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French words that are used in English

British English


French words that are used in English

The British are not exactly famous for their foreign language ability and many people believe that we struggle with languages as we have no exposure to them, unlike other countries. However, it may surprise you to know that English, especially British English, shares around 30% of its words with French! There are many reasons for this; despite English being a Germanic language and French a Romance language they both share a huge proportion of their vocabulary from Latin (60% of English and the majority of French words are rooted in Latin). French also has a historic Germanic influence also resulting in similarities. But that is not the only reason: in 1066 the UK was conquered by the French and Anglo-Norman (or "Old French") became the language of choice for the elite, ie the court, government, royals and noble families. For over 300 years French was extremely fashionable and English was reserved for the peasants. This influence means there are particularly more French words for talking about things of luxury, food or Law. Many official UK documentation (such as Passports) still have the writing in both English and French.

There are many ways that French appears in English; many words that end in -tion, -ble, -ible are the same in French and English (with a notable difference in pronunciation) and many popular phrases such as c'est la vie (that's life) je ne sais quoi (I don't know what) or voilà (there you go) can be used in English speaking countries but this article is particularly interested in words that are clearly of French origin yet used in English and, most importantly, we don't have an "English" way to say them. For this reason, words that are common but DO have English equivalents are not included, for example: petite (small), chauffeur (driver), critique (analyze) or faux (fake/false).

à la carte - meaning "according to the menu" the a la carte option in a restaurant is when each dish has an individual price and can be ordered separately (the opposite being a fixed price menu such as a lunch menu, early bird or, for example "2 courses for £10")

Hors d’oeuvre or Canapé - small individual portions of food served before a meal (Canapes are served on top of small portions of bread specifically) These are almost always presented at a wedding (usually to keep guests happy while the bride and groom take photos) and considering how typical they are in formal English cuisine it is perhaps strange that we have never found our own way to describe them.

Chic (pronounced sheek not chick) - a way of describing someone or something that is very classic and stylish. This word is used regularly by Brits - think Audrey Hepburn, Chanel and a classic little black dress.

Bourgeois - a word that has come back into fashion - nowadays you may hear young people describing things as "bougie" (pronounced boujee) to mean a little ostentatious or over the top. The original word is used to describe a particular characteristic of the middle class who value materialistic things.

Déjà vu - that feeling of familiarity that you have done or seen something before. In French it literally means "already seen" and clearly we liked the expression so much we started using it!

Entrepreneur - this word mightn't appear obviously French but the pronunciation is rather odd for English (odder than usual anyway!) The EN is actually pronounced as ON and is a characteristic of French pronunciation not common in English (other words with this pronunciation include En Route and Encore)

Fiancé - English teachers are always telling students that the e is silent - police, office, nose...oh but we also have some words were you randomly pronounce the E! Confusing hey? Well these exceptions to the rule are of French origin so fiance, recipe and finale all emphasize the final E. There is no single English word for the stage between boyfriend and girlfriend and husband and wife, when you are engaged to be married but not married yet - instead we use the French term!

R.S.V.P - Many English might not even realize that RSVP stands for  Répondez s'il vous plaît, or "Please respond". Why we use the French is anyone's guess but any invitation you receive will have this little French acronym at the bottom. 

Bon Voyage - "Have a nice trip" is possible but really, most English people use this French expression instead. It's short, it's easy and it very common. Next time you want to wish your English speaking friend "have a good journey" just make things easier and use this expression instead.

Bon appétit - Another expression that it seems we have never tried to invent ourselves - there is literally no good English equivalent for this expression! "Enjoy your meal" is close but many Brits use the French term much more commonly. 

Façade - meaning the front of a building or when we want to describe a person as being fake or giving a false impression We thought she was very confident but it was all a facade, she was terrified really.

Cul-de-Sac - demonstrating just how much influence the French have had in English, cul de sac (literally meaning bottom of a bag) is used for a road that has a dead end. Commonly seen in housing estates, the French expression sounds nicer than "dead end road" so we can understand why people prefer to use the French. 

Encore - a phrase not actually used in France in the same way! But in English you shout it at the end of a performance to indicate that something was so good that you want it again.

Touché - this is a strange one! In French it is actually "touched" but the English have found hidden meaning in there and use it to signal "nice one" or "good point". This is a typical response if someone answers you with a smart and witty remark, especially if it contradicts what you have said: 

A: You know I hate going to parties, I don't want to go

B: you were happy enough to go last week when there were lots of pretty girls going

A: Touche!

Risqué - meaning simply "risk" in French; once again the English have taken it one step further. In English this word means risky with a sexual element: "I really like this short red dress but maybe it's a bit too risque for the restaurant tonight

Cliché - a stereotype or something that is overused, unoriginal or predictable. The origin of this word is interesting as it sounds like the noise made by the metal plates of a printing press and started to be used to indicate a phrase that was repeated often. 

Child: "Can I have £50 for a new game?"

Dad: "£50?! I'm not made of money!"

Child: "That's such a cliche"