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The 18 most annoying French ‘false friends’ of all time

French is littered with pesky "false friends" - so don't just try and say English words in a French accent.

The 18 most annoying French 'false friends' of all time
Photo:CollegeDegrees360/Flickr

The false friends of the French language can be harmless, inconvenient, or downright embarrassing.

You've surely heard, for example, that “préservatif” doesn't mean “preservative” at all – and actually means condom. 

But faux amis can also be really, really annoying, and here are the 19 most irritating of them all. 

1. Excited/Excité

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. Enthusiaste is better.

2. Jolly/Jolie
 
Beware with this one. If you want to refer to a jolly old woman as jolie then you're calling her pretty. Which, of course, she might be, but just make sure you're getting it right. And in case you didn't realize it, the surname of the woman below literally translates to pretty. 
 
 
3. Chat/Chatte

If you want to say that you had a chat with someone, and do this by saying chat in a French accent (shatte) then congratulations, you've just used the slang word for a woman's private parts (chatte in French). The French word for “to chat” is “bavarder”. 

4. Apology/Apologie

So you’ve accidentally let out a loud burp at a French dinner party. Cringing of embarrassment, you quickly let out an “apologie”. The only trouble is that in French, you’ve just told them that you “condone” or “justify” such table manners. “Pardon” and “excusez-moi” are both polite alternatives.

5. Plus/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.
 

6. Bless/Blesser

The verbs have quite opposite meaning. While a well-meaning English-speaker might feel the temptation to throw out a “blessez-vous” when someone sneezes, try not to. In French, the verb “blesser” translates into “injure”. The expression to use here is: “à vos souhaits”.

7. Chair/Chair

Looking for a chair at a party? Use the term “chaise”. “Chair” in French means flesh and you might get some weird looks if you tell the party hosts that you’re looking for some.

8. Person/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”.
 
French language: Are these the most annoying words?Photo: John.Hallam/Flickr
 
9. Slip/Slip 

This one could easily get your knickers in a knot. Especially since “slip” in French translates into “men’s briefs”. If you’ve had a slip and you want to tell your French friends about it, better to use the verb “glisser”.

10. Pill/piles

You have a brutal headache and you head to the local pharmacy in search for pills to cure you. To the French, it will sound as if you’re asking for “piles”, or batteries. To avoid confusion (and to make sure you get rid of your headache), better to ask for brands like Aspirine or Doliprane.

11. Library/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.

French in UK: 'Brexit vote is clearly against foreigners'Photo: AFP

12. Sensible/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.

13. Blanket/Blanquette

Don’t be surprised if, after asking your neighbour to lend you a “blanquette”, he or she turns up on your doorstep with a ready-cooked meal. “Blanquette” is a much-loved veal stew (Blanquette de veau) which has little to do with keeping you warm at night. But “une couverture” will help you cover up.

14. Terrible/Terrible

This is a tough one, because although the word can have the same meaning in French as it has in English, it is often used to express just the opposite, i.e. that something is “great”. And it all depends on your tone of voice.

You safest bet to convey that something is terrible in the Anglo-saxon sense of the word is to use the word “horrible”. To make matters worse, saying “pas terrible” doesn't mean “not terrible” like it might seem… it actually means “quite terrible”. 

15. Money/Monnaie
 
Monnaie doesn't mean money, 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. 
 
16. Tongue/Tong(s)

This false friend will hardly get you into any trouble, but it sure could cause some confusion with almost any French listener who might wonder where exactly this conversation is going. Tongue will most likely sound like “tongs” (pronounced with a silent s) which means thongs, or flip-flops. If you want to stick to discussing your tongue, say “langue”.  

17. Introduce/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 penetrate, 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”.

18. Luxurious/luxurieux

And lastly, this one is particularly nasty because even though “de luxe” means luxury, as you would imagine, if you want to say “luxurious” don’t try to say it with a French accent, because it will probably come out as “luxurieux” which means “lustful”. If you want to say “you went to a luxurious hotel at the weekend” your French guests might start thinking you spent the last few days at a swingers club. 

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Ten French words you’ll never pronounce right

French may be beautiful sounding language - but some of those Gallic words can be a real ordeal for us foreigners to pronounce. Our readers have picked out their most unpronounceable French words. How many can you (confidently) say?

Ten French words you'll never pronounce right
This is what a frog might look like trying to pronounce the French word for frog. Photo: Yamanaka Tamaki/Flickr
We put the shout-out on social media and we were flooded with responses.
 
We gathered what we thought were the best responses and the toughest words – from beginner level to extremely advanced. And a warning: Number ten is really hard.
 
Without further ado:
 
1: Mille-feuille
 

(If you can't get your mouth around the word, get it around the cake instead. Photo: Alpha/Flickr)
 
Fancy some custard slice? Well not if it's mille-feuille, says Facebook fan Deborah Adams Kutch. “It's physically impossible for me to pronounce correctly,” she says. 
 
“I have had more than one session with several obliging patisserie ladies trying to teach me, much to their hilarity.”
 
2. Brouilly
 

(Welcome to Brouilly itself, with some vineyards in the background. Photo: JaHoVil/Flickr)
 
Another item that's top of the unpronounceable list is “Brouilly“, a type of red wine from the area bearing the same name in the Beaujolais region. Lynn Segal on Facebook says: “I don't drink it anymore because I've been laughed at so many times! I can't figure out how to say the B at the front of the mouth and the R at the back.”
 
3. Rouen
 

(Photo: Thomas Hammoudi/Flickr)
 
Another answer that got people talking was “Rouen“, a town in northern France. Iris Weintraub Lachaud says it's hard to pronounce “unless you're a goose”. 
 
But it's not just us foreigners who think it. Facebook follower Onürb Öhn is a Frenchman who describes himself as “nearly Rouen native” – but he says that the town's name “is still a mystery for me to pronounce… rouan, wran, roin, roan, rouen”.

 
4. Bouilloire 
 

(Photo: Cheryl Harvey/Flickr)
 
Tweeter Richard Milne says that “without a doubt” the hardest French word to pronounce for him is bouilloire (which means kettle).
 
“It's got so many vowels/soft sounds that I sound like somebody is strangling me when I say it,” he says. 
 
5. Pneu
 

(Photo: Oriolus/Flickr)
 
Another common response was “pneu“, which means tyre. Ruth Trevanion on Facebook says she “just can't get to grips with that one at all”. That seems like a pun Ruth, and we salute you for it. But you're not alone. A number of people said they couldn't pronounce the word either, with one follower saying it's the “least French sounding French word” they know. 
 
6. Heureuse
 

(Photo: Liz West/Flickr)
 
Yet another common response was “heureuse” (meaning happy). Karen Hermann laments: “It doesn't sound like a word when I say it, it sounds like I'm trying to speak through a piece of gum stuck in my airway.”
 
7. Froid
 

(Photo: Laszlo Ilyes/Flickr)
 

On Facebook, Shelby Marcus Ocana says the toughest for her is the word “froid” (which means cold). And it sounds as if it's that pesky rolled r in the middle that's causing all the problems. 
 
“My kids always crack up when I say “J'ai froid” – they say I pronounce it like “foie” [which means liver].” She then has to endure inevitable series of jokes about foie gras from the little ones, she says.
 
8. Grenouille
 

(What a frog would look like if it tried to say grenouille. Photo: Yamanaka Tamaki/Flickr)
 
This word, which means frog, popped up a lot. In fact, many readers sent in words ending in “ouille”. Jay Fogler on Facebook says the problem with the word grenouille is the complex rolling of the r and the combination of the ou i and ll. Enough to drive you hopping mad!
 
9. L'eau
 

(Photo: Gib3102/Flickr)
 
Catherine Gheribi on Facebook says it's one of the simplest, yet most important words of all that she gets tangled up on.
 
“When I say l'eau – no one ever understands what I mean,” she says. 
 
In fact, she says that even when a waiter asks whether she would like water or wine and she responds “L'eau s'il vous plait” – they still look at her blankly. 
 
“I want to shout 'I DIDN'T SAY DU VIN DID I? – SO IT MUST BE THE OTHER ONE'!!. She says that she's learned to order 'une carafe' now.
 
10. Serrurerie
 

Photo: Susan S/Flickr
 
Brace yourself: The hardest French word to pronounce is the word for locksmith – “serrurerie“. It was the most commonly repeated response. Blogger Polly-Vous Francais even sent us an entire blog entry about the word. 
 
She says: “Forget it. It is not happening. It requires too many mellifluous, throaty French r's in too short a time frame (…) I find that I've barely recuperated from rolling out the first r when the next r and the next r need to come flying out of my tonsils.”
 
With this in mind, we decided to test tourist in Paris to see if they could pronounce the word. Here's how it went:
 
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