The most common and embarrassing French language problems laid bare by Twitter

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The most common and embarrassing French language problems laid bare by Twitter
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So anyone who has been a French language learner will know that it doesn't always go entirely smoothly, and sometimes you end up confused, confusing or just downright mortified.


We all have our own personal horror story of the time we got some French very wrong - often revolving around that cruelest of false friends excité (let's just say that it does not mean excited in the sense of you're looking forward to meeting the new boss).
But it may comfort learners to know that at least they are not alone in this, and the Twitter hashtags #frenchproblems #franceproblems and #frenchlanguage have been laying bare the sheer scale of the confusion that exists out there.
Le or La? The need to get your genders right for French nouns leads to all sorts of problems and mockery, even when you are rightfully complaining about your issues with France as this tweet below reveals.
Here are a few of our favourites, from mishearing words, mispronouncing something crucial to the knotty social problems like using tu and vous that are blissfully absent in English.
Of course the simplest error is getting the word totally wrong and saying something wildly different to what you actually wanted to convey.
The French word la gomme might sound like it means chewing gum, but it actually means eraser. 
The word avocat can, confusingly, mean both a lawyer or an avocado in French. Hopefully the context will help you decide which is which.
The French verb râper means to grate, which is why you often see bags of fromage râpée in the supermarket. The French word for rape is violer.
Then there's the pronunciation, which can be a minefield for both Anglophones speaking French and French people speaking English.
This rugby league fan was presumably trying to offer his congratulations to Perpignan based club Catalan Dragons, the current holders of the Challenge Cup. But the French word for champions - les champions - sounds very similar to les champignons - the mushrooms.
In French sometimes a word is more than just a word, sometimes its about conveying social status as well.
The words tu and vous both mean you, but while tu is informal and used for someone you are friendly with or someone who is significantly younger than you, vous is used as a mark of respect and is considered polite with someone who is either older or who you don't know very well. (See below for a handy flow chart explaining further).
Similarly, salut is informal and should only be used with people who are friendly with, while bonjour is more formal. If you're trying to be friendly and get a bonjour back you can consider yourself snubbed.
And speaking of the word salut, it can sound like another word in French Salaud, which means "bastard". Don't mix them up. In fact there are many French words that sound the same and you really don't want to mix them up. Cou (neck) and queue (slang for penis), par example.
Then there's that old favourite, the French numbering system which has been baffling English-speakers for decades. 
And finally, don't assume that French is going to be the same in all Francophone countries
PS If you're still confused about the tu/vous issue, someone also tweeted this handy explainer which will at least give you a laugh as you wrestle with the problem.


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Anonymous 2019/07/31 11:15
I once told people I went on my holidays to the mountains between France and Spain - the "Periné", and an English-speaking friend, whose dog had just had babies, was speaking to a French person saying that she had "2 chiots and et 3 chiottes".<br />
Anonymous 2019/07/30 19:28
My worst... when I arrived and need wood treatment for the very empty house...<br />Very minimal french (this was twelve years ago) and I asked at the counter of the local brico something roughly approximating to "je ermm... voudrais ermm... uh.. le preservatif pour mon bois?" Well it broke the ice...

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