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faux amis

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les faux amis (lay fowz ah mee)

    : "false friends" or words that look alike... but have different meanings

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Les Faux Amis!
Dans la vie, la plupart de nos amis sont des vrais amis, mais c'est les faux amis qui nous déçoivent. In life, most of our friends are true friends, but it's the false friends who deceive us. --Tim Averill

Today's column is by guest writer Andréa Thomas. Enjoy, and don't miss the French version at the end of this edition!

by Andréa Thomas

Dear False Friends

Learning French? Be careful of some words that may trick you! You may have noticed that a lot of English words look like some French words, and vice-versa. Well, there is a very simple explanation for this - more than a third of words in the English language are of French origin. But why is that? Well, to understand this influence over English, we have to go back to the historic Norman invasion of 1066, which left England under Norman rule, meaning French became the lingua franca. As a result of this, English language has borrowed many words from French.

Sadly, while some of these words are used just as they are in French, others have evolved, as have their meanings, but beware of the trap: you may think you automatically know a lot of words in the other language but they are just here to make your learning process even more difficult. But what am I really talking about? Well, you might think that learning the word argument in French would be quite easy… After all, English owns a word quite similar, if not identical. Actually, it would be unwise to think that since the meaning of argument in French has nothing to do with the English one. Unfortunately, the list of tricky words is quite, if not extremely, long. As a native French speaker, I know that I had a lot of difficulty trying not to be mistaken by these false friends, and even though I’ve been studying English for a while now, I still get confused sometimes. I mean, what is up with vicious or sympathy? My French words vicieux and sympathie first come to my mind when I have to deal with these two, and that’s a shame because they are not exactly proper translations. The same thing happens with words like confidence, caution, figure, balance… and those are only my favourite ones, meaning they made me pull out my hair when I was still a beginner at English.

However, I think the winner would undoubtedly be actually. During my years of high school, I never heard a French student getting this word right. Even though our teacher kept telling us to use currently to match the French meaning, we would persist on using actually to express actuellement… Language learning is really gymnastics of the mind. To conclude, here are a few examples of unfriendly words that you should learn properly in order not to be confused and assimilate them to your own language:

affair vs. affaire
achieve vs. achever
deliver vs. délivrer
injure vs. injure
lecture vs. lecture
date vs. date
hazard vs. hasard
physician vs. physicien
luxury vs. luxure
to deceive vs. décevoir

Do you see my point? Though they may seem quite similar when it comes to vocabulary, English and French have some words “in common” that are just mean…

More about Andréa:
I'm a French girl studying English and Spanish at university, currently doing an internship in the great city of Hamburg, Germany. I'm passionate about languages and an active blogger for Lexiophiles
(, in both English and French.

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Andréa has offered us the French translation of her article (mille mercis, Andréa!)

Ces chers faux amis…

Vous apprenez le français ? Méfiez-vous de ces mots qui pourraient bien dangereusement vous piéger. Vous avez sans doute remarqué que bon nombre de mots anglais ressemblent fortement à certains mots français, et vice-versa : l’explication à ce phénomène est simple. En fait, plus d’un tiers des mots de la langue anglaise sont d’origine française… Mais quelle en est la cause ? Pour comprendre cette influence sur l’anglais, il faut remonter à l’historique invasion normande en 1066, qui a laissé l’Angleterre sous domination normande, et a permis au français de devenir la lingua franca. Par conséquence, la langue anglaise a « emprunté » de nombreux mots français.

Hélas, si certains de ces mots sont utilisés tels qu’ils le sont en français, d’autres ont évolué ainsi que leur sens. Attention au piège : vous pensez sans doute connaître automatiquement beaucoup de mots dans l’autre langue, mais en réalité ils n’existent que pour rendre votre apprentissage plus ardu. Mais à quoi me réfère-je exactement ? Par exemple, vous pensez peut-être qu’apprendre le mot argument en français serait simple. Après tout, l’anglais possède un mot similaire, voire identique. En fait, il serait bien présomptueux de penser ainsi… puisque le sens de argument en français n’est pas exactement le même qu’en anglais. Malheureusement, la liste de ces mots pas si amicaux que cela est relativement longue. En tant que francophone, je sais que j’ai eu beaucoup de difficultés à ne pas me laisser avoir par ces faux amis, et même si j’étudie l’anglais depuis maintenant plusieurs années, il m’arrive encore de me laisser prendre au piège. Vraiment, que me veulent vicious ou sympathy ? Mes mots français vicieux et sympathie me viennent à l’esprit immédiatement quand mon chemin croise celui de ces deux mots, ce qui est regrettable puisque ce ne sont pas des traductions exactes. Le même phénomène se produit avec confidence, caution, figure, balance… et ce ne sont que mes « préférés », ce qui veut dire qu’ils m’ont causé bien des déboires quand je n’étais encore qu’une débutante en anglais.

Cependant, je pense que le gagnant est incontestablement actually. Lorsque j’étudiais au lycée, je n’ai jamais entendu un élève français utiliser ce mot correctement. Notre professeur avait beau nous répéter que nous devions utiliser currently pour exprimer ce que nous voulions dire en français, nous avons persisté à utiliser actually pour dire actuellement… L’apprentissage des langues ressemble vraiment à une gymnastique de l’esprit. En conclusion, voici quelques exemples de mots « ennemis » que vous devez apprendre correctement pour ne pas les confondre et les assimiler aux mots de votre propre langue :

affair vs. affaire
achieve vs. achever
vs. délivrer
vs. injure
lecture vs. lecture
vs. date
vs. hasard
vs. physicien
luxury vs. luxure
to deceive vs. décevoir

Vous voyez ce que je veux dire… Même si ces deux langues paraissent similaires en matière de vocabulaire, l’anglais et le français ont quelques mots « en commun » qui sont juste vicieux…

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Frenchee le Trip

This is actually a well delivered post. Not deceived to have read this lecture at all. I'll stop with the corny now... Thanks! Nicely done. I've learned about most of these false friends the hard way - and I'm going to look up a few I wasn't sure on so I can catch up with the changes since the Norman invasion.

Leslie in Massachusetts

Chère Andréa,
Votre commentaire est la plus intéressante que j'aie jamais lue sur ce sujet. Elle me fait constater que l'on pourrait presque dire que la plupart des mots qui se ressemblent en les deux langues sont des faux amis, parce qu'en effet il n'y a que peu qui ont exactement la même signification en les deux langues. Il faut supposer que n'importe quel mot a des nuances differentes.

Your comments are the most interesting I have ever read on this subject. They make me realize that you could almost say that most words which look alike in the two languages are "false friends" because, really, there are few which have exactly the same meaning in both languages. You have to assume that any word has different nuances of meaning.

Karen (in Towson, Md) Whitcome

Thank you for this post, Andréa. I always find this topic fascinating. I began to look up the French meanings after reading it. One other faux amis to add onto "achieve vs. achever (to end)" was the french "achevé" which means => accomplished (artist); perfect (piece of work); downright (liar); utter (fool)


My favorite is "chagrin" as we discovered that my almost-always-right thought it was un vrai-ami only because he had never gotten the correct nuance of meaning in our native English! He was (a little) chagrined, but did not experience any chagrin over the incident.


Merci, Andrea, for your faux amis posting. For my French students the two biggest faux amis pitfalls have always been librairie which is not a library--(in fact, if you try to "borrow " a book there, you may end up in jail!) and pain, which is definitely not a "pain" to un Francais.


I just wanted to note that the quote at the beginning of today's post was slightly mistranslated into English:
Dans la vie, la plupart de nos amis sont des vrais amis, mais c'est les faux amis qui nous déçoivent. In life, most of our friends are true friends, but it's the false friends who deceive (disappoint) us. --Tim Averill
Décevoir is in fact a faux ami that does not, disappointingly enough, mean to deceive. Décevoir means to disappoint.

Now on a positive note, thanks, Andréa, for your thoughtful post!

joie  carmel,ca

Merci, mais, je trouve (I think I will stop here as to not embarass myself of my poor french). Anyway, yes, I have noticed the difference in some words, but the French have many words that have many more than one meaning. Pour example: aventure (which was listed above)meant: flirt, risky, adventure and I think fortune teller was thrown in somewhere. I am just beginning to notice all the french idioms. Oh, my!

Marianne Rankin

I'm glad to learn about

Andrea, votre anglais est formidable! Malgre les faux amis, vous avez profondement appris l'anglais. Merci de vos commentaires, qui m'ont rappele quelques faux amis.

Comment est "date" un faux ami? Quand on parle du calendrier, je crois que c'est la meme chose dans les deux langues. En anglais, on peut ajouter le senss de "rendez-vous" (a date with someone), mais autrement, il ne me semble pas que "date" est un vrai mot piege.

noemi en californie

Mille mercis Kristin and Andrea, for introducing me to I've already shared it on Facebook and bookmarked it to my Language & Linguistics folder. Je revendrai souvent; c'est une promesse!

Amelie Kase

This is an intriguing way to learn new faux amis - to read those that bedevil each of the correspondents. I would add "opportunity" and "occasion" as the two recently brought to my attention by my misuse of them in French.



Merci Andrea! Ce n'est pas commode!


Date (Fr) = le 08 juin
Date (En) = un rendez-vous
Datte (Fr) = fruit from datte palm
Cane (Fr) = Cane - walking stick
Canne (Fr) = female duck
Hasard (Fr) = coincidence - chance
Hazard (En) = danger (Fr)
Chance (Fr) = luck
Bâtard (Fr) = Mongrel (not Bastard as I said when I first arrived in Australia!)

This is such fun! Can we do multi-lingual tautologies, palindromes, oximorons... please... :)

elizabeth taza

I'm a beginner to learning French, it is difficult for me because I have a learning disability! I thank you for bringing the 'Faux Amis' to attention & I will take extra care to learn these tricky pests'. "bonjour et merci Andréa!" elizabeth


I really had fun today first reading the post in English and then trying my hand in the French version. It was, in fact, very instructive. Thank you so much , Andrea. I hope some day to visit France.
By the way, I still cannot understand the difference between "lecture" In French and English?


Merci, Andréa. I enjoyed reading your post and learning some new faux amis. Some that have tripped me up in my early days of learning French:
to attend vs. attendre
to assist vs. assister à
sensible vs. sensible
a cave vs. une cave
Jacqueline, to answer your question: lecture in French means "reading," in English it means a "speech" or a "reprimand." Hope that helps.

Susan Dupuis

Thanks for taking time to put into words what we all encounter, no matter which language we begin with.
I haven't seen my comment among the others (though it may be there...), but regarding your statement, "I had a lot of difficulty trying not to be mistaken by these false friends," one is deceived by false friends, and if that occurs, one is mistaken. It's like being taught, and then learning.
I wish my French were as beautiful as your English! I enjoyed reading your article - in both languages. Merci beaucoup!

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