“Like”, “OK”, “selfie”, and other English words used in French

Parlez-vous anglais ? If so, believe it or not, you already know a surprising amount of French vocabulary!

Thousands of French words are similar to or exactly like their English equivalent. In many cases, that’s because French influenced the development of the English language. But there’s also the fact that over the past century or so, borrowing the occasional word from English has become common in French.

Let’s look at some borrowed English words in French (anglicismes), and learn more about when and how to use them!

English words used in French

A sandwich made with a baguette.

Many English words have been – and will probably continue to be – borrowed into French. But most of the borrowing tends to happen in a few particular industries or areas of life.

Here are some of the most common English words in French:

And here are other anglicismes (common English words in French) divided by category:

Technology

Marketing buzzwords and business trends

There’s a lot of important French business vocabulary and French marketing vocabulary that’s entirely in French. But certain buzzwords, current trends, and motivational terms tend to be borrowed from English. Common examples you’ll encounter include:

Entertainment

With the French love for movies, TV shows, and music from the US, it’s not so surprising that there are many English words used in and to talk about the entertainment industry in France. These include:

Internet, gaming, and texting speak

English is the lingua franca of the internet, which spills over into things like gaming and text speak in French as well.  Although there’s lots of French internet and texting slang, here are some common terms you’ll find in English.

  • WTF (When saying this out loud, French people usually opt to say every word it represents, not just the letter. They seem to find this expression delightful and use it semi-jokingly. I’ve never heard or seen a French person use it to express real anger.
  • un geek
  • un gamer (Note that une gameuse is the feminized form of this term. Ex: Mon ami est gamer et sa mère est gameuse. (My friend is a gamer and his mom is a gamer.))
  • un fail
  • LOL (Note that the French pronounce this as one word, not letter-by-letter. Also note that the French equivalent, MDR (mort(e) de rire), is equally popular.)
  • un tweet
  • like/liker (This word is only used for internet likes on social media sites, not to talk about liking something or someone in real life. It’s also been transformed into a regular -er verb in French: liker) Ex: Il est drôle, ce tweet, je vais mettre un like. (This tweet is funny. I’m going to give it a like.))
  • un hashtag
  • asap (Note that the French pronounce this as one word, not letter-by-letter)
  • un blog (Note that this refers to a blog, not an individual blog post. Ex: Elle est auteur d’un blog sur les chats. (She writes a blog about cats.)
  • un troll

Food

The French are very proud of their cultural heritage and tend to look down on Anglo-Saxon fare…but in spite of that, many Anglo-Saxon foods are popular in France. Some, like cookies, cheesecake, and smoothies, are currently downright trendy!

Clothing

There are countless clothing words in French but a few common clothing items have English names, maybe because they were first popularized in Anglophone countries. These include:

Common English slang terms in French

Many of these terms are known and used the world over:

  • OK/O.K./okay
  • cool
  • fuck (This word isn’t used as much as its French counterparts, but it is VERY well-known by French people…and anyone from any other language group who’s ever been around Anglophones long enough!)  

Trendy words

English is often associated with anything “cool” in French, so trends and current events are sometimes left with their English monikers. Some English words in French related to trends or trending topics include:

Miscellaneous common English words in French

Many of these borrowed English words are extremely common in everyday French.

These are among the most common English words you’ll come across in French. But many (although not all) of them do have French counterparts. In most cases, these aren’t used as often, or at all, but others are. For instance, OK is very common in French, but its equivalent, D’accord, is just as popular.

You can find the French counterpart for a word you’re curious about by typing the English into Word Reference’s English-French search option.

Why are there English words in French?

There are two main reasons why there are English words in French:

  1. cognates
  2. borrowed words

Cognates are words that are the same or very similar in English and French. This isn’t because these words were borrowed directly from English, but rather because of a shared root. For instance, many words in the sciences have Greek or Latin roots. The same can be said for technology terms created centuries ago. For example, photography/la photographie.

Cognates can also exist because of the influence of French on the development of the English language. After the Norman invasion of 1066 AD, French gradually began to influence the mostly Germanic languages and dialects spoken by the inhabitants of the British Isles.

Modern English emerged after centuries of these languages mixing together. One of the outcomes of this is that English and French share many words, or at least similar versions of certain words.

As for the second reason for English words in French, borrowed words  tend to be more recent, as in the last 150 years or so, with most coming from the past few decades.

Borrowed English words in French are usually used either because the word in English is so common, or to sound cool.

For instance, “O.K.” is one of the most commonly borrowed English words in the world, since it’s simple and easy to understand. And words like “selfie” or “like” are so commonly used online that they’ve gradually emerged into everyday French vocabulary.

On the other hand, trendy topics like self-help, food trends, and so on, may often be spoken about using English vocabulary because it makes the French speaker sound cool or intelligent.

Note that some borrowed words have been adapted to the French ear, so you might see them in a slightly different form than you might expect. For example, le shampooing for “shampoo”.

The meaning of some borrowed English words is slightly different in French. For example, un dressing isn’t a dressing room, but a walk-in closet. This helpful list includes a few more examples, and this video also provides excellent insight into the way many English words or parts of English phrases are adapted into French.

You’ll become familiar with all of these words as you continue to study French.

Are there French equivalents of borrowed English words?

L'institut de France, where l'Academie Académie Française meets. It is a complex with a domed building in the middle, dating to around the 17th century. It is just off the Pont des Arts, facing the Seine, on the Left Bank, in Paris.
L’institut de France, where l’Academie Académie Française meets.

Because cognates are technically both English and French, they are French. But for the Académie Française, the organization that has monitored and regulated the French language for centuries, all borrowed English words should ideally be stamped out in favor of a French word, so as to preserve the French language. And so, they create French alternatives to borrowed English words.

That’s why a French person might say they’ll send you un mail, mél or e-mail, but more formal or old-fashioned speakers might call it un courriel (short for courrier électronique (electronic mail)), a word invented by the Académie.

Other terms might not have been influenced by the Académie, but by Francophones themselves. Often, this occurs because it was easy to find a French equivalent that even non-English speakers could understand. The French equivalent of LOL, MDR, short for mort(e) de rire (dying laughing), is a good example of this. Unlike many French words that are meant to replace English terms, MDR seems to be used just as much by French speakers.

Of course, not all equivalents are adopted by the general French public, and not all words that replace them completely go away. This fascinating article lists some borrowed English terms that were banned (meaning not considered proper French) by the Académie Française. Most, if not all of them, are still commonly used by French people.  

Note that some other Francophone cultures may view borrowed English terms differently, either being more accepting of them or trying to stamp them out entirely – or by simply not using them for one reason or another. So if you’re spending time in another Francophone country or culture, try to observe which English borrowed terms are used, and always opt for the French equivalent until you know for sure. You can familiarize yourself with a particular Francophone cultures’ relationship with English by reading up on it. For instance, you could start with its Wikipedia entry to get an overview, then do a deeper online search (ex: “Canadian French”).

As I mentioned previously, you can use Word Reference to find French equivalents of many English words in French.

A few rules for using English words in French

Here are a few general rules to follow when using or listening for English words in French:

1. Borrowed words are most often masculine

This doesn’t count for cognates, but if a noun is directly borrowed from English into French, most of the time it will be masculine. There are exceptions (for instance: une interview, une start-up…), but if you’re in a bind and have to guess, masculine is usually the way to go.

Generally, however, if the word refers to a job title or other similar descriptor (manager, gamer, etc.), the word can take a feminine article or in some cases even be feminized, by adding -euse to the end (manageuse, gameuse), if the person in question is female.

2. Borrowed English words that are turned into verbs are regular -er verbs

ex: tweeter, liker, spoiler

3. Borrowed English adjectives usually don’t change according to the gender or number of what they’re describing.

There could be some exceptions, because languages are full of them, but as a general rule, words like design, has-been, and low-cost remain the same, whether the subject is masculine or feminine, singular or plural. Ex: Son appartement est design, sa robe est design, ses bottes sont design.

4. When pronouncing English words in French, don’t forget the French accent

Borrowed English words may be spelled the same way in writing, but they will still be pronounced as if they’re being said by, well, a French person. In some cases, this doesn’t differ much from how they’re pronounced in English. For instance, words like “tweet”, “like”, “shopping”, “t-shirt”, “start-up”, “burn-out” and more happen to have sounds that are similar in both languages. They may sound a bit more emphasized in French but are basically the same.

But other borrowed English words have spellings that are pronounced differently in French. For instance, “clown”, “discount”, and “what the fuck” all sound a bit different in French than they do when said by a native Anglophone.

“Chewing gum” is the most notable of these. When I first heard a French person say it, I had no idea what they meant. So, be aware that when you hear these words, they will have a French cadence and sound to them. And ideally  you should try to imitate that when you’re using them in French.

5. Beware of faux-amis (false friends)

Because words evolve or are sometimes misunderstood, many English words in French (borrowed or cognates) don’t have the same meaning in both languages. These include:

  • une librairie (French for bookstore)
  • des baskets (French for sneakers/tennis shoes)
  • un snack (French for a fast food stand or snack bar, not an actual snack)
  • …and probably the most notorious faux-ami: un préservatif (French for condom, not preservatives in food)

Should you use English words when you speak French?

A dictionary app on a smartphone shows the definition of the word design. The screen is photographed at an angle, so the words are partly cut off.

When I first came to France, I found the fact that there were a lot of cognates and borrowed English words in French a true blessing. Depending on the topic I was discussing and the person I was talking to, I knew that I could probably fill in the gaps of my French knowledge with an English word, just giving it a bit of a French accent.

This made me more confident when I started having conversations in French. I felt safe, and my strategy often worked, especially if I was talking to someone about topics like marketing, business, and online culture. The arts were also easy because there are so many cognates.

But if I’d fallen back on this strategy too much, I would have missed out. Not all French people speak English, after all, and not all of them who speak a little are familiar with these different fields.

As a general rule, if you’re in a formal situation, or talking to an older person or non-English speaker, I’d try to avoid improvising and make certain, instead, that I’m using the correct word, not just an English word accented to sound like French.

Plus, this will also force you to learn the correct French vocabulary, including whether or not the word you were going to improvise with really is the right one!

As you advance in your French learning journey, you may sometimes hesitate between using an English term or its French equivalent. It’s almost always better to use the French one if you’re in a formal situation or talking to someone from an older generation. For instance, most French people will understand the term “O.K.”, but D’accord works just as well and sounds more French, and slightly more professional or formal.

That said, the situation is important, too. If you’re hanging out with young people, they will probably laugh if you tell them you’ll send them un courriel instead of un mél.

How can I find more English words in French?

There’s no easy way to learn all of the English words in French, since there are thousands of cognates and probably hundreds of borrowed words. The only solution is to keep working on your French.

The more French you learn, read, watch, and listen to, the more you’ll discover and get used to these words. So, keep practicing and enjoying French!


Do you have a favorite English word in French? Feel free to share it in the comments!

Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.

3 thoughts on ““Like”, “OK”, “selfie”, and other English words used in French”

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  1. Loved your article, quite interesting! I teach French to middle and high schoolers and I often share some of your thoughts. I’d really like to share this particular article because we talk about William the Conqueror and his importance as well as the cognates.
    However, I’d really love it if you would leave out the words such as “Fuck”
    because it would not be appropriate to use in school. (although all the kids know it well)

    Reply
  2. Great article! When my wife and I were last in France, a server ask us if we wanted the “tapouateur” with the accent on the final syllable. We had no idea. Final after several repetitions, my wife exclaimed “Oh, tap water.” We all cracked up.

    Reply

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