13 Awkward French Mistakes That Will Make You Wish You Were Invisible

Wouldn’t it be awkward to yell “I am horny” to your French friend instead of “I’m a messy eater?”. As unrealistic as it sounds, it actually happened to a friend of mine.

To avoid (hilarious) mistakes, here are 13 sentences and words you should never say in French. Unless you really want to feel awkward of course.

1. Tu es bonne

French mistake
Kirill Kedrinski/123rf.com

Congratulating your friends is a good idea, but you need to be careful  when you do it in French.

“Tu es bonne”, said to a girl will often be interpreted as “you are good…in bed”, and that’s the most polite interpretation.

So if you ever want to congratulate a female friend, don’t forget to clearly explain what your friend is good at.

Or simply avoid this sentence and use the safer “tu es doué(e)” (you are gifted).

Wouah, elle est bonne ta soeur !
QUOI ?

Elle chante bien

Wow, your sister is good

WHAT?

She sings well

Check out Bien vs Bon: Which One Should You Use? to learn more about the different ways to say “good” in French.

2. connard/ canard

French learners often mistake “canard” and “connard”. Two words with a radically different meaning.

While “canard” means “duck”, “connard” means jerk.

You may want to avoid asking for a jerk in the restaurant.

Bonjour monsieur, je vous sers du canard ou du poulet ?

Du connard s’il vous plaît

Hello sir, do I serve you duck or chicken?

Jerk please

3. Baiser

You certainly think that “baiser” means “to kiss”, and that using that word would be really cute.

Wrong!

While “un baiser” does mean “a kiss”, “baiser” used as a verb means “to f***”.

Less glamorous, right?

Check out this article to learn the dos and don’ts of French greetings.

 4. Je suis chaud(e)

In English, “I’m hot” means that you’re…well hot. In French though, “je suis chaude” (I’m hot said by a woman) means “I’m horny”.

If you’re a woman and would like to say you’re hot, use “J’ai chaud” (lit : I have hot) instead.

This is one of many cases where the verb “to be” in English becomes “to have” in French.

  • I’m hungry => j’ai faim (lit: I have hunger)
  • I’m thirsty => j’ai soif (lit: I have thirst)

5. Préservatif

preservatives in French

You like your food without preservatives?

Then you may be tempted to ask for food “sans préservatifs” thinking you’re using one of many French words whose meaning is identical in French and English.

Unfortunately for you, “préservatif” is a faux-ami, one of several words whose meaning is radically different in French and in English despite being written almost the same way.

When you ask for food “sans préservatifs”, you ask for food without condoms.

Oops.

Excusez-moi, est-ce que ce plat contient des préservatifs ?

Excuse me, does this dish contain condoms?

Non, par contre il contient des conservateurs

No, but it contains preservatives

6. Chatte

cat in French

Cats are cute, right?

“Chat” (cat) is one of the first words students usually learn in French.

What your French course may not have mentioned though is that the female version, “chatte” has two meanings.

It’s both the female animal and…the female sex!

To avoid confusion, don’t use this word!

7. Putain

putain

This is a magical word.

As the video below demonstrates, you can use it for absolutely everything, but certainly not with everyone.

Used alone, it means you are tired, frustrated or angry.

Used to talk about someone, it means “whore”.

Whatever meaning you choose, remember that this word is extremely informal!

If you ever go on American TV, using “putain” could cause you problems. Ask Jean Dujardin what he thinks about it!

8.  ça suce

Tu penses quoi de ce film ? Il suce !

What do you think about this movie? It sucks!

Seems correct, right?

Well, not exactly…

In French “sucer” (to suck) mainly has a sexual meaning.

Next time you want to say something sucks, say “c’est nul” (it’s lame) instead.

9. Je suis plein(e)

You just ate in a wonderful French restaurant rue Mouffetard (a lovely street in the center of Paris) and your stomach is about to explode.

Proud of yourself, you look at your French friend and say “Je suis plein(e)” (I am full).

Full? Full of what?

Your friend wonders.

You simply can’t say “je suis plein” in French,

it sounds weird.

Instead you may want to use:

  • Je n’ai plus faim (lit : I don’t have hunger anymore)
  • J’ai trop mangé (I ate too much)

10. Jouir

Imagine that your French conversation partner  just asked you if you enjoyed your visit of Paris.

After opening a dictionary, you found that “jouir” means “to enjoy”.

So you proudly answer your friend “oui j’ai bien joui”.

Your friend starts laughing and you’re confused.

You actually just said “yes I had an orgasm”.

“Jouir” only means “to enjoy” in a formal context. Most of the time, French people use it to say they had an orgasm, not to say they enjoyed something.

11. Cochonne

I once had lunch with a bunch of Korean and French friends. At some point, noodles fell on one of the Korean girls’ t-shirt and she yelled “JE SUIS COCHONNE”.

She wanted to say she ate in a dirty way. She didn’t know that “cochonne” often has an entirely different meaning…

If you open a French dictionary, you will read that “cochonne” is the feminine form of “cochon” (pig) and that it also means that you’re a messy eater if used as an adjective (it’s rarely used as such though).

What your dictionary doesn’t tell you is that it has a more common and much more embarrassing meaning. For most French people (especially young ones),  “cochonne” means “someone who loves sex”.

So when my friend yelled ‘je suis cochonne”, people didn’t understand “I ate in a dirty way”, but “I love sex”.

12. J’ai envie de toi

When French Together reader Candy said to her friend “j’ai envie de toi”, she meant she envied her friend.

What Candy didn’t know was that “j’ai envie de toi” doesn’t mean “I envy you”, but “i want to sleep with you”. This is what you say to your lover, not to your friend.

To say “I envy you”, you’d say “je t’envie” or “je vous envie” in a formal context.

13. Beau cul

To a foreign ear, “beaucoup” and “beau cul” may sound similar, but they’ve radically different meanings. “Beaucoup” means “very”, while beau cul” means “nice ass”.

Next time you thank someone, make sure you say “merci beaucoup” and not “merci beau cul”. You will avoid an awkward situation.

Have you ever made funny mistakes in French? Share your stories in the comments below!

Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together™ to help English speakers learn the 20% of French that truly matters. You will also find him giving blogging advice on Grow With Less.

250 thoughts on “13 Awkward French Mistakes That Will Make You Wish You Were Invisible”

  1. Early in my stay as an exchange student with a French-speaking Belgian family, when I was offered more food at dinner, I responded, “Merci, je suis pleine.” Of course, I meant to say that I was full, but instead told them I was pregnant.

    Reply
  2. While a student at the university of Nice MANY years ago I was in a glassier with a some friends ordering ice cream. As the server came around talking orders it was my turn to order. “ et vous monsieur, qu’est-ce que vous voudrais »? I answered. « Je voudrais une glace au chocolat He responded.. avec les noisettes ? « Oh non, je déteste les Allemands «  He looked at me Funny My French friend laughed saying that I said that I hated Germans. I guess I should have said almonds, not Allemands!!

    Reply
  3. I told my French electrician that I thought the fusil had blown rather than the fusible.
    He looked a little confused until I realised what I had said, then we had a good laugh.

    Reply
  4. I was trying to tell someone I was drunk (bourré) but my pronunciation was horrible at the time, so I kept saying “beurré” and instead telling everyone I was “buttered”

    Reply
  5. A friend of mine meant to say he went out with buddies and said hier je suis sorti avec des gars but since he mistakenly pronounced the final s it sounded like hier je suis sorti avec des garces.

    Reply
  6. After arriving fresh in Paris first time, I didn’t know how to utilize French properly much and relied on a direct-from-English conversion. So instead of saying “Pardon”, I kept repeating “Je suis désolée” and was so confused why people were ignoring me and not letting me pass through.
    Still getting the embarrassment from this episode…

    Reply
    • Both of those work in that context. But one would say just “désolé” and not “je suis désolé”
      Désolé and pardon are the same, with pardon being slightly more formal. Je suis désolé is saying I’m sorry as in “I’m sorry for not understanding” 😉

      Reply

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