French words used in English

3 Jul 2023 | International

Learning a new language as a beginner is not an easy task and can be very intimidating. With a bunch of new words, it can be hard to know where to start. Regardless, you are motivated because you want to increase your chance of getting a job or migrate to a new country where better opportunities await. Naturally, you would want to learn English. While learning this new language, you notice that some words, strangely enough, sound familiar.

Thanks to William the Conqueror in particular, French has had a great influence on English. During the reign of the French Kings, both languages were starting to be blend together. By the way, did you know that Richard I, also called Richard the Lionheart, did not know a single word in English, even though he was King of England? At the time, French was the official language of England until the beginning of the 15th century. The power and the influence of the French monarchy at the time turned French into the reference language in the royal court. How far does the historical relationship between French and English go?

In an article (that you can find here) written by Laura K. Lawless, a female translator passionate about language, she made a list of some French words used by English speakers. She also points out that an English person who never learned French already knows some 15,000 French words without even being aware of the fact, and that there are about 1,700 true cognates (more or less similar) between both languages.

This list of words and idioms is quite interesting because it makes one realize how English has been greatly influenced by French. Many idioms originate not only from French gastronomy (you don’t say!) but also from Arts. This is a key opportunity to enrich your vocabulary with new words and traditional French idioms.

Here are some interesting French words:

Chaise longue” mostly written as “chaise lounge” or “lounge chair

Je ne sais quoi” as in “I really like Anne. She has a certain je ne sais quoi that I find appealing”

Soupçon” (hint) as in “There’s just a soupçon of garlic in the soup”.

Cuisine” (literally means cooking) is used when referring to haute cuisine/gourmet cuisine.

Couture” (literally means sewing) is used when referring to haute couture (high quality fashion clothes).

Adieu” (literally means goodbye) is mostly used in a more formal tone.

Coup d’état” (often shortened to just coup in English) means the same thing in both languages.

However, be careful with the pronunciations of these words. Even though these words are French, they are to be pronounced with an English accent! If you would like to improve your pronunciation skills either for vacation or business purpose, here are some advices for you.

Impromptu, grotesque, rendez-vous, plat de résistance, etc. Each time you think you have seen it all; you find a new connection between France and England or a new strange way of using a French word in English. We highly recommend you check the whole list.

[1] Source : Anthony Lacoudre: «Le français a littéralement envahi la langue anglaise» – Le Figaro