26 Potentially Embarrassing French False Friends You Need to Know

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)


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”.


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”.


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

“Blessé” means “wounded”.


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


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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

The word for “money” is “argent”.


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.


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”.


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”.


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


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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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

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


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


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.


“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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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 conversational French.