A French guy was chatting with an English girl. And she thought he
was really cute and his French accent was so sexy. But when he said: "You
have a beautiful corpse", she slapped him on the face. In French, a
corps is a body, not a dead body as an
False friends are words from different languages which meaning differ
although they look almost the same. There are hundreds or thousands of
false friends, or faux amis, between English and French
(Actually, the countries themselves are faux amis...) Here is a
short list, with strong English words and
underlined French words. You may add new lists for French or other
- actuellement vs actually: French people
will often use actually when they really mean at
the present time, because it's what actuellement means in
French. Actually may be translated in French with en
réalité. In a similar way, éventuellement means possibly,
while the French for eventually is
- when French people attendent, they are waiting for something,
and not attending a meeting.
- French armes are always weapons. The word for the part of the
body that extends from the shoulder to the hand (arms)
is bras, which is another faux ami...
- If an Englishman blesses you, you may go to heaven. If a Frenchman blesse, you may go to the hospital, because he has hurt you.
- a French car is an intercity bus. It's also a conjunction
which means because. The French for car is
- caractère vs character: a caractère
refers to the temperament or characteristics of a person or a thing, not a
movie character (who is a personnage).
- French collège students are much younger than American
college students since they're aged 11 to
15. American college corresponds approximately to
- a French is compréhensif when he understands people and forgives
their little mistakes; comprehensive is translated with
détaillé or exhaustif when it has not the same
- con is the commonest insult in French slang, it's not someone
who favors something as in pros and cons.
- décevoir a Frenchman is to disappoint him, while
deceiving an Englishman is to trick him
- a French décade normally lasts for ten days, while an English
decade lasts for ten years (décennie).
- dramatique vs dramatic: dramatique
refers to a tragic event, while dramatic is used for any
sensational event, good or bad.
- homme is a man, while his home is sa
- In France, you buy books in librairies and read them for free
in bibliothèques (publiques). In England, you buy books in
bookshops and read them for free in (public)
- A mail in France used to be an alley or a square planted with
trees. Nowadays, it is an equivalent of e-mail.
- A French phrase is a sentence, while an English
phrase is only un groupe de mots or une
expression. But a French sentence is either a judgment
pronounced by a judge, or a statement that says seemingly profound things
about the people or the world.
- a Frenchman who reste (stays) for a few days does not always
rest (se reposer).
- French people are surprised when they see for
sale in a shop, because sale means dirty and
fort (with a trailing t) means very.
- a square in France is a small square which
really has the shape of a square (and which is usually
planted with trees in the middle). In London, Trafalgar square is
anything but square. Apparently France borrowed the word
from English and never modified its original meaning while it acquired new
meanings in England. This may be due to the fact that it's less commonly
used than the generic French name of a square:
- If a French employer wants to hire you for a stage, you may
accept if you are looking for an internship, not if you are an
actor and want to play on the stage (scène).
- last but not least: if a Frenchman asks for les waters, he
doesn't want to drink water or to meet the family of a
pop star, but to go to the toilets (water-closet)!
Most of these false friends occur when one language borrows a
word from another language because it's interested in only one of the meanings
of this word. They may also result from random evolution of non-cognate
Nowadays English meanings tend to penetrate the French vocabulary
because of American influence. For example, it is not uncommon to hear
décade instead of décennie, or réaliser with the
meaning of realize. I have even heard dramatique
used for positive changes, i.e with the English meaning.
Thanks Albert Herring for telling me about the difference between bookshops and bookstores...