What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is that English is not really that similar to modern day German, but rather much closer to romance languages in a lot of ways.
The most influential of these is clearly French, with a language and culture that has had a huge impact on the English language throughout history.
In fact, due to a 300-year occupation by the French-speaking Normans in England (11th-14th Century), over 10,000 words were adopted into the English language. Even more surprising is that 1,700 of these are true cognates (the same in both French and English).
Actually, English is full of French words and expressions that give it incredible color, flavor and elegance. Today you’re going to learn 33 of the most common and significant French words and expressions that found their way into the English language.
Voila! Let’s get started:
Free E-book: 101 Words You’ll Never Learn in School
Au pair (“O-Pair”) Meaning “at par” or “equal” in French, an au pair is a young person (often a foreigner) responsible for taking care of a family’s children in exchange for room and board and a small salary. Synonyms for this in English are nanny and babysitter, but au pair definitely has the connotation of a foreign person (usually a young woman) living with the family.
C’est la vie (“Say-la-vi”): An expression meaning “it’s life,” or “such is life” when something unfortunate happens. A slightly more vulgar and colloquial way to say this in English is “shit happens.”
Cliché (“Clee-Shay”): An idea or expression that is overused, unoriginal, and therefore boring. An example of this is when two people break up (end their relationship) and the person ending the relationship says, “it’s not you, it’s me.”
Clique (“Click”): A small and generally exclusive group of people with shared interests that is not so receptive to people coming from the outside (i.e. high school groups, business associates). Cliquey (“Clickey”) is an adjective describing the same thing.
Cologne (“Ca-lone”): Perfume for men. (Perfume is only used to describe a fragrance for women).
Concierge (“Con-cee-airj”): The hotel employee who helps guests by arranging tours, reservations, etc. In French, this is the caretaker of a small apartment complex.
Connoisseur (“Conna-Sewer”): somebody who knows a lot about something, or is an expert on that subject (i.e. a wine connoisseur and food connoisseur is a very common collocation).
Critique (n + vb) (“Cri-Teek”): A detailed evaluation or commentary on something (vb- to give a detailed analysis of something)
Coup d’etat (“Coo-da-tat”) / Coup (“Coo”): A sudden rebellion that results in the overthrow (replacement) of the government.
Debut (“de-byou”): The first appearance or performance in something. (i.e. in professional soccer for example, when a player plays his “professional debut” is when he plays his first professional game.) In French this just means the beginning.
Encore (“on-core”): Meaning “again” in French, in English this is when the audience at a concert requests another performance. Usually good musicians “finish” their concert, but return for a few songs in the encore. The crowd often chants (sings) “encore, encore, encore.”
Entrepreneur (“On-tra-pra-nooer”): Somebody who starts businesses, usually taking risks to make money and innovate.
Extraordinaire (“Extrore-da-nayr”): Somebody who is particularly good at something.
Fiancé/Fiancée (“Fian-say”): A man who is engaged [committed] to be married to a woman is called her fiancé. A woman who is engaged to be married to a man is called his fiancée. The pronunciation is exactly the same in English, but the difference in spelling comes from the French inflection difference indicating gender.
Forte (“For-tay”): A person’s strong point.
Genre (“Jon-ra”) is a group or category in artistic composition in movies, music, books, or anything else (i.e. for music we have Jazz, Rock, Country, Rap, etc.)
Hors d’oeuvre (“Or-durb”): An elegant way to describe an appetizer, or the first course to a meal. Usually they are bigger than appetizers.
Lingerie (“Lawn-gi-ray”): Women’s underclothes/underwear, usually fashionable and sexy.
Mardi Gras (“Mardy-Graw”): Literally meaning “Fat Tuesday” in French, this is the last day of Carnaval (the next day being the beginning of Lent Season).
Ménage à trois (“Men-aj-a-twaw”): Literally meaning a “household of three” in French, ménage à trois means “threesome” or “three way” in English, which is when 3 people have sexual relations together at the same time.
Here’s a funny video with Justin Timberlake in his comedy band “Lonely Island” with his famous video “Three Way.”
Matinee (“Mat-in-ay”): Meaning morning in French, a Matinee is a movie or performance that happens in the daytime, often cheaper because it is not as full.
Naïve (“Ni-eve”) A person or action that is not marked by experience or wisdom. This may include innocence, idealism, or a lack of critical thinking.
Petite (“Pe-teet”): An adjective to describe a very small and thin woman (also a women’s clothing size).
Protege (“Pro-da-jay”): A younger person who is being specially taught and guided by an older, more experienced person in his/her career and/or life (the older person is considered their mentor).
Rapport (“Ra-por”): When two people have a good, harmonious relationship. (For example, “having good rapport with your boss and work colleagues helps make your life and career a lot better”)
Repertoire (“Reper-twoir”): A selection of tools, tricks, dances, or songs that a performer has available. Other common uses of this are to talk about vocabulary or skills.
Resumé (“Ray-zum-ay”): Also known as CV (curriculum vitae), a resumé is a summarized account of all of your experience and qualifications.
RSVP: An abbreviation for répondez s’il vous plait from French, which means “please reply,” or confirm your presence. In English, we use this as a verb as well. This is very common on wedding invitations.
Sabotage (n + vb) (“Sab-o-taj”): To invoke damage or destruction to something on purpose, or to make something not work as it should.
Souvenir (“soo-va-neer”): Something you take as a reminder or remembrance of a visit to someplace or an event in your life (a mini Eiffel tower when you come back from France). In French this is literally the verb “to remember.”
Touché (“too-shay”): An expression used to recognize that your opponent has made a very good move, point, etc. This originates in the sport of fencing, when you show respect for your opponent because they have “touch(ed)” you.
Venue (“Ven-you”): The place where an organized event happens (concert, conference, sporting event).
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As you can see, the English language is full of French cognates and expressions. While this list is composed of some of the most popular ones, there are many, many more.
So, if you speak English and are thinking about learning another language, you might want to consider French. Not only will your English fluency help you learn French quicker, but learning French may very well strengthen your English fluency and probably make you sound more elegant.
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