this awareness does not usually extend to actually pronouncing the word in French). The following is a list of French words and expressions which are commonly used in English. The literal English translation is provided in quotation marks and followed by an explanation. When you've read through them all, be sure to see how well you do on the quiz
Used like "farewell": when you don't expect to see the person again until God (when you die and go to Heaven)
A person who attempts to provoke suspected individuals or groups into committing unlawful acts
A military officer who serves as a personal assistant to a higher-ranking officer
1. Position paper
2. Something that acts as an aid to memory, such as crib notes or mnemonic devices
à la carte
"on the menu*"
French restaurants usually offer a menu
with choices for each of the several courses at a fixed price (how to read a French menu
). If you want something else (a side order), you order from the carte
. *Note that menu
is a false cognate
in French and English.
à la française
"in the French manner"
Describes anything done the French way
à la minute
"to the minute"
This term is used in restaurant kitchens for dishes which are cooked to order, rather than made ahead of time
à la mode
"in fashion, style"
In English, this means "with ice cream" - apparently someone decided that having ice cream on pie was the fashionable way to eat it.
A path or walkway lined with trees
From Latin, "to open"
The French term actually refers to snow boots, but the literal translation of the term is what is meant in English, as in "après-ski" social events.
à propos (de)
"on the subject of"
In French, à propos
must be followed by the preposition de
. In English, there are four ways to use apropos
(we leave out the accent and the space):
1. Adjective - appropriate
, to the point
: "That's true, but it's not apropos."
2. Adverb - at an appropriate time
: "Fortunately, he arrived apropos."
3. Adverb/Interjection - by the way
: "Apropos, what happened yesterday?"
4. Preposition (may or may not be followed by of
) - with regard to
, speaking of
: "Apropos our meeting, I'll be late"; "He told a funny story apropos of the new president."
Short for art décoratif
Characterized by flowers, leaves, and flowing lines
A person assigned to a diplomatic post
"on the contrary"
Usually used playfully in English.
is used in British English to mean "familiar" or "conversant": She's not really au fait
with my ideas, but it has other meanings in French.
In French, au gratin
refers to anything that is grated and put on top of a dish, like breadcrumbs or cheese. In English, au gratin means "with cheese."
"in the juice"
Served with the meat's natural juices.
"in reality, unseasoned"
In this case naturel
is a semi-false cognate. In French, au naturel
can mean either "in reality" or the literal meaning of "unseasoned" (in cooking). In English, we picked up the latter, less common usage and use it figuratively, to mean natural, untouched, pure, real, naked.
A person who works for a family (cleaning and/or teaching the children) in exchange for room and board
aux trois crayons
"with three crayons"
Drawing technique using three colors of chalk
Innovative, especially in the arts
"goods of weight"
Originally spelled averdepois
Sculpture that is only slightly more prominent than its background.
"good style, good sort"
Preppy or posh, short for bon chic, bon genre
The golden age of art and culture in France in the early 20th century
Similar to a pet peeve: something that is particularly distasteful or difficult and to be avoided.
This is the only adjective in English which agrees in gender with the person it modifies: blond
is for a man and blonde
for a woman. Note that these can also be nouns.
The closest English equivalent is "Enjoy your meal."
bon mot, bons mots
Clever remark, witticism
Sophistication, etiquette, high society
Someone who lives well, who knows how to enjoy life.
English has "Have a good trip," but Bon voyage
is more elegant.
The correct French spelling is bric-à-brac
. Note that bric
don't actually mean anything in French; they are onomatopoeic.
"small, dark-haired female"
The French word brun
, dark-haired, is what English really means by "brunette." The suffix -ette
indicates that the subject is small and female.
café au lait
"coffee with milk"
Same thing as the Spanish term café con leche
Free hand, ability to do whatever you want/need
A famous, controversial issue, trial, or case
The French word for the fruit gives us the English word for the color.
c'est la vie
Same meaning and usage in both languages
chacun à son goût
"each one to his own taste"
This is the slightly twisted English version of the French expression à chacun son goût
In English, this is often mistakenly written as "chaise lounge" - which actually makes perfect sense.
"charged with business"
A substitute or replacement diplomat
cherchez la femme
"look for the woman"
Same problem as always
Barbed wire, spikes, or broken glass attached to wood or masonry and used to block access
A long mirror set into a moveable frame