SHARE
COPY LINK

FRENCH LANGUAGE

The 13 French words that English-speakers just can’t stop using

One of the consequences of learning a foreign language is that some words end up integrating themselves into your everyday English, and after a while you end up speaking a weird mixture of French and English. Here are some of the most common French additions.

The 13 French words that English-speakers just can't stop using
A policeman holds the attestation that people need to circulate as police control in the street on March 17, 2019 in Tours, center France amid spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). - French President asked people to stay at home to avoid the spreading the Covid-19, saying only necessary trips would be allowed and violations would be punished. The country has already shut cafes, restaurants, schools and universities and urged people to limit their movements. (Photo by Guillaume SOUVANT / AFP)

Sometimes we pop these words into everyday chat out of laziness, if there is not a sufficient English equivalent for what we are trying to communicate or just because the French word sounds better.

The Local reached out to readers to ask for their suggestions, and here are some of those French words that people just can’t stop using, even if they are speaking English.

Kiffe

The verb is kiffer, and it is French slang for ‘to like’ or ‘to enjoy,’ but you can also say that you did something ‘just for the fun of it’ or ‘just for the kiffe.’ In French, the sentence is ‘pour le kiffe.’ This is a good one to introduce into your English vocabulary, especially if you’re describing an activity that is not very serious and you want to add another flair of fun to it.

Attestation

If you live in France, you need a lot of these. Most administrative processes require some form of ‘attestation‘ (pronounced ah-test-ah-see-own). While you could say ‘document’ or ‘form’ in English instead, you probably have gotten so used to needing attestations, that you just use the French word instead.

Croquettes

If you have a pet, you can kiss the boring “cat food” or “dog food” goodbye. The French word, croquettes (pronounced croh-ketts) is simply much more fun. You might think that this secret language to discuss your pet’s food might get past them, but you would be surprised how quickly your formerly anglophone pet learns what ‘croquettes‘ means too.

Quoi

One of The Local’s readers suggested this, and it is a great addition to the list. If you want to sound authentically French, you can just add a ‘quoi’ (pronounced kwah) at the end of a phrase. It is kind of like saying ‘You know?’ in English. You’ll find yourself starting to use it in English too, as a filler for the end of your sentence or just out of habit once you become too addicted to using it in French. “That’s it, quoi.”

Perturbé

Ah, the joys of French public transport. If you live in France or have visited for more than a few days, then you have seen this word light up on the boards inside of Metro or train stations. Perturbé (pronounced pair-tehr-bay) translates to ‘disrupted’ which does not seem to fit quite as well as the original French word. In the traffic-sense, it is referring to trains running slowly or being out of order, signalling that you are in for some waiting time on the platform. You might start telling your friends you are running late because “the train was perturbé.” Oh well.

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

J’adore

This one is self-explanatory. “I love that” in English feels a bit hollow in comparison to a well-enunciated j’adore (pronounced jah-door) in French. If someone compliments your outfit with a “j’adore” it feels a bit more special. 

RIB

Because what is the English equivalent of RIB? A bank statement? That does not quite fit, because the RIB (pronounced reeb – an acronym of Relevé d’Identité Bancaire) is a special French bank summary document that contains your IBAN number and is necessary for all exchanges of money in France.

As there is not a great English translation, you’ll find yourself saying things like “Oops I forgot my RIB at home” or “Do you want me to send you my RIB?” (Another anglophone on vacation might be a bit confused why you would be sending your friend something that belongs on the barbecue.)

La rentrée

This is basically the French new year, when everyone returns to work from their holidays, the government launches a new programme of legislation and many people start signing up for fitness classes again and lists off their goals for the next year.

But in English, there really is not a good translation – you could say ‘back-to-school’ or ‘the start of the school year’ but that does not quite fit, particularly if you are not someone in school or with school-aged children. Only la rentrée (pronounced lah rahn-tray) seems to capture the resolutions-making spirit of la rentrée.

Bon courage

If your friend has a cumbersome task ahead – such as a trip to the préfecture – you might have started saying ‘well, bon courage.

It becomes a staple in one’s French and English lexicon, particularly once you begin to realise that it is not quite the same as the English ‘good luck’. Bon courage (pronounced bohn core-ahj) has a bit of a sarcastic twinge to it – as if you know your friend is embarking on a difficult journey and they’ll need that extra bit of courage they can muster up.

Brocante

It’s sort of a vintage sale, almost antiques, though not quite. It is not really a yard sale either. If you enjoy spending your Saturdays doing some second-hand shopping, you’ve probably given up on finding the English translation for brocante (pronounced bro-cahnt) and instead you just say “I bought this amazing tea set at a brocante this morning.”

Fonctionnaire 

This is technically a civil servant or public sector worker, but the French term is much more encompassing than that. You likely see the French government referring to this group of workers in the news often, but when you actually look up who is a fonctionnaire (pronounced funk-shee-ohn-air) you might be hesitant to apply the English “civil servant” because it is much wider than an English speaker might have in mind, including police officers and teachers as well as office workers.

The English ‘civil servant’ also doesn’t quite convey the awesome power of the French fonctionnaire who has the capability to either process your paperwork or utter the most dreaded sentence in the French language “votre dossier est incomplet“.

Dossier

Which brings us, naturally, to dossier. This translates as a file and can also be used in the sense of a portfolio in English, to denote the responsibilities of a certain role, usually in government.

But the most common usage is the dossier which must be completed in order to do administrative tasks such as securing your vital residency or healthcare cards. This is a collection of documents usually including proof of address, ID and financial status but it varies depending on the task you are doing and only when these documents are all assembled to the satisfaction of the person you are dealing with will your request be processed. 

Télétravail (or other télé- words)

This word really took hold during the pandemic, when everyone had to begin working from home.

With so many people and government officials talking about télétravail (pronounced tehleh-trah-vie), it became one of those words that you hear so often that you almost forget it has a translation. “Are you doing télétravail this week?” or “I get two télétravail days a week” are phrases that would be common amongst two anglophones living in France. 

The pre-fix “télé” has also extended out, after life became more online during Covid-19 lockdowns. You can have a ‘telehealth‘ or ‘télémedicine‘ appointment or a téléconference (zoom call) this afternoon.

And finally – the best for last – the essential French swear words that just feel stronger and more damning than their English equivalents:

Bordel, Merde, and Putain – the trifecta.

Sometimes it is instinctual to swear in English, but other times, when the house is a mess, and you cannot find anything you are looking for, all you want to say is that “It is a ‘bordel!” in there! 

You step in dog mess on the streets, ‘damn’ could be the word that comes out of your mouth, or a loud and frustrated merde (pronounced maird) might feel more appropriate.

And then there is the classic ‘putain‘ (pronounced poo-tahn) – the more time you spend with French people, the more this rubs off on you. From minor conveniences to serious infractions, putain begins to roll off your tongue faster than the English word starting with an F.

Conversely though, the French seem to really enjoy saying ‘fuck’, so you’re quite likely to hear that too, sometimes in situations that might seem surprising. 

Member comments

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

FRENCH LANGUAGE

Revealed: The simple trick to get the gender of French nouns (mostly) right

The le, the la and the l’ugly - for anyone learning the language French nouns can be a nightmare to master, but there is a technique that can make it simpler. Although we're not promising that there are no exceptions.

Revealed: The simple trick to get the gender of French nouns (mostly) right

Unlike German, which has been developed over centuries by Germans and is therefore logical, there appears to be little in the way of rhyme or reason to whether French nouns are masculine (le / un), or feminine (la / une).

Anglophones find it endlessly hilarious that words like bite (a slang term for penis) are feminine while breasts and vagina are both masculine (le sein, le vagin) but French people don’t really get the joke, because they don’t see masculine or feminine in grammar terms as having anything to do with men, women, sex or gender.

Instead, it’s really more to do with the construction of the word and its spelling, which is where the ’80 percent trick’ comes in . . . 

Rules – what are rules?

Proof that French nouns don’t follow sensible rules comes with the fact that the noun feminism is masculine (le féminisme), and the noun masculinity is feminine (la masculinité).

Meanwhile, hoary old guardians of the French language, the Académie française, ruled that Covid (the word) is feminine (la covid) because it’s an illness (une maladie). But dictionaries Le Larousse and Le Robert list it as masculine (le covid) because it’s a virus (un virus). If the gatekeepers of French cannot agree, and if the genders of the nouns themselves don’t necessarily make complete sense, what hope is there for the rest of us?

And don’t get us started on synonyms – for example it’s une chaise (a chair – feminine) but un fauteuil (an armchair – masculine). 

The thing is, gender really does matter in the French language. The gender of a noun (whether it’s a le or la word) influences any related pronouns, adjectives and verbs … and it even completely changes the meaning of some words.

Adjectives must agree

Adjectives in French conform to the gender and the quantity of the noun – a masculine plural noun needs a masculine plural adjective. Another bit that makes sense, right?

Most follow a regular pattern – if the masculine adjective ends with the letter –c (blanc / blancs), then the feminine ending is –che (blanche / blanches). An –f ending to a masculine adjective becomes –ve in the feminine. A masculine adjective ending with –eux leads to a feminine adjective ending of –euse.

Except these…

And then there are those well-known, often-used adjectives that follow rules entirely of their own making. We give you:

Beautiful: beau, bel, belle, beaux, belles

New: nouveau, nouvel, nouvelle, nouveaux, nouvelles

Old: vieux, vieil, vieille, vieux, vieilles

You just have to learn them. Sorry.

Gender critical

Here are just a few examples of how the gender of a word changes what it is. Mi-temps (masculine) means part-time, as in part-time job; mi-temps (feminine) means halftime in sport. La physique is the science; le physique refers to someone’s body shape. La somme – when it’s not the place in northern France – is the total sum of, for example, money; le somme is a nap, or 40 winks.

Places and animals

But there are some rules that are (almost) hard and fast.

Most place names are masculine. Except those places that end with the letter e – they are usually feminine. Apart from a few, such as…

  • le Mexique (Mexico)
  • le Bélize (Belize)
  • le Mozambique (Mozambique)
  • le Zaïre (Zaire)
  • le Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe)

If you’re talking about animals, the advice is to go with the sex of the animal you’re discussing – unless you’re talking about, for example, a mouse (la souris, all the time) or a horse (le cheval)

Derivatives

Nouns that derive from verbs – they usually end with eur, like l’aspirateur or l’ordinateur – are masculine. 

But nouns that come from adjectives that also usually end with eur, like la largeur, are feminine.

Gender reveal

But don’t throw those French books away just yet. Before you get completely downhearted and set out to learn Spanish instead, there is a trick that means you’ll be right well over half the time.

It’s all to do with endings. According to a study by linguists at Canada’s McGill University, the end of a French noun gives away its gender in at least 80 percent of cases.

The 80 percent trick

Treat words that end in -e or -ion as feminine … Except those that end in -age, -ege, -é, or -isme (these are endings that indicate masculine words).

The rest of them – especially those that end with a consonant – are masculine. Apart from the exceptions, obviously.

Here is that McGill list in full – and if you learn all these, the Canadians promise that you will be right 90 percent of the time. That’s a better record than most actual French people,according to a 2018 study. 

Typical masculine noun endings:

  • -an, -and, -ant, -ent, -in, -int, -om, -ond, -ont, -on (but not after s/c)
  • -eau, -au, -aud, -aut, -o, -os, -ot
  • -ai, -ais, -ait, -es, -et
  • -ou, -out, -out, -oux
  • -i, -il, -it, -is, -y
  • -at, -as, -ois, -oit
  • -u, -us, -ut, -eu
  • -er, -é after c
  • -age, -ege, – ème, -ome, -aume, -isme
  • -as, -is, -os, -us, -ex
  • -it, -est
  • -al, -el, -il, -ol, -eul, -all
  • -if, -ef
  •  -ac, -ic, -oc, -uc
  • -am, -um, -en
  • -air, -er, -erf, -ert, -ar, -arc, -ars, -art, -our, -ours, -or, -ord, -ors, -ort, -ir, -oir, -eur
  • (if animate)
  • -ail, -eil, -euil, -ueil
  • -ing

Typical feminine noun endings:

  •  -aie, -oue, -eue, -ion, -te, – ée, -ie, -ue
  • -asse, -ace, -esse, -ece, -aisse, -isse/-ice, -ousse, -ance, -anse, -ence, -once
  •  -enne, -onne, -une, -ine, -aine, -eine, -erne
  • -ande, -ende, -onde, -ade, -ude, -arde, -orde
  • -euse, -ouse, -ase, -aise, -ese, -oise, -ise, -yse, -ose, -use
  •  -ache, -iche, -eche, -oche, -uche, -ouche, -anche
  • -ave, -eve, -ive
  •  -iere, -ure, -eure
  • -ette, -ete, – ête, -atte, -otte, -oute, -orte, -ante, -ente, -inte, -onte
  • -alle, -elle, -ille, -olle
  • -aille, -eille, -ouille
  • -appe, -ampe, -ombe
  • -igue

See? Simple! 

SHOW COMMENTS