French Words

French words used in the English language. Language is a constantly evolving entity, with words and phrases borrowed from one culture to another. This fusion of languages can often be seen between the interaction of French and English. With a deep-rooted history and cultural exchange between the two languages, it is not surprising that various French words have made their way into the English language. These borrowed French words add a certain je ne sais quoi to English, enriching its vocabulary and alluding to the historical connection between France and the United Kingdom.

The French language has influenced English in different areas of expression, such as food, art, politics, and fashion. For instance, some common French words that have been embraced by English speakers include apéritif, avant-garde, and attaché. These words give a suave and sophisticated touch to the English language, and may even be used without the speaker realizing their French origin.

In this article, we will explore some of the most frequently used French words in English, delving into their history and meanings. By understanding the origins of these words, one can appreciate the fascinating intermingling of two of the world’s most prominent languages, as well as enhance their own lexical prowess.

Basic French Words in English

The English language has borrowed a significant number of words from French, enhancing its vocabulary in various domains. Such French words are often used in everyday conversations, making them an essential part of people’s lexicons. Understanding these common French words and their meanings can help English speakers communicate more effectively and appreciate the rich history between the two languages.

French Words in English

Common French Words

Numerous French words have seamlessly integrated into the English language, ranging from areas such as culinary arts to art and fashion. Some well-known examples include café, déjà vu, entrepreneur, and souvenir. In many cases, English speakers may not even realize they are using French-derived words due to their ubiquity in the language. Cognates, or words that have similar meanings and origins in both languages, further bridge the connection between French and English.

Here are some examples of common French words used in English:

  • Bonjour – This popular expression means “hello” in French, often used for greeting people.
  • Hôtel – The word for “hotel” in English is derived from French, with both sharing the same meaning of a place providing lodging for travelers.
  • Rendezvous – A notable example from the realm of social interactions, this term refers to a planned meeting or appointment.
  • Résumé – A vital document for professionals, the résumé shares its origins with the French word for “summary.”
  • Cliché – This expression is used to describe something that has become overused or unoriginal.

These are just a few instances of French words that have found their way into English, contributing to the diverse vocabulary that people utilize daily. By exploring these borrowed words and their meanings, individuals can better appreciate the close relationship between the French and English languages.

Arts and Culture

Fashion and Couture

French has greatly influenced the world of fashion and couture, with terms like haute couture, which refers to high-end, custom-fitted clothing, prêt-à-porter, which means ready-to-wear, and silhouette, describing the outline or shape of a garment. These terms are commonly used in the fashion industry and have been adopted into the English language as standard expressions. French fashion houses, such as Chanel and Dior, are well-known for their contributions to the global fashion scene.

Visual Arts

In the realm of visual arts, French terms have also made a significant impact on the English language. Avant-garde, for example, is a French phrase that denotes innovative, experimental, or unorthodox art and artists. Originally referring to the vanguard in a military context, it now represents cutting-edge works pushing the boundaries of conventional ideas. Additionally, the term art nouveau, another French phrase, signifies a style of decorative and fine arts that was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


French influence can be found in the film industry with the term film noir, which refers to a genre of moody, atmospheric crime dramas popular in the 1940s and 1950s. The expression stems from the French word for black (noir) and reflects the dark themes and visual style often associated with these films. Moreover, the French New Wave movement, or Nouvelle Vague, had a profound impact on modern cinema, with directors like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard revolutionizing the cinematic language and aesthetic.

Here are more examples:

  • Cinéma vérité: a documentary film style that focuses on realism and authenticity
  • Récit: a detailed account or narrative of a series of events


The field of literature also bears the mark of French influence in the English language. Various literary periods and styles, such as Romanticism, which originated in France as Romantisme, have left their mark on English literature and language. Furthermore, French writers, like Victor Hugo, Marcel Proust, and Albert Camus, have made significant contributions to world literature, with their works translated and read by English speakers worldwide.

In conclusion, French has shaped and enriched the English language across various domains of arts and culture, including fashion, visual arts, cinema, and literature. The integration of French terms and expressions demonstrates the mutual influence and ongoing exchange between both languages and cultures.

Food and Beverage

Dining Terms

Café: A French term, now commonly used in English to refer to a small establishment serving coffee and snacks.

Hôtel: In French, this term refers to an establishment offering accommodations and often meals. In English, it specifically means lodging.

Restaurant: A term borrowed from the French, referring to an establishment where one can purchase and consume meals.

Apéritif: A French-origin term, referring to a pre-dinner drink designed to stimulate the appetite.

Menu: A list of dishes and beverages available at a restaurant, also borrowed from the French language.

Cooking Terms

Chef: A professional cook, especially one who is in charge of a kitchen. Derived from the French word “chef de cuisine.”

Salade: The French word for a dish made with a mix of raw vegetables, often including lettuce and served with dressing. In English, we know it as “salad.”

Soupe: A French term for a liquid dish served hot or cold, typically made from boiling a combination of ingredients. In English, it’s “soup.”

Vinaigrette: A French term for a type of cold sauce made with vinegar, oil, and various flavorings, often used as a salad dressing.

Dish Names

Soufflé: A popular French and English dish made with a base of egg yolks and beaten egg whites, combined with other ingredients, and then baked to achieve a light, airy texture.

Gâteau: The French word for “cake,” referring to a sweet, baked dessert typically made from a combination of flour, sugar, eggs, and other ingredients.

Law and Administration

Law and administration are two interconnected areas, and the English language has borrowed a significant number of French words and phrases to describe various aspects of these fields. French has had a considerable influence on the development of legal terminology and administrative language in English.

Law: The word “plaintiff” in English, referring to a person who brings a lawsuit against another, comes from the French word “plaignant.” Other common expressions borrowed from French include “acte authentique” for a deed of sale, “attestation d’acquisition” for a notaire’s certificate, and “aponstrophe,” which showcases French origins.

Administration: The English word “administration” itself comes from the French word “administration,” which signifies the organization and supervision of a company or institution. The term “bureau,” widely used to describe an office or a department within an organization, also has its roots in the French language. “Charge,” “costs,” and “fee,” when referring to administrative expenses, can be translated as “charge,” “coût,” and “frais” respectively in French.

The adoption of these French words into the English language highlights the strong historical connection between the two cultures and their mutual influence on each other’s languages. Law and administration are just a few of the many fields where this linguistic exchange has taken place, enriching the vocabulary and expressions used to navigate and understand these complex domains.

Phrases and Expressions

The English language has borrowed many phrases and expressions from French, adopting them into everyday usage. In this section, we will explore some of the most common French phrases and expressions used in English, providing a brief description for each.

Faux means false or fake in French. It is often used in English to describe something that is not genuine, such as faux fur or faux leather, meaning that they are synthetic substitutes for real fur or leather.

Faux pas is a French expression that describes a social blunder or mistake. In English, this phrase is used when someone breaches etiquette or offends others without intending to. For example, wearing white to someone else’s wedding could be considered a faux pas.

Bon voyage is a French phrase that translates to “good journey” in English. Typically, this expression is used to wish someone safe travels and good fortune on their trip.

Cliché originally referred to a stereotype or overused idea in French. In English, the term is used to describe phrases, ideas, or situations that have become so commonplace that they have lost their original meaning or significance.

Déjà vu is a French phrase that literally means “already seen.” In English, it refers to the sensation of having experienced a situation or moment before, even if it is happening for the first time.

Eau de toilette is a type of perfume with a lower concentration of fragrance oils. The phrase, which translates to “toilet water” in English, is often used to refer to lighter and milder scents compared to other types of fragrances.

Fiancé is a French word used in English to describe a person engaged to be married. It follows the French genders, with fiancé referring to a man and fiancée referring to a woman.

Laissez-faire is a French expression that translates to “let do” in English. It is commonly used to describe an economic policy or management style in which there is minimal government or organizational interference, allowing for a more hands-off approach.

En route is a French phrase meaning “on the way” or “along the way” in English. It is often used when someone is traveling or in the process of getting to a particular destination.

Facade originates from the French word “façade,” which refers to the front of a building. In English, the term has taken on a metaphorical meaning, indicating the superficial or false appearance that a person or thing may display to the outside world.

These are just a few examples of the numerous French phrases and expressions that have found their way into the English language, adding to its richness and diversity.

Miscellaneous French Terms

In everyday English conversation, numerous French words and phrases find their way into our vocabulary. These miscellaneous terms enrich the language and provide a glimpse into the shared linguistic history between English and French. Here are a few examples:

A chauffeur is a term for a person employed to drive a vehicle, particularly a luxury car. This word originates from the French verb chauffer, meaning to heat. The initial concept was to denote someone who heated the early automotive steam engines.

Chic, a French-origin word, is used to describe something stylish or fashionable. It demonstrates the deep influence of French fashion and design on global trends. Along similar lines, the term boutique refers to a small, specialized store, showcasing the importance of unique and stylish shops in French culture.

Entrepreneur has become a widely known term, referring to a person who takes risks to start a new business or develop innovative ideas. This popular and influential word underscores the French origin of a concept that has played a significant role in shaping modern economies.

The pronunciation of French terms in English varies, sometimes adhering to French rules, while at other times, it may be anglicized. Words like chauffeur, sac (bag), and point share similar pronunciation rules in both languages.

False friends, such as journey and ball, can lead to confusion since they have entirely different meanings in French and English. In French, journey means journée (day), and ball (bal) references a dance party.

Several terms like omelette, aubergine, and cologne exemplify the French influence on cuisine and self-care. An omelette originates from œufs (eggs) and the French verb battre (to beat), aubergine is the French term for eggplant, and cologne refers to a type of perfume.

Specific words, such as brunette, cul-de-sac, and millionaire also come from the French language. Brunette describes a person with dark hair, cul-de-sac indicates a dead-end street, and millionaire represents an individual with wealth exceeding one million monetary units.

Terms like carte blanche reveal the Germanic and French origins of English. Carte blanche literally means a blank card, signifying the freedom to act as one wishes or make decisions without constraint.

Finally, punctuation adds clarity and sophistication to the text, thanks to the French invention of the apostrophe. The apostrophe helps indicate possession, contraction, and omission in the English language.

These miscellaneous French terms enrich English by adding a touch of elegance and romance to everyday conversation. Their presence underscores the long-standing connection between these two languages and cultures, leaving a lasting impression on both speakers and listeners.

Expansion of French Words in English

The influence of French on the English language is vast, with many common English words having French origins. This is primarily due to the Anglo-Norman spoken by the upper classes in England for several hundred years after the Norman Conquest, before the language settled into Modern English. As a result, approximately 29% of modern English words are derived from French sources, making it a significant aspect of vocabulary expansion in English.

One of the significant areas where French has left its mark on English is in everyday terms and expressions. For example, words like allowance, apostrophe, attaché, apéritif, and avant-garde are directly borrowed from the French language, retaining their meaning while adjusting to the English pronunciation. This borrowing of words is not limited to just one sphere, as French words can be found in various fields such as art, competition, force, machine, and even table and chair.

In addition to these individual terms, there are many French phrases that have made their way into the English lexicon, often retaining their original meaning and sometimes even their pronunciation. Examples of such expressions include adieu (until God), which means farewell with an implication of not expecting to see the person again until one’s death. Other examples of French expressions commonly used in English include au pair (on equal terms), referring to a young foreigner working as a domestic help, and armoire (bookcase or cupboard), which stands for a cabinet or wardrobe.

The continued expansion of French vocabulary in English can be attributed to the historical relationship between the two languages and the ongoing exchange of ideas and culture. French has not only been a significant source of loanwords but has also contributed to the development of word formation patterns and expressions in English.

The integration of French words and phrases into English showcases the adaptability and fluidity of language. It also highlights the importance of understanding and appreciating the origins and evolution of the words that form essential parts of everyday communication in contemporary society.

Frequently Asked Questions on French Words

What are the most common French words used in English?

There are numerous French words commonly used in English conversation and writing. Some of the most widespread include déjà vu, faux pas, rendezvous, and hors d’oeuvre. These words are often used seamlessly within English sentences, reflecting the close relationship between the two languages.

Which English words have been borrowed from French?

Many English words have been borrowed from French over time. Some examples include ballet, souvenir, entrepreneur, and liaison. These borrowed words enrich the English language by extending its range and versatility.

What are some examples of French words with English meanings?

Many French words have found their way into the English lexicon, imparting their unique meaning to everyday terms. Examples include chef (chief cook), resumé (summary of work experience), décor (decoration), and cliché (overused expression).

What are popular French phrases adopted in English language?

Popular French phrases adopted into the English language include joie de vivre (joy of living), savoir-faire (practical knowledge), c’est la vie (that’s life), and bon appétit (enjoy your meal). Such phrases are often used to add a touch of sophistication or panache to conversation or writing.

How have French words influenced the English vocabulary?

French words have had a significant impact on the English vocabulary, enriching it with new meanings and expressions. The influence dates back to the Norman Conquest in 1066 when French became the language of the English court and administration. Over time, English borrowed many words from French, expanding its vocabulary and adding a sense of refinement to its usage.

What is the history behind French words being incorporated into English?

The incorporation of French words into English can be traced back to the Norman Conquest in 1066. This event marked the beginning of a close relationship between English and French, as French became the official language of England’s ruling class. This linguistic relationship persisted for centuries, leading to the widespread assimilation of French expressions, words, and phrases into English.