40 French And English Words That Would Throw You Off Unless You’re In The Know

by Sylviane Nuccio on February 28, 2014

in French Language

You might be surprised at the amount of words that spell exactly the same in French and English. How many? Try over 500.

Yep, that’s a lot of words that spell exactly or almost the same in both French and English, but here is the trick – many of those words don’t mean the same thing at all in French as they do in English.

Unfortunately, at times they are mixed up by English speakers who speaker or French speakers trying to speak the other language.

I’ve heard some of them make those mistakes at times, and when they did, it meant big confusion, or down right laughs on the part of the hearer.

Here are 40 of such trap words that could throw you off, so you’d better know their meaning, just in case you’d be tempted to use them in same context in French as you would in English. As you will see, some spell slightly differently and many spell exactly the same.

1) Introduce/Introduire

I’ve hear so many bilingual people making this fatal mistake trying to the use the French word “introduire” as in let me introduce myself.

Well, please, do not use the word “introduire” to talk about “introducing yourself” in French, as it means to get in or insert. Do you know how many times I’ve heard Americans speaking French saying “let me insert myself?” Ouch, if you are a man  saying this to a woman, do you see how embarrassing this could be?

If you want to say let’ me introduce myself in French you need to say “laissez-moi me presenter.” This is the correct way to say it.

2) Assume/Assume

To Assume in French is taking responsibility. In English is to guess or suppose. I assume you understand what I’m saying. In French you would use this word to say something like “he handles his responsibility – il assume ses responsabilites.

3) Affair/Affaire

While in English an affair is sleeping with someone that’s not your spouse, in French “une affaire” is an enterprise/business. Not to be mistaken. “Il a une affaire” means he owns a business.

4) Adventure/Aventure

While adventure in English means to go on an adventurous journey, in French it means to have an affair with a lover. “Il a eu une aventure.” He has an affair.

5) Excited/exciter

I’m excited to see you in English means I’m so happy to see you. However, I’m excited (exciter) in French mean I’m sexually aroused or restless. Not to be mixed up.

6) Route/Route

While route in English means more the course of traveling, in French it’s the translation for the word “road.” On the road would be “sur la route” in French.

7) Adept/Adept

While an adept in English is an expert, in French it’s a follower, a fan or an enthusiast.

8) Chat/Chat

Do you want to have a chat with me? Well, don’t say that in French as chat means cat in French. Nothing to do with having a discussion.

9) Coin/Coin

Coin in French means a corner, not money in the form of silver or other metal. I’ll be waiting for you at the corner/Je t’attendrais au coin.

10) Combine/Combine

As you know, to combine in English means to unite or put together, but in French it means a scheme or trick. “Ils ont combine une affaire” means they put up a scheme together.

11) Brave/Brave

Courageous in English, but the word means good in French. “C’est un brave homme” means he’s a good man.

12) Camera/Camera

Camera in French is referred only to a video or movie camera that is use for motion picture. The English camera is “appareil photo” in French

13) Film/Film

Film refers more to the negative of picture in English, but in French it refers to a movie. “Je vais voir un film” I’m going to see a movie.

14) Cave/Cave

In English cave is a natural underground enclosure while in French it’s a cellar known to usually preserve wine. Basically every house in France has a cave.

15) Fond/Fond

To be fond of, to like very much or to love in English, but it means the bottom of a recipient in French. At the bottom of the box. “Au fond de la boite.”

16) Formidable/Formidable

Formidable in English means fearsome or dreadful. In French it means great, fantastic, or wonderful.

17) Hazard/Hazard

While hazard means a danger in English, in means “by chance” in French. “Je l’ai rencontre par hazard.” I met her/him by chance.

18) Advertisement/Avertissement

Do not assume that this very similar looking word is the same in English and French, because they’re very different, indeed. Advertisement is publicity in English, while avertissement means caution or warning in French.

19) Balance/Balance

Une balance is a scale to measure weight in French while it means a state of stability in English.

20) Bond/Bond

While in English this word means something that fasten or unite, in French it’s a leap or a jump. “J’ai fais un bond” can also means “I jumped out of fear.”

21) Comment/Comment

As we all now a comment in English is a statement either in written or verbal form, while in French it’s the translation of the word “how.” Comment allez-vous? How are you doing?

22) Con/Con

While a con in English is a dishonest person/a swindler, in French it’s a bad word for “idiot.” Very common bad word in France.

23) Crane/Crane

A construction machine for lifting in English, and the skull of your head in French.

24) Figure/Figure

Which has to do with numbers or the shape of the body in English, but it means your face in French. “Elle a la figure rouge.” Her face is red.

25) Main/Main

Main means principal in English, but it’s the word for hand in French.

26) Match/Match

A match to give you fire or two people who go well together in English, but in French is the translation of the word “game” in sport. “Un match de football” is a soccer game.

27) Sale/Sale

Not what you would think. In French it means dirty. “Mes mains sont sales.” My hands are dirty.

28) Special/Special

In English someone special means someone dear, but in French someone special means someone strange.

29) Son/Son

Son in French is the pronoun “his” and “hers”

30) Allure/Allure

Means to tempt or entice in English and means speed in French. “Il va a toute allure” means he’s speeding, he’s going very fast.

31) Assistance/Assistance

While it means help and aid in English it means audience in French. “Il y a plus de femmes que d’hommes dans l’assistance.” There’re more women than men in the audience.

32) Journey/Journee

An adventure, a voyage in English, but the course of a day in French. “Nous avons passes un bonne journee.” We had a good day.

33) Caution/Caution

A warning to be careful in English, but a bail or security deposit in French.

34) Cent/Cent

A penny in English, but the number on hundred in French. “Il y a cent ans.” One hundred years ago.

35) Chair/Chair

The object where you sit on, in English, but it means flesh in France. “La chair et les os.” Flesh and bones.

36) Chance/Chance

Something that happens unpredictably or even taking risks in English, but it mean luck in French. “J’ai de la chance.” I’m luckly.

37) Language/Langage

Human speech in English, but in French it means “a mode of expression” rather outside of speech. Speech in French as the English term “language” is “langue.” In French you wouldn’t say, “quelle langage parlez-vous,” but “quelle langue parlez-vous.” What language do you speak?

38) Lecture/Lecture

A speech in English, but refers to reading in French.

39) Librairy/Librairie

Librairie in French is a book store. What is library in English is a bibliotheque in French

40) Location/Location

In French location refers to something that is available for rent, such as a house or a car. Nothing to do with the English meaning.

That’s it…

Ok, I thing that’s all for now. Believe it or not I could have add many more, but I think that a good start, don’t you think?

You turn now! Do you know other such words? If not, what do you think?

 photo Signature_zpsf484c136.png
Banner photo 468x60_zps9de5648e.jpg

About Sylviane

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 donna merrill February 28, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Hi Sylviane,

Wow…that’s amazing. Look at all those similarities! Makes me feel more confident knowing this. I don’t speak French, but my daughter does a little. Now I have some words to understand better.

I love this blog!

-Donna

Reply

2 Sylviane Nuccio March 1, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Hi Donna,

I’m glad you came, and hope you had fun with those words.

Thanks so much for coming as always!

Reply

3 Adrienne March 3, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Boy did I learn something new today Sylviane! I would have had no idea that some of these words didn’t have the same meaning.

Now I use to date someone years ago that was actually from South Africa and I learned from hanging around him that some of the things he would ask for in a store did NOT have the same meaning here in the US.

The one that sticks in my mind and still cracks me up today was a rubber. Now if you were to go into a store like Walgreens and ask for a rubber most people would think that he wanted a condom. It’s so funny because what it means in his native country is an eraser. He use to get so frustrated when he first came here and I don’t blame him.

It was through him though that I learned that not all words have the same meaning everywhere. I just wouldn’t have a clue of course.

Thanks for sharing these with us.

~Adrienne

Reply

4 Sylviane Nuccio March 4, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Hi Adrienne,

Yes, even in the SAME language words will mean something different depending on the country and at times even region where the word is used, so I tell ya, some words can really throw us off. I guess that’s the beauty of languages.

Just came back to the computer since yesterday morning and still not well. This is surely a bad one I’ve gotten :)

Reply

5 Jon Rhodes March 4, 2014 at 8:49 am

Never knew there were so many words the same Sylviane.

How about the word “cafe”? In France is means a place where you can buy fine coffees and delicate pastries. In England it means a place you can buy egg and chips! lol

Reply

6 Sylviane Nuccio March 4, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Hi Jon,

Thanks for this addition. I know there are plenty more of such words, but I couldn’t put them all here on that one post.

Yes, cafe in France is a place where you sit down and have a drink, including cafe (coffee) and also the word for coffee.

Thanks for coming by, really appreciate it.

Reply

7 James March 4, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Hi Sylvianne,

Thanks for the helpful tutorial, you never knew how much this means to me.

As a Nigerian, I might travel to France and say the wrong word!!

Do have a nice day.

Reply

8 Sylviane Nuccio March 4, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Hi James,

I’m glad you enjoyed this and thank you for coming to this blog.

Reply

9 David Leonhardt March 4, 2014 at 3:54 pm

My favourite is remark/remarque. I knew a francophone who was always “remarking” things around him. It was quite amusing.

Reply

10 Sylviane Nuccio March 24, 2014 at 11:28 am

Yes, that’s another funny one, isn’t it? That’s why you’d better know what you’re talking about when using very similar or same words in two different languages.

Sorry for being so late in replying to this comment, David. Been sick and lots of thing happening on my end.

have a wonderful week!

Reply

11 Sherman Smith March 5, 2014 at 1:33 am

Bonjour mon amie,

Comment allez-vous?

and that’s all I remember from French 101 LOL.. I remember those days… back in college I was trying to learn French and Spanish which can also go over your head. But yes, it’s good to know more than one language, but it’s better to know how to speak it correctly, especially since a lot of the words look just about the same but mean something different. I guess they would be homonyms. Thanks for share! Au revoir et bon soir!

Reply

12 Sylviane Nuccio March 24, 2014 at 11:31 am

Hi Sherman,

Sorry for being so late in replying to your comment here. Please, don’t believe that’s because I don’t appreciate it, because I do. Just so much stuff happening lately.

The danger here is for someone who thinks they know the language enough and would make those mistakes because they really don’t. Your French here is correct.

Thank you for coming and have a wonderful week ahead!

Reply

13 Catharine Cellier-Smart March 5, 2014 at 11:41 am

Great list!
I would also add return/retourner.

Reply

14 Sylviane Nuccio March 24, 2014 at 11:34 am

Hi Catharine and thank for coming by my blog.

Yes, those two words would also have a different meaning in some cases, such as “I’m returning this dress, because it doesn’t fit.” In French you wouldn’t use the word “returning” (retourrner) but rather the word (rendre) which is “giving back.”

Thanks for your feedback and sorry for the late reply.

Reply

15 Desiree Ricks March 7, 2014 at 4:27 am

WOW!, Thanks for this. It’s great. Some words are the same.

Reply

16 Vivek Jain March 14, 2014 at 5:33 pm

It’s a quite sensational information for me.
It made my all day!
I love to speak French as well as English, so in this way, this info means a lot for me!
Thanks for sharing these words!
Have a good week ahead :)

Reply

17 Robert April 30, 2014 at 8:35 am

So much interesting, I did’t know French and english words can simulate that much, thank you very much.

Reply

18 Paddy July 23, 2014 at 4:51 pm

I thought Combine/Combine was a good one :)

Reply

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge
This blog uses premium CommentLuv which allows you to put your keywords with your name if you have had [2] approved comments. Use your real name and then @ your keywords (maximum of [4])

Previous post:

Next post: