faux amis French

You’re in a supermarket and you wonder if the delicious cakes you’re looking at contain preservatives.

So you muster your courage, smile and ask the seller “excusez-moi, monsieur, est-ce que ces gâteaux contiennent des préservatifs ?”.

He bursts out laughing and you realise “préservatif” doesn’t mean what you think it means.

That’s an easy mistake, lots of words look the same in French and in English.

And while this is a great advantage for you as an English speaker, this is also dangerous, because there are words like “préservatifs” who hide their true meaning behind their apparent similarity.

Welcome to the wonderful world of faux amis (false friends)

Préservatif

Asking if some food contains “préservatifs” is a common and embarrassing mistake English speakers make.

Because when you ask for food without preservatives, you are actually asking for food without condoms.

The French word for “preservative” is “conservateur”.

Bras

If you hear a French person mention the word “bras”, don’t think you just met a pervert, because in French “bras” means “arm” not “bra”.

Blessé

The French verb “blessé” looks a lot like “blessed”, but its meaning is radically different.

“Blessé” means “wounded”.

Pain

pain french false friend

“Pain” looks like an English word you know, but it actually means “bread”. The French word for “pain” is “douleur”.

Introduire

If you want to introduce a person to another, make sure you don’t use the verb “introduire” (to insert) and use the verb “présenter” instead.

Journée

You already know that “bonjour” literally means “good day”.

What you may not know is that there are two ways to say “day” in French: “jour” and “journée”.

Even though “journée” and “journey” have the same origin, these two words have a completely different meaning nowadays.

Point

In French “un point” is a “spot”. If you want to say “goal” say “but” or “objectif”  instead.

Habit

In English a habit is something you regularly do, but in French “un habit” is simply an item of clothing.

Librairie

French books

In French “une librairie” is a book shop and not a library. A library is “une bibliothèque”.

By the way, if you go to Paris make sure you visit the wonderful Shakespeare & Company book shop near Notre Dame

Coin

“Un coin” means a corner and not a “coin”. If you want to talk about coins, use the word “monnaie” or “pièce” instead.

Pièce

“Pièce” can either mean “coin” or “room”, but it never means “a piece of something”.

Monnaie

Talking about “monnaie”… In French “monnaie” means “change” or “coins”.

The word for “money” is “argent”.

Car

French faux ami car

“Car” is a formal way to say “because” in French. If you want to translate the English word “car”, say “voiture” instead.

Location

If you get lost and want to ask where a building is located, don’t use the word “location”, because it means “rental”.

You can however use the word “emplacement”.

Actuellement

Most French words ending in “ellement” have their English equivalent ending in “ally”.

  • Naturellement  naturally
  • Accidentellement  accidentally
  • Exceptionnellement  exceptionally
  • etc

But “actuellement” doesn’t mean “actually”, it means “currently”.

Eventuellement

I hear this is different in Canadian French, but in France “éventuellement” means “possibly” and not “eventually”.

Pub

French false friend pub

In most cases, “Pub” is short for “publicité” (advertisement). It can also mean “pub” as in “a place where you drink”, but it’s much rarer.

Once again, context is king.

Oh and don’t forget to watch these 5 hilarious French commercials!

Déception

“Une déception” means a disappointment and not “a deception”. If you want to say “deception”, use the word “tromperie” instead.

Rester

“Rester” looks like the English verb “to rest”, but it actually means “to stay”. “To rest” is “se reposer”.

Attendre

In French when a person “attend”, it means she is waiting for something or someone. If you want to say “to attend”, use “assister” instead.

Douche

No “douche” isn’t a way to insult someone in French. It simply means “shower”.

Grand

faux amis grand

While it can mean “great” like in English, “grand” mostly means “tall” in French.

Joli

In French “joli” means “pretty” and not “jolly”.

If you want to say “jolly”, use the word “joyeux” instead.

Bouton

“Bouton” does means “button”, but it also means “pimple”, so make sure the meaning is as clear as your skin when you use it.

Sale

If you see that something is “sale”, it doesn’t mean it’s on sale, but rather that it’s dirty.

If you want to talk about “sales”, say “les soldes” instead.

 Envie

“Avoir envie de” is a common French expression meaning “to want something”, but it doesn’t mean you’re jealous.

The French word for “jealous” is “jaloux”.

Are you a victim of faux-amis?

Have you ever been embarrassed after using a faux ami ? Share your story in the comment section below this article!

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Published by Benjamin Houy

Bonjour ! Je suis Benjamin Houy, the creator of French Together and author of the Amazon bestseller How to Learn French in a Year. I help English speakers learn French naturally so they can quickly have their first conversation in French. I learned English and German on my own and am now learning Russian.