SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

The 9 ‘English’ phrases that will only make sense if you live in France

English-speakers in France are naturally focused on learning French, but along the way something funny happens to your English.

The 9 'English' phrases that will only make sense if you live in France
All photos: AFP

Whether it's dodgy translations, those pesky faux amis or just French words for which there is no real English equivalent, spend long enough in France and your English will start to take on a slightly unusual twist.

Here are some of our favourite 'franglish' phrases.

QUIZ How well do you know your French faux amis?

I was controlled twice during the confinement

The nationwide lockdown that French residents experienced in March and April is known in French as le confinement so English-speakers frequently use confinement in everyday speech when referring to it.

In French un contrôle means being stopped by the police, which happened a lot during the lockdown as police checked that people had the necessary papers and contrôlé par la police means being stopped by police.

You might be perturbed when you see this. Photo: AFP

Sorry I'm late, the Metro was perturbed

In French perturbé means disrupted or disturbed and as such it's common while travelling on public transport to hear announcements about a certain service being perturbé – running late or at a reduced service.

As it sounds very similar to the English word perturbed – an old-fashioned term meaning a person who is disturbed or worried – it frequently slips into English sentences. And if you're worried about your delayed train you could say that you're perturbed about the perturbation.

I need to call Ameli about my rib 

For most of the world, Amélie is the delightful Paris-set Audrey Tautou film, but for French residents Ameli is something far more important – your means of getting state-funded healthcare.

The assurance maladie en ligne (online health insurance platform) is known as Ameli and is crucial in registering for the French health system and ensuring that all your details are up to date so you will swiftly be reimbursed for healthcare costs.

Despite its healthcare role, the rib mentioned here is actually an acronym – RIB or Relevé d'identite bancaire – which is the slip you need to hand over every time you set up a direct debit or give your bank details to the government.

We're expecting a precision later

Précisions play a crucial role in French life, especially when there are a lot of complicated rules to understand.

The format is usually that ministers announce the main framework of any new rules and précisions – full details or clarifications – are released later. It's not quite the same as the English meaning of precision, which means a quality related to being exact, careful or neat.

 

I'm on telly-travail so I haven't washed in over a week

The French verb télétravailler means to work remotely from home but in French it's often also used as a noun – le télétravail.

It has been recommended by the government during the Covid-19 epidemic which means a lot of people who usually work in offices have been talking about it, and the consequent slight fall in standards of personal grooming and what constitutes a workwear wardrobe.

We have a lot of of reanimated patients 

This is more of a classic faux ami, a French word that sounds very like an English one but actually means something different. In French en réanimation means in intensive care in hospital.

So during the pandemic we have heard a lot about patients en réanimation – intensive care patients. Unfortunately in English reanimation means bringing someone back from the dead, so telling an English-speaker that you have 1,076 reanimated patients is likely to cause them to start screaming about zombies.

READ ALSO How mastering the French language really messes up your English

It's fabricated in France

'Fabriqué en France' is a label that many goods carry with pride – meaning made in France.

In English, however, although fabricated does still have a meaning of being manufactured and a fabricator is still a job title, its more common usage is related to telling lies.

'That's a totally fabricated explanation' means you are completely making this up. Thus if you boast about something being fabricated in France, an English-speaker's mind if more likely to run to lies and dodgy claims rather than the suggestion of high-quality manufacturing that the phrase is supposed to embody.

My skin is still really sensible, I think it was the tear gas at the manif

When you first start learning French you're on red alert for all the 'false friends' that the language contains, agonisingly aware that you must not confuse conservateur (preservative) with préservatif (condom) but as you progress you will find some slipping the other way – especially on products whose labels that you look at all the time.

Your face wash might say that it's for peau sensible, but in English that is sensitive skin, not sensible. As for the manif – yes the English words demo or protest march exist but somehow it sounds a lot better in French.

Be quick, it's nearly apéro time

Your friends back home will wonder how you got so obsessed with pre-dinner drinks and snack, you will wonder how they get through the week without at least one apéro (apéritif) and why there is no real equivalent of this in the English language. 

READ ALSO Nine French phrases that English really should have too

Did we miss any? Tell us your favourite French-English hybrids by emailing [email protected]

Member comments

  1. Too true! This is a handy guide. A lot of my British friends had no idea what I was on about when I say we were getting “controlled”. But as a Canadian born anglophone, I must admit that I use the term “fabricated” to mean made, probably because it is a bilingual country and a lot of francophone words slip into every day use there.

  2. I attended a talk about Asian Hornets at a beekeeping association in the UK last year – the speaker was an Englishman who has lived in France for many years and operates a pest control business. I had no trouble understanding him and the Franglais that crept into his talk, but he had to stop several times to clarify for others. You don’t really appreciate how much your English changes living here until you find yourself in a situation like that.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

SHOW COMMENTS