List of French words and phrases used by English speakers

List of French words and phrases used by English speakers

Here are some examples of French words and phrases used by English speakers.

English contains many words of French origin, such as art, collage, competition, force, machine, police, publicity, role, routine, table, and many other Anglicized French words. These are pronounced according to English rules of phonology, rather than French. Around 28% of English vocabulary is of French or Oïl language origin, most derived from, or transmitted by, the Anglo-Norman spoken by the upper classes in England for several hundred years after the Norman Conquest, before the language settled into what became Modern English.

This article, however, covers words and phrases that generally entered the lexicon later, as through literature, the arts, diplomacy, and other cultural exchanges not involving conquests. As such, they have not lost their character as Gallicisms, or words that seem unmistakably foreign and "French" to an English speaker.

The phrases are given as used in English, and may seem correct modern French to English speakers, but may not be recognized as such by French speakers as many of them are now defunct or have a different meaning due to semantic evolution. A general rule is that if the word or phrase retains French diacritics or is usually printed in italics, it has retained its French identity.

Few of these phrases are common knowledge to all English speakers, and for some English speakers most are rarely if ever used in daily conversation, but for other English speakers many of them are a routine part of both their conversational and their written vocabulary. They may however possibly be used more often in written than in spoken English.



Not used as such in FrenchFound only in EnglishFrench phrases in international air-sea rescueSee alsoReferences

Used in English and French


à gogo
in abundance. In French this is colloquial.
à la […]
in the manner of/in the style of […]
à la carte
literally: on the menu; In restaurants it refers to ordering individual dishes rather than a fixed-price meal.
à la mode
idiomatic: in the style; In the United States, the phrase is used to describe a dessert with an accompanying scoop of ice cream (example: apple pie à la mode). However, in French, it is a culinary term usually meaning cooked with ale and some carrots and onions (example: boeuf à la mode).
à propos
regarding/concerning (note that the correct French syntax is à propos de)
confinement during childbirth; the process of having a baby; only this latter meaning remains in French
acquis communautaire
used in European Union law to refer to the total body of EU law accumulated thus far.
farewell; literally means "to God," it carries more weight than "au revoir" ("goodbye," literally "Until re-seeing"). It is definitive, implying you will never see the other person again. Depending on the context, misuse of this term can be considered as an insult, as one may wish for the other person's death or say that you do not wish to see the other person ever again while alive. It is used for "au revoir" in south of France[1] and to denote a deprivation from someone or something.
dexterous, skillful, clever, in French: habile, as a "right-handed" person would be using his "right" hand, as opposed to his left one with which he would be "gauche" meaning "clumsy."
"memory aid"; an object or memorandum to assist in remembrance, or a diplomatic paper proposing the major points of discussion
"go!" or "come on!" as a command or as encouragment
"Here we go!" often used when trying something new. Especially popular in television shows such as Doctor Who
amuse-bouche or amuse-gueule
a single, bite-sized hors d'œuvre. Literally "mouth amuser". In France, the exact expression used is "amuse-gueule", gueule being slang for mouth (gueule is the mouth of a carnivorous animal; when used to describe the mouth of a human, it is vulgar), although the expression in itself is not vulgar (see also: cul-de-sac).
ancien régime
a sociopolitical or other system that no longer exists, an allusion to pre-revolutionary France (used with capital letters in French with this meaning: Ancien Régime)
preview; a first impression; initial insight.
a before-meal drink (in colloquial French, it is shortened as "apéro"). In French, it means either the drink or food (amuse-gueules) taken before a meal.
appellation contrôlée
supervised use of a name. For the conventional use of the term, see Appellation d'origine contrôlée
après nous, le déluge
literally: After us, the deluge, a remark attributed to Louis XV of France in reference to the impending end of a functioning French monarchy and predicting the French Revolution. The Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron, famously known as the "Dambusters," uses this as its motto. The chorus of Regina Spektor's song Après Moi also references this phrase.
a narrow ridge. In French, also fishbone; edge of a polyhedron or graph; bridge of the nose.
a type of cabinet; wardrobe.
art nouveau
a style of decoration and architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It takes a capital in French (Art nouveau).
a person attached to an embassy; in French it is also the past participle of the verb attacher (= to fasten, to tighten, to be linked)

Attaque au Fer
An attack on the opponent's blade in fencing, e.g. beat, expulsion, pressure.
au contraire
on the contrary.
au courant
up-to-date; abreast of current affairs.
au fait
being conversant in or with, or instructed in or with.
au jus
literally, with juice, referring to a food course served with sauce. Often redundantly formulated, as in 'Open-faced steak sandwich, served with au jus.'. No longer used in French, except for the slang "être au jus" (to be informed).
au pair
a young foreigner who does domestic chores in exchange for room and board. In France, those chores are mainly child care/education.
au revoir!
"See you later!" In French a contraction of Au plaisir de vous revoir (to the pleasure of seeing you again).
avant-garde (pl. avant-gardes)
applied to cutting-edge or radically innovative movements in art, music and literature; figuratively "on the edge," literally, a military term, meaning "vanguard" (which is a corruption of avant-garde) or "advance guard," in other words, "first to attack" (antonym of arrière-garde).
avant la lettre
used to describe something or someone seen as a forerunner of something (such as an artistic or political movement) before that something was recognized and named, e.g., "a post-modernist avant la lettre," "a feminist avant la lettre." The expression literally means before the letter, i.e., "before it had a name."
avec plaisir
my pleasure (lit. "with pleasure")
used in Middle English, avoir de pois = commodities sold by weight, alteration of Old French aveir de peis = goods of weight


a classical type of dance
beau geste
literally "beautiful gesture", a gracious gesture, noble in form but often futile or meaningless in substance
monumental architectural style of the early 20th century made famous by the Académie des Beaux-Arts
plenty, lots of, much; merci beaucoup: thanks a lot; misused in slang, for example "beaucoup money" (French would add the preposition de: "beaucoup d'argent"), especially in New Orleans, LA. Occasionally corrupted to Bookoo, typically in the context of French influenced by Vietnamese culture.
bel esprit (pl. beaux esprits)
literally "fine mind"; a cultivated, highly intelligent person
a beautiful woman or girl. Common uses of this word are in the phrases the belle of the ball (the most beautiful woman or girl present at a function) and southern belle (a beautiful woman from the southern states of the US)
Belle Époque
a period in European social history that began during the late 19th century and lasted until World War I.
literally "fine letters"; literature regarded for its aesthetic value rather than its didactic or informative content; also, light, stylish writings, usually on literary or intellectual subjects
bien fait!
literally "well done"; used to express schadenfreude when someone is well-deservedly punished
bien pensant
literally "well thinking"; right thinking, orthodox. Commonly implies willful blindness to dangers or suffering faced by others. The noun form bien-pensance is rarely seen in English.
unimpressed with something because of overfamiliarity, jaded.
Bleu celeste
literally "sky blue," is a rarely-occurring tincture in heraldry (not being one of the seven main colours or metals or the three "staynard colours").
bon appétit
literally "good appetite"; enjoy your meal
bon mot
well-chosen word(s), particularly a witty remark
bon vivant
one who enjoys the good life, an epicurean
bon voyage
literally "good journey"; have a good trip!
"good day," a standard greeting in the morning or afternoon
bonne chance
"good luck" (as in, 'I wish you good luck')
les boules
(vulgar) literally "the balls"; meaning that whatever you are talking about is dreadful
member of the bourgeoisie. The word used to refer to shopkeepers living in towns in the Middle Ages. Now the term is derogatory, and it applies to a person whose beliefs, attitudes, and practices are conventionally middle-class.
a handful of flowers.
small ornamental objects, less valuable than antiques; a collection of old furniture, china, plates and curiosities. Cf. de bric et de broc, corresponding to our "by hook or by crook," and brack, refuse.
a sweet yeast bun, kind of a crossover between a popover and a light muffin; French also use the term as slang for 'potbelly', because of the overhang effect.
a brown-haired girl. For brown-haired man, French uses brun and for a woman brune. "Brunette" is rarely used in French, unless in old literature, and its masculine form, "brunet" (for a boy), is almost unheard of.
bureau (pl. bureaux)
office. Also means "desk" in French.


ça ne fait rien
"that doesn't matter"; rendered as san fairy Ann in British World War I slang.[2]
a collection of items of the same type stored in a hidden or inaccessible place (such as in an oubliette)
lit. "stamp"; a distinctive quality; quality, prestige.
a coffee shop (also used in French for "coffee").
café au lait
coffee with milk; or a light-brown color. In medicine, it is also used to describe a birthmark that is of a light-brown color (café au lait spot).
a copied term/thing.
(1) unfounded rumor or anecdote. (2) a leading airfoil attached to an aircraft forward of the main wing. ('canard' means 'duck' in French)
carte blanche
unlimited authority; literally "white card" (i.e. blank check).
carte de visite
a calling card, literally "visiting card."
carte d'identité
identity card. Its proper, but less commonly used administrative appellation, is "carte nationale d'identité" (national identity card), abbreviated as CNI.
c'est bon
"That's good."
c'est la guerre!
"That's War!"; or "Such is war!" Often used with the meaning that "this means war," but it can be sometimes used as an expression to say that war (or life in general) is harsh but that one must accept it.
c'est la mode. 
"That's the fashion."
c'est la vie!
"That's life!"; or "Such is life!" or "It is what it is!" It is sometimes used as an expression to say that life is harsh but that one must accept it.
c'est magnifique!
"That's great!"; literally it's magnificent.
c’est tout
that is everything, "That's all." See also un point c’est tout.
chacun ses goûts / à chacun ses goûts / à chacun son goût [all are used]
"to each his (their) own taste(s)" or "each to his own taste." Note that the expression chacun à son goût is incorrect.
chaise longue
a long chair for reclining; (also rendered chaise lounge or chase lounge by folk etymology).
literally "Elysian Fields"; Avenue des Champs-Élysées, one of the broadest boulevards in Paris. Often referred as simply "les Champs."
a female singer
a hat. In French, chapeau is also an expression of congratulations similar to the English "hats off to…."
chargé d'affaires
a diplomat left in charge of day to day business at a diplomatic mission. Within the United States Department of State a chargé is any officer left in charge of the mission in the absence of the titular chief of mission.
a person who is a fraud, a fake, a hoaxer, a deceiver, a con artist.
châteaux en Espagne
literally "castles in Spain"; imaginary projects, with little hope of realisation (means the same as "castles in the air" or "pie in the sky"). No known etymology, though it was already used in the 13th century in the Roman de la rose.
chef d'œuvre
a masterpiece
cherchez la femme
"look for the woman," in the sense that, when a man behaves out of character or in an otherwise apparently inexplicable manner, the reason may be found in his trying to cover up an illicit affair with a woman, or to impress or gain favour with a woman. First used by Alexandre Dumas (père) in the third chapter of his novel Les Mohicans de Paris (1854).
chevalier d'industrie
"knight of industry": one who lives by his wits, specially by swindling.
at the house of: often used in the names of restaurants and the like; Chez Marie = "Marie's"
a hairstyle worn in a roll at the nape of the neck
cinéma pur
an avant-garde film movement which was born in Paris in the 1920s and 30s.
cinéma vérité
realism in documentary filmmaking
cinq, cinque
five; normally referring to the 5 on dice or cards. In French, always spelt cinq.
lit. negative; trite through overuse; a stereotype
a small exclusive group of friends; always used in a pejorative way in French.
a commanding officer. In France, used for an airline pilot (le commandant de bord), in the Army as appellative for a chef de bataillon or a chef d'escadron (roughly equivalent to a major) or in the Navy for any officer from capitaine de corvette to capitaine de vaisseau (equivalent to the Army's majors, lieutenant-colonels and colonels) or for any officer heading a ship.
comme ci, comme ça
"like this, like that"; so-so, neither good nor bad. In French, usu. couci-couça.
comme il faut
"as it must be": in accord with conventions or accepted standards; proper.
lit. communicated; an official communication.
a receptionist at a hotel or residence.
an agreement; a treaty; when used with a capital C in French, it refers to the treaty between the French State and Judaeo-Christian religions during the French Empire (Napoleon): priests, ministers and rabbis became civil servants. This treaty was abolished in 1905 (law Church-State separation) but is still in use in Alsace-Lorraine (those territories were under German administration during 1871–1918)
a colleague, esp. in the medical and law professions.
a departure; in French refers to time off work
a short story, a tale; in French a conte has usually a fantasy context (such as in fairytales) and always begins with the words "Il était une fois" ("Once upon a time").
against the blow
against daylight
an awkward clash; a delay
a flirtatious girl; a tease
cordon sanitaire
a policy of containment directed against a hostile entity or ideology; a chain of buffer states; lit. "quarantine line"
a funeral procession; in French has a broader meaning and refers to all kinds of processions.
forced labor for minimal or no pay. In French, overall an unpleasant/tedious task.
cotte d'armes
coat of arms.
coup de foudre
lit. thunderbolt ("strike of thunder"); a sudden unforeseen event, usually used to describe love at first sight.
coup de grâce
the final blow that results in victory (literally "blow of mercy"), historically used in the context of the battlefield to refer to the killing of badly wounded enemy soldiers, now more often used in a figurative context (e.g., business). Frequently pronounced without the final "s" sound by English speakers who believe that any such sound at the end of a French word is supposed to be silent.[citation needed] In French this would sound like coup de gras, or "blow of fat."
coup de maître
stroke of the master, master stroke
coup d'œil
a glance, literally "a blow (or touch) of the eye."
coup de théâtre
unexpected dramatic turn of events, a plot twist
fashion (usually refers to high fashion)
a fashion designer (usually refers to high fashion, rather than everyday clothes design)
a nativity display; more commonly (in the United Kingdom), a place where children are left by their parents for short periods in the supervision of childminders; both meanings still exist in French
crème brûlée
a dessert consisting primarily of custard and toasted sugar, that is, caramel; literally "burnt cream"
crème de la crème
best of the best, "cream of the cream," used to describe highly skilled people or objects. A synonymous expression in French is « fin du fin ».
crème fraîche
literally "fresh cream," a heavy cream slightly soured with bacterial culture, but not as sour or as thick as sour cream and does not curdle.
a thin sweet or savoury pancake eaten as a light meal or dessert
a takeaway restaurant or stall, serving crêpes as a form of fast food or street food, or may be a more formal sit-down restaurant or café
cri d'amour
a "cry of love"
a critical analysis or evaluation of a work, or the art of criticizing.
a crescent-shaped bread made of flaky pastry
cuisine minceur
gourmet cooking for staying thin
a dead-end street; literally "arse [buttocks] of the bag". Even though "cul" is vulgar in French, this expression in itself is not (see also amuse-gueule). Equivalent terms "impasse" or "voie sans issue" are also used in French.


in accord; agreed; sure; OK; of course
an event or enterprise that ends suddenly and disastrously, often with humiliating consequences.  
de nouveau
again; anew. Cf. de novo
de règle
according to custom;
de rigueur
required or expected, especially in fashion or etiquette
de trop
excessive, "too much"
of inferior social status
a woman's garment with a low-cut neckline that exposes cleavage, or a situation in which a woman's chest or cleavage is exposed; décolletage is dealt with below.
the layout and furnishing of a room
decoration with cut paper
a deposit (as in geology or banking), a storehouse, or a transportation hub (bus depot)
a reduced wine-based sauce for meats and poultry
semi-dry, usually said of wine
déjà vu
"already seen": an impression or illusion of having seen or experienced something before.
the end result
a bicycle gear-shift mechanism
dernier cri
the latest fashion; literally "latest scream"
rear; buttocks; literally "behind"
partially clad or scantily dressed; also a special type of garment.
easing of diplomatic tension
witchcraft, devilry, or, more figuratively, "wickedness"
Dieu et mon droit
motto of the British Monarchy. It appears on a scroll beneath the shield of the coat of arms of the United Kingdom.
directeur sportif
lit. sports director. A person responsible for the operation of a cycling team during a road bicycle race. In French, it means any kind of sports director.
an amusing diversion; entertainment
a file containing detailed information about a person; it has a much wider meaning in modern French, as any type of file, or even a computer directory
douceur de vivre
"sweetness of life"
the senior member of a group; the feminine is doyenne
a form of competitive horse training, in French has the broader meaning of taming any kind of animal
droit du seigneur
"right of the lord": the purported right of a lord in feudal times to take the virginity of one of his vassals' brides on her wedding night (in precedence to her new husband). The actual French term for this hypothetical custom is droit de cuissage (from cuisse 'thigh').
du jour
said of something fashionable or hip for a day and quickly forgotten; today's choice on the menu, as soup du jour, literally "of the day"


eau de vie
En plein air
eau de Cologne
a type of perfume, originating in Cologne, Germany. Its Italian creator used a French name to commercialize it, Cologne at that time being under the control of France.
eau de toilette
literally "grooming water." It usually refers to a aromatic product that is less expensive than a perfume because it has less of the aromatic compounds and is more for an everyday use. Can not be shortened as eau, which means something else altogether in French (water).
eau de vie
literally "water of life" (cf Aquavit and whisky), a type of fruit brandy.
a card game; also a ballet position
dance movement foot position
a cream and chocolate icing pastry
Great brilliance, as of performance or achievement. Conspicuous success. Great acclamation or applause
flayed; biological graphic or model with skin removed
a distinctive flair or style
élan vital
literally "vital ardor"; the vital force hypothesized by Henri Bergson as a source of efficient causation and evolution in nature; also called "life-force"
éminence grise
"grey eminence": a publicity-shy person with little formal power but great influence over those in authority
en banc
court hearing of the entire group of judges instead of a subset panel
en bloc
as a group
en escalier
going up like stairs; the English tends to be used of text.
en famille
expression used in French to express an action done with one's family: "Tonight we are dining en famille."
en garde
"[be] on [your] guard," used in fencing, and sometimes mistranscribed as "on guard."
en grande tenue
is used in invertebrate paleontology (of Agnostida, an order of Trilobites), to designate an exoskeleton with well marked features. By opposition, some Agnostida have quite an smooth exoskeleton, with no well marked features.
en passant
in passing; term used in chess.
en plein air
literally "in the open air," and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors.
en pointe
(in ballet) on tiptoe. Though used in French in this same context, it is not an expression as such. A "pointe" is the ballet figure where one stands on tiptoes. The expression "en pointe," though, means "in an acute angle," and, figuratively, it qualifies the most progressive or modern things (ideas, industry…).
en principe, oui
"in principle, yes": a diplomatic way of saying 'no'
en route
on the way
(je suis) enchanté(e)
"(I am) enchanted (to meet you)": a formal greeting on receiving an introduction. Often shortened to simply "enchanté."
enfant terrible
a disruptively unconventional person, a "terrible child."
diplomatic agreement or cooperation. L'Entente cordiale (the Cordial Entente) refers to the good diplomatic relationship between France and United Kingdom before the first World War.
entre nous
confidentially; literally "between us"
literally "entrance"; the first course of a meal (UK English); used to denote the main dish or course of a meal (US English).
desserts/sweet dishes. More literally, a side dish that can be served between the courses of a meal.
a person who undertakes and operates a new enterprise or venture and assumes some accountability for the inherent risks
a plump, hourglass figure.
writing desk; spelled "écritoire" in current French
esprit de corps
"spirit of the body [group]": a feeling of solidarity among members of a group; morale. Often used in connection with a military force.
esprit de l'escalier
"wit of the stairs": a concise, clever statement you don't think of until too late, e.g. on the stairs leaving the scene. The expression was created by French philosopher Denis Diderot. Very rarely used in French.
l'État, c'est moi!
"I am the state!" — attributed to the archetypal absolute monarch, Louis XIV of France
a musical composition designed to provide practice in a particular technical skill in the performance of an instrument. French for "study."
small ornamental case for needles or cosmetics
excuse me; can be used sarcastically (depends on the tone)
excusez le mot!
excuse the word!; if a certain word has negative connotations (for example, a word-joke at a time of grief)
extraordinary, usually as a following adjective, as "musician extraordinaire"
et toi?
and you? (Je m'appelle (your name), Et toi?)(my name is (your name) and yours?)


the front view of an edifice (from the Italian facciata, or face); a fake persona, as in "putting on a façade" (the ç is pronounced like an s)
fait accompli
lit. accomplished fact; something that has already happened and is thus unlikely to be reversed, a done deal. In French used only in the expression "placer/mettre quelqu'un devant le fait accompli" meaning to present somebody with a fait accompli.
faute de mieux
for want of better
false, ersatz, fake.
faux amis
"false friends": words in two different languages that have the same or similar spelling, and often the same etymology but different meanings, such as the French verb rester, which means "to stay" rather than "to rest"
faux pas
"false step": violation of accepted, although unwritten, social rules
femme fatale
"deadly woman": an attractive woman who seduces and takes advantage of men for her personal goals, after which she discards or abandons them. It extends to describe an attractive woman with whom a relationship is likely to result, or has already resulted, in pain and sorrow.
"little leaf of paper": a periodical, or part of a periodical, consisting chiefly of non-political news and gossip, literature and art criticism, a chronicle of the latest fashions, and epigrams, charades and other literary trifles.
betrothed; lit. a man/woman engaged to be married.
fier de l'être
proud of being; "French, and proud to be so"
film noir
a genre of dark-themed movies from the 1940s and 1950s that focus on stories of crime and immorality
used after a man's surname to distinguish a son from a father, as George Bush fils (in French, "fils" = son)
fin de saison
"end of season": marks the end of an extended (annual) period during which business increases significantly, most commonly used for the end of summer tourism
a cooking procedure in which alcohol (ethanol) is added to a hot pan to create a burst of flames, meaning "flamed" in French. Also used colloquially in reference to something on fire or burned.
a lit torch
a gentleman stroller of city streets; an aimless idler
a stylized-flower heraldic device; the golden fleur-de-lis on an azure background were the arms of the French Kingdom (often spelled with the old French style as "fleur-de-lys")
fleur de sel
literally "flower of salt," hand-harvested sea salt collected by workers who scrape only the top layer of salt before it sinks to the bottom of large salt pans. Is one of the more expensive salts; the most prized is harvested during the Mistral winds that blow over the lavender fields and infuse the salt beds with a mild lavender scent.
foie gras
fatty liver; usually the liver of overfed goose, hence: pâté de foie gras, pâté made from goose liver. However, "foie gras" generally stands for "pâté de foie gras" as it is the most common way to use it.
folie à deux
a simultaneous occurrence of delusions in two closely related people, often said of an unsuitable romance. In clinical psychology, the term is used to describe people who share schizophrenic delusions. The derivated forms folie à trois, folie à quatre, folie en famille or even folie à plusieurs do not exist in French where "collective hysterics" is used.
force majeure
an overpowering and unforeseeable event, especially when talking about weather (often appears in insurance contracts)
forme fruste
an atypical or attenuated manifestation of a disease or syndrome. Its opposite is "forme pleine."
coldness (for behavior and manners only)


literally "boy" or "male servant"; sometimes used by English speakers to summon the attention of a male waiter (has a playful connotation in English but is condescending and possibly offensive in French)
garde manger
literally "keeper of the food" or pantry supervisor, refers to the task of preparing and presenting cold foods.
tactless, does not mean "left-handed" (which translates in French as "gaucher"), but does mean "left"
Gautier et Garguille
all the world and his wife (possibly derived from a 17th century French comic Hugues Guérin, who performed under the stage name Gautier-Garguille, though it is likely that he in turn may have taken this pseudonym from earlier 16th century recorded sayings: prendre Gautier pour Garguille: "to take Gautier for Garguille," that is to mistake one person for another. Il n'y a ni Gautier, ni Garguille: "he is neither Gaultier nor Garguille," that is, 'he is no-one')
member of a gendarmerie which is an arm of the military; the word is often incorrectly used in English to refer to any French policeman [which is civilian]. Note - the picture titled Gendarmes in fact shows Republican Guards.
a type or class, such as "the thriller genre"
slide down a slope
les goûts et les couleurs ne se discutent pas
"tastes and colours are not argued over"; one does not argue over differences in taste, to each his own. French People usually shorten the sentence, to "les goûts et les couleurs…"
grâce à
"thanks to," "by the grace of," naming credit or fortune
Grand Prix
a type of motor racing, literally "Great Prize"
grand projet
literally "large project"; usually a government funded large scale civil engineering or technology project executed for prestige or general social benefit, and not immediately (if ever) profitable
Grand Guignol
a horror show, named after a French theater famous for its frightening plays and bloody special effects. (Guignol can be used in French to describe a ridiculous person, in the same way that clown might be used in English.)
a specialized soldier, first established for the throwing of grenades and later as elite troops


one who regularly frequents a place
haute couture
"high sewing": Paris-based custom-fitted clothing; trend-setting fashion
haute cuisine
upscale gastronomy; literally "high cooking."
haute école
advanced horsemanship; literally "high school"
arrogance; lit. height
haut monde
fashionable society, the "high world"
homme du monde
cultured, sophisticated man, "man of the world"
Honi soit qui mal y pense.
"Shamed be he who thinks ill of it"; or sometimes translated as Evil be to him who evil thinks; the motto of the English Order of the Garter (modern French writes honni instead of Old French honi)
hors concours
"out of the running"; a non-competitor, e.g. in love
hors de combat
out of the fight: prevented from fighting, usually by injury
hors d'œuvre
"outside the [main] work": appetizer
"closed door": an enclosed space such as a room or cell, where action or speech can not be seen or heard from outside; title of a play by Jean-Paul Sartre


idée fixe
"fixed idea": obsession; in music, a leitmotiv.
a deadlock.
a nonchalant man/woman
an innocent young man/woman, used particularly in reference to a theatrical stock character who is entirely virginal and wholesome. L'Ingénu is a famous novella written by Voltaire.


"I accuse"; used generally in reference to a political or social indictment (alluding to the title of Émile Zola’s exposé of the Dreyfus affair, a political scandal that divided France from the 1890s to the early 1900s and involved the false conviction for treason in 1894 of a young French artillery officer of Jewish background).
j'adore & je t'adore
literally, I adore [you]. I love [you] to the full extent.
In chess, an expression, said discreetly, that signals the intention to straighten the pieces without committing to move or capturing the first one touched as per the game's rules; literally, "I adjust," from adouber, to dub (the action of knighting someone).
I arrive.
Jacques Bonhomme
a name given to a French peasant as tamely submissive to taxation. Also the pseudonym of the 14th century peasant leader Guillaume Caillet
je m'appelle
my name is…
je m'en fous
"I don't give a damn/a fuck."
je ne regrette rien
"I regret nothing" (from the title of a popular song sung by Édith Piaf: "Non, je ne regrette rien"). Also the phrase the UK's then Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont chose to use to describe his feelings over the events of September 16, 1992 ('Black Wednesday')
je ne sais pas
"I don't know"; collapses to chais pas ʃɛpa in modern colloquial speech
je ne sais quoi
"I-don't-know-what": an indescribable or indefinable 'something' that distinguishes the object in question from others that are superficially similar.
je t'aime
I love you. Implies "I like you" too. The French word "aimer" implies all the different kinds of love (love = like). To differentiate the two, one would say simply "je t'aime" to one's love whereas one would say "je t'aime bien" (lit. I love you well) to a friend.
jeu d'esprit
"play of spirit"; a witty, often light-hearted, comment or composition
jeunesse dorée
"gilded youth"; name given to a body of young dandies who, after the fall of Robespierre, strove to bring about a counterrevolution. Today used for any offspring living an affluent lifestyle.
joie de vivre
"joy of life/living"


separation of the State and the different Churches (at first, it concerned especially Catholicism). In France, where the concept originated, it means an absence of religious interference in government affairs and government interference in religious affairs. But the concept is often assimilated and changed by other countries. For example, in Belgium, it usually means the secular-humanist movement and school of thought.
"let do"; often used within the context of economic policy or political philosophy, meaning leaving alone, or non-interference. The phrase is the shortcut of Laissez faire, laissez passer, a doctrine first supported by the Physiocrats in the 18th century. The motto was invented by Vincent de Gournay, and it became popular among supporters of free-trade and economic liberalism. It is also used to describe a parental style in developmental psychology, where the parent(s) does not apply rules or guiding.
a travel document, a passport
laissez les bons temps rouler
Cajun expression for "let the good times roll": not used in proper French, and not generally understood by Francophones outside of Louisiana, who would say "profitez des bons moments" (enjoy the good moments)
a type of fabric woven or knit with metallic yarns
lanterne rouge
the last-place finisher in a cycling stage race; most commonly used in connection with the Tour de France
a set of clothing and accessories for a new baby
lèse majesté
an offense against a sovereign power; or, an attack against someone's dignity or against a custom or institution held sacred (from the Latin "crimen laesae maiestatis": the crime of injured majesty)
a close relationship or connection; an affair. The French meaning is broader; "liaison" also means bond such as in "une liaison chimique" (a chemical bond)
Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité
"Liberty, Equality/Egality, Brotherhood" (motto of the French Republic)
an intellectual (can be pejorative in French, meaning someone who writes a lot but does not have a particular skill)
of questionable taste;
Louis Quatorze
"Louis XIV" (of France), the Sun King, usually a reference to décor or furniture design. Also the namesake of the winner of the 1996 Preakness.
Louis Quinze
"Louis XV" (of France), associated with the rococo style of furniture, architecture and interior decoration


Mange tout
coarse lace work made with knotted cords
young unmarried lady, miss; literally "my noble young lady"
mais oui
"but of course!." This is often used as a sarcastic reply in French, in order to close a debate by feigning agreement.
mal de mer
motion sickness, literally "seasickness"
a general sense of depression or unease
mange tout
another phrase describing 'peas' (litt: "Eat-all," because some peas can be cooked and eaten with their pod.)
unfulfilled; failed
Mardi gras
Fat Tuesday, the last day of eating meat before Lent. Note that gras is not capitalised.
a model or brand
supplies and equipment, particularly in a military context (French meaning is broader and corresponds more to "hardware")
mauvais quart d'heure
"bad quarter hour": a short unpleasant or uncomfortable moment
a mixture
a confused fight; a struggling crowd
ménage à trois
"household for three": a sexual arrangement between three people
merci beaucoup
"Thank you very much!"
merde alors
"Damn it!" (literally "shit then," "well shit"). Vulgar; non-vulgar equivalent is "zut alors."
a field of work or other activity; usually one in which one has special ability or training
social environment; setting (has also the meaning of "middle" in French.)
milieu intérieur
the extra-cellular fluid environment, and its physiological capacity to ensure protective stability for the tissues and organs of multicellular living organisms.
a cooking mixture of two parts onions and one part each of celery and carrots
mise en place
an assembly of ingredients, usually set up in small bowls, used to facilitate cooking. This means all the raw ingredients are prepared and ready to go before cooking. Translated, “put in place.”
mise en scène
the process of setting a stage with regard to placement of actors, scenery, properties, etc.; the stage setting or scenery of a play; surroundings, environment
mise en table
table setting
"me"; often used in English as an ironic reply to an accusation; for example, "Pretentious? Moi?"
moi aussi
"me too," used to show agreeing with someone
le moment suprême
"the supreme moment"; the climax in a series of events (for example at the unveiling of an art exhibition)
Mon ami
my friend (male) or 'mon amie': my friend (female)
Mon Dieu!
my God!
monsieur (pl. messieurs)
a man, a gentleman. Also used as a title, equivalent to Mr. or Sir.
le mot juste
"the just word"; the right word at the right time. French uses it often in the expression chercher le mot juste (to search for the right word)
a recurrent thematic element
a pursing together of the lips to indicate dissatisfaction, a pout
a whipped dessert or a hairstyling foam; in French, means any type of foam


, née
"born": a man’s/woman’s birth name (maiden name for a woman), e.g., "Martha Washington, née Dandridge."
n'est-ce pas?
"isn't it [true]?"; asked rhetorically after a statement, as in "Right?"
noblesse oblige
"nobility obliges"; those granted a higher station in life have a duty to extend (possibly token) favours/courtesies to those in lower stations
nom de guerre
pseudonym to disguise the identity of a leader of a militant group, literally "war name," used in France for "pseudonym"
nom de plume
author's pseudonym, literally "pen name." Originally an English phrase, now also used in France
nouveau (pl. nouveaux; fem. nouvelle; fem. pl. nouvelles)
nouveau riche
newly rich, used in English to refer particularly to those living a garish lifestyle with their newfound wealth; see also arriviste and parvenu.
nouvelle cuisine
new cuisine
nouvelle vague
Literally meaning "new wave." Used for stating a new way or a new trend of something. Originally marked a new style of French filmmaking in the late 1950s and early 1960s, reacting against films seen as too literary (whereas the phrase "new wave" is used in French to qualify some 1980's music, such as Depeche Mode.)


objet d'art
a work of art, commonly a painting or sculpture; also a utilitarian object displayed for its aesthetic qualities
"work," in the sense of an artist's work; by extension, an artist's entire body of work


pain au chocolat
lit. chocolate bread. Unlike what its name may suggest, it's not made of bread but puff pastry with chocolate inside. The term "chocolatine" is used in some Francophone areas, but not in English.
pain aux raisins
raisin bread.
verve; flamboyance
lit. chewed paper; a craft medium using paper and paste
par avion
by air mail. The meaning is broader in French, it means by plane in general.
par excellence
"by excellence": quintessential
parc fermé
lit. closed park. A secure area at a Grand Prix circuit where the cars may be stored overnight.
urban street sport involving climbing and leaping, using buildings, walls, curbs to ricochet off much as if one were on a skateboard, often in follow-the-leader style. It's actually the phonetic form of the French word "parcours," which means "route." Also known as, or the predecessor to, "free running", developed by Sébastien Foucan.
speech, more specifically the individual, personal phenomenon of language.
a social upstart.
pas de deux
a close relationship between two people; in ballet, a duet.
pas de problème
no problem
pas de trois
a dance for three, usually in ballet.
a document or key that allows the holder to travel without hindrance from the authorities or enter any location.
a derivative work; an imitation
a dialect; jargon
lit. father, used after a man's surname to distinguish a father from a son, as in "George Bush père."
petite bourgeoisie
often anglicised as "petty bourgeoisie," the lower middle class.
la petite mort
an expression for orgasm; literally "the little death"
perhaps, possibly, maybe
literally "black foot," a European Algerian in the pre-independence state.
"foot-on-the-ground" or "foothold"; a place to stay, generally applied to the city house as opposed to the country estate of the wealthy
literally "pinch nose," a type of spectacles without temple arms.
"worse"; an undesirable option selected because the other choices were even worse
referring to skiing at a ski area (on piste) versus skiing in the back country (off piste).
plat du jour
a dish served in a restaurant on a particular day but separate from the regular menu; literally "dish of the day."
plongeur (fem. plongeuse)
a male (or female) dishwasher
plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (or plus ça change, plus c’est pareil) (often abbreviated to just "plus ça change")
the more things change, the more they stay the same
plus royaliste que le roi
"more royalist than the king," i.e., more enthusiastic than the cause deserves
point d'appui
a location where troops assemble prior to a battle. While this figurative meaning also exists in French, the first and literal meaning of "point d'appui" is a fixed point from which a person or thing executes a movement (such as a footing in climbing or a pivot).
pomme de terre
potato, literally, "apple of the earth"
porte cochère
an architectural term referring to a kind of porch or porticolike structure.
"poser": a person who pretends to be something he is not; an affected or insincere person: a wannabe
stew, soup
pour encourager les autres
"to encourage others"; said of an excessive punishment meted out as an example. The original is from Voltaire's Candide and referred to the execution of Admiral John Byng.[3]
"for drink"; gratuity, tip; donner un pourboire: to tip.
"ready to wear" (clothing off the shelf), in contrast to haute couture
première dame
"first lady"
"pray [to] God"; a type of prayer desk
prix fixe
"fixed price"; a menu on which multi-course meals with only a few choices are charged at a fixed price
a man/woman who receives support from an influential mentor.
agitator, a polemicist


Quai d'Orsay
address of the French foreign ministry in Paris, used to refer to the ministry itself.
Quatorze juillet
"14th July" Bastille Day. The beginning of the French Revolution in 1789; used to refer to the Revolution itself and its ideals. It is the French National Day.
quel dommage!
"What a pity!"
quelle horreur!
What a horrible thing! (can be used sarcastically).
quelle surprise!
"What a surprise!"
Qu'est-ce que c'est?
"What is this/that?"
qui vive?
"who is living?" (modern language : who is here ?) : a sentry's challenge. Obsolete, but for the expressions "sur le qui-vive" (literally "on the point of saying qui vive") — on the alert, vigilant — and "il n'y a pas âme qui vive" (literally "no soul is/lives here," soul meaning person).[4]
quoi de neuf?
"What's new?" What's up?


a storyteller
raison d'État
reason of state (always with a capital "É" in French).
raison d'être
"reason for being": justification or purpose of existence
to be in someone's "good graces"; to be in synch with someone; "I've developed a rapport with my co-workers"; French for: relationship
the establishment of cordial relations, often used in diplomacy
scouting; like connoisseur. Modern French uses an "a," never a "o" (as in reconnoissance).
meaning rebirth, a cultural movement in the 14-17th centuries
reporting; journalism
répondez s'il vous plaît. (RSVP)
Please reply. Though francophones may use more usually "prière de répondre," it is common enough. (Note: RSLP ["Répondre s'il lui plaît"] is used on old-fashioned invitations written in the 3rd person, usually in "Script" typography — at least in Belgium.)
An artificial lake
a deep-seated sense of aggrievement and powerlessness
a restaurant owner
Translates as late, but is used as a derogative term for someone who is a slow thinker
A quick retort in speech or action, or in fencing, a quick thrust after parrying a lunge
Rive Gauche
the left (southern) bank (of the River Seine in Paris). A particular mindset attributed to inhabitants of that area, which includes the Sorbonne
roi fainéant
"do-nothing king": an expression first used about the kings of France from 670 to 752 (Thierry III to Childeric III), who were puppets of their ministers. The term was later used about other royalty who had been made powerless, also in other countries, but lost its meaning when parliamentarism made all royals powerless.
a part or function of a person in a situation or an actor in a play
roman à clef
"novel with a key": an account of actual persons, places or events in fictional guise
an openly debauched, lecherous older man
a cooked mixture of flour and fat used as a base in soups and gravies


subversive destruction, from the practice of workers fearful of industrialization destroying machines by tossing their sabots ("wooden shoes") into machinery
one who commits sabotage
"holy Blue!" general exclamation of horror and shock; a stereotypical minced oath. Very dated in France and rarely heard.
"cold blood": coolness and composure under strain; stiff upper lip. Also pejorative in the phrase meurtre de sang-froid ("cold-blooded murder").
"without knee-breeches," a name the insurgent crowd in the streets of Paris gave to itself during the French Revolution, because they usually wore pantaloons (full-length pants or trousers) instead of the chic knee-length culotte of the nobles. In modern use: holding strong republican views.
goodness me
lit. jumped; quickly fry in a small amount of oil.
sauve qui peut!
those who can should save themselves. Used as a pragmatic response to an accident. Equivalent to the English "every man for himself."
"knowing": a wise or learned person; in English, one exceptionally gifted in a narrow skill.
literally "know how to do"; to respond appropriately to any situation.
fact of following conventional norms within a society; etiquette (etiquette also comes from a French word, "étiquette")
s'il vous plaît (SVP)
"if it pleases you," "if you please"
the image of a person, an object or scene consisting of the outline and a featureless interior, with the silhouetted object usually being black
si vous préférez
"if you prefer"
an assumed name, a nickname (often used in a pejorative way in French)
so-called; self-described; literally "oneself saying"
fashionable; polished
an evening party
a wine steward
a very small amount (In French, can also mean suspicion)
soupe du jour
"soup of the day," meaning the particular kind of soup offered that day.
succès d’estime
a "success of esteem" [critical success], sometimes used pejoratively
il faut souffrir pour être belle
"beauty does not come without suffering"; lit. "you have to suffer to be pretty"
sur le tas
as one goes along; on the fly
Système D
resourcefulness, or ability to work around the system; from débrouillard, one with the knack of making do. A typical phrase using this concept would translate directly to "Thanks to System D, I managed to fix this cupboard without the missing part."


chalkboard. The meaning is broader in French: all types of board (chalkboard, whiteboard, notice board…). Refers also to a painting (see tableau vivant, below) or a table (chart).
tableau vivant
literally 'living picture', the term describes a striking group of suitably costumed actors or artist's models, carefully posed and often theatrically lit.
tant mieux
so much the better.
tant pis
"too bad," "oh well, that's tough."
orange-browm, 'rust' colour, not commonly used outside of heraldic emblazoning.
"head to head"; an intimate get-together or private conversation between two people.
the process of dressing or grooming. Also refers in French, when plural ("les toilettes"), to the toilet room.
torsade de pointes
meaning "twisting around a point," used to describe a particular type of heart rhythm.
acknowledgment of an effective counterpoint; literally "touched" or "hit!" Comes from the fencing vocabulary.
tour de force
"feat of strength": a masterly or brilliant stroke, creation, effect, or accomplishment.
tout de suite
lit. everything (else) following; "at once," "immediately" (according to the Oxford English Dictionary).
very (often ironic in English)
très beau
very beautiful
très bonne
very good (feminine form).
a woman who knits and gossips; from the women who knitted and sewed during the executions of the French Revolution.
photographlike realism in painting; literally "trick the eye"
trou de loup
literally "wolf hole," a kind of booby trap.


un point c’est tout
And that’s final, and that’s that, full stop (UK), period (US).


Salad with vinaigrette dressing
Go Ahead! Used to encourage someone (pronounced vah-zee)
imperative form, like above, literally meaning "Go from here" but translating more closely as "Go away." Roughly equivalent to idiomatic English get lost or get out.
vendu (pl. vendus)
sellout. Lit. sold (past tense of "vendre" = to sell); used as a noun, it means someone who betrays for money.
invited man/woman for a show, once ("come"); unused in modern French, though it can still be used in a few expressions like bienvenu/e (literally well come: welcome) or le premier venu (anyone; literally, the first who came).
vin de pays
literally "country wine"; wine of a lower designated quality than appellation contrôlée
salad dressing of oil and vinegar; diminutive of vinaigre (vinegar)
"face to face [with]": in comparison with or in relation to; opposed to. From "vis" (conjugated form of "voir," to see). In French, it's also a real estate vocabulary word meaning that your windows and your neighbours' are within sighting distance (more precisely, that you can see inside of their home).
vive […]!
"Long live…!"; lit. "Live"; as in "Vive la France!", "Vive la République!", Vive la Résistance!, "Vive le Canada!", or "Vive le Québec libre!" (long live free Quebec, a sovereigntist slogan famously used by French President Charles de Gaulle in 1967 in Montreal). Unlike "viva" (Spanish) or "vivat" (Latin), it cannot be used alone; it needs a complement.
vive la différence!
"[long] live the difference"; originally referring to the difference between the sexes, the phrase may be used to celebrate the difference between any two groups of people (or simply the general diversity of individuals)
literally "see there"; in French it can mean simply "there it is"; in English it is generally restricted to a triumphant revelation.
a complete reversal of opinion or position, about face
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?
"Do you want to sleep with me (tonight)?" In French, coucher is vulgar in this sense. In English it appears in Tennessee Williams's play A Streetcar Named Desire, as well as in the lyrics of a popular song by Labelle, "Lady Marmalade."
lit. someone who sees; a peeping tom.


le zinc
bar/café counter.
zut alors!
"Darn it!" or the British expression "Blimey!" This is a general exclamation (vulgar equivalent is "merde alors!" "Damn it!"). Just plain zut is also in use, often repeated for effect: zut, zut et zut! There is an album by Frank Zappa titled Zoot Allures. The phrase is also used on the Saturday Night Live Weekend Update sketch by recurring character Jean K. Jean, played by Kenan Thompson.

Not used as such in French

Through the evolution of the language, many words and phrases are no longer used in French. Also, there are those that, even though grammatically correct, do not have the same meaning in French as the English words that derive from them.

personal military or fighting armaments worn about one's self; has come to mean the accompanying items available to pursue a mission, or just accessories in general. In French, means a funny or ridiculous clothing; often a weird disguise or a getup, though it can be said also for people with bad taste in clothing.
agent provocateur
a police spy who infiltrates a group to disrupt or discredit it. In French it has both a broader and more specific meaning. The Académie française, in its dictionary, says that an agent provocateur is a person working for another State or a political party (for example), whose mission is to provoke troubles in order to justify repression.
an inlaid or attached decorative feature. Lit. "applied," though this meaning doesn't exist as such in French, the dictionary of the Académie française indicates that in the context of the arts, "arts appliqués" is synonym of decorative arts.
after skiing socializing after a ski session; in French, this word refers to boots used to walk in snow (e.g. MoonBoots).
a skilled performer, a person with artistic pretentions. In French: an artist. Can be used ironically for a person demonstrating little professional skills or passion.
arrêt à bon temps
A counterattack that attempts to take advantage of an uncertain attack in fencing. Though grammatically correct, this expression is not used in French. The term "arrêt" exists in fencing, with the meaning of a "simple counteroffensive action"; the general meaning is "a stop." A French expression is close, though: "s'arrêter à temps" (to stop in time).
A film director, specifically one who controls most aspects of a film, or other controller of an artistic situation. The English connotation derives from French film theory. It was popularized in the journal Cahiers du cinéma: auteur theory maintains that directors like Hitchcock exert a level of creative control equivalent to the author of a literary work. In French, the word means author, but some expressions like "cinéma d'auteur" are also in use.
au naturel
nude; in French, literally, in a natural manner or way ("au" is the contraction of "à le," masculine form of "à la"). It means "in an unaltered way" and can be used either for people or things. For people, it rather refers to a person who does not use make-up or artificial manners (un entretien au naturel = a backstage interview). For things, it means that they have not been altered. Often used in cooking, like "thon au naturel": canned tuna without any spices or oil. Also in heraldry, meaning "in natural colours," especially flesh colour, which is not one of the "standard" colours of heraldry.
à la mode
fashionable; also, with ice cream (in the U.S.) or with cheese in some U.S. regions. In French, it means "fashionable" but is also a culinary term usually meaning something cooked with carrots and onions, as in "boeuf à la mode".
a long, narrow loaf of bread with a crispy crust, otherwise called 'French bread' in the United Kingdom and United States. In French, a "baguette" refers to many long and narrow objects, including the kind of bread above (which has also some subvarieties), a magical wand or chopsticks. Also, there are many varieties of bread, and some "French bread" is not called "baguette" in France, but rather "épi" or "ficelle."
bête noire
a scary or unpopular person, idea, or thing, or the archetypical scary monster in a story; literally "black beast." In French, "être la bête noire de quelqu'un" ("to be somebody's bête noire") means that you're particularly hated by this person or this person has a strong aversion against you, regardless of whether you're scary or not. The dictionary of the Académie française admits its use only for people, though other dictionaries admits it for things or ideas too. Colloquial in French.
a clothing store, usually selling designer/one off pieces rather than mass-produced clothes. Can also describe a quirky and/or upmarket hotel. In French, it can describe any shop, clothing or otherwise.
In English, a boutonnière is a flower placed in the buttonhole of a suit jacket. In French, a boutonnière is the buttonhole itself.
bureau de change (pl. bureaux de change)
a currency exchange. In French, it means the office where you can change your currency.
c'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre
"it is magnificent, but it is not war" — quotation from Marshal Pierre Bosquet commenting on the charge of the Light Brigade. Unknown quotation in French.
from head to foot; modern French uses de pied en cap.
cause célèbre
An issue arousing widespread controversy or heated public debate, lit. famous cause. It is correct grammatically, but the expression is not used in French.
chacun à son goût
the correct expressions in French are chacun ses goûts / à chacun ses goûts / à chacun son goût: "to each his (their) own taste(s)".
cinq à sept
extraconjugal affair between five and seven pm. In French, though it can also mean this, it primarily means any relaxing time with friends between the end of work and the beginning of the marital obligations.
1) a classical "art song," equiv. to the German lied or the Italian aria; or 2) in Russian, a cabaret-style sung narrative, usually rendered by a guttural male voice with guitar accompaniment. In French, it simply means a song.
a group of admirers; in old French, the claque was a group of people paid to applaud or disturb a piece at the theater; in modern French, it means "a slap"; "clique" is used in this sense (but in a pejorative way).
an expert in wines, fine arts, or other matters of culture; a person of refined taste. It is spelled connaisseur in modern French.
A bouquet of flowers worn on a woman's dress or worn around her wrist. In French, it refers to a woman's chest (from shoulder to waist) and, by extension, the part of a woman's garment that covers this area.
coup de main (pl. coups de main)
a surprise attack. In French, "[donner] un coup de main" means "[to give] a hand" (to give assistance). Even if the English meaning exists as well (as in "faire le coup de main"), it is old-fashioned.
coup d'état (pl. coups d'État)
a sudden change in government by force; literally "hit (blow) of state." French uses the capital É, because the use of a capital letter alters the meaning of the word (État: a State, as in a country; état: a state of being). It also can not be shortened as "coup," which means something else altogether in French.
an appetizer of grated raw vegetables soaked in a vinaigrette. In French, it means uncooked vegetable, traditionally served as an entrée (first part of the meal, contrary to an appetizer outside the meal), with or without a vinaigrette or other sauce. It's almost always used in the plural form in French (as in, crudités).
first public performance of an entertainment personality or group. In French, it means "beginning." The English sense of the word exist only when in plural form: "[faire] ses débuts [sur scène]" (to make one's débuts on the scene).
a low-cut neckline, cleavage (This is actually a case of "false friends": Engl. décolletage = Fr. décolleté; Fr. décolletage means: 1. action of lowering a female garment's neckline; 2. Agric.: cutting leaves from some cultivated roots such as beets, carrots, etc.; 3. Tech. Operation consisting of making screws, bolts, etc. one after another out of a single bar of metal on a parallel lathe.)
déjà entendu/lu
already heard/read. They do not exist as expressions in French: the Académie française[5] says that un déjà vu (a feeling of something already seen) can be used but not un déjà entendu or un déjà lu.
a decisive step. In French, it means a preparing step often used in the plural form, or a distinctive way of walking.
a neighbourhood general/convenience store, term used in eastern Canada (often shortened to "dép" or "dep"). This term is commonly used in Canadian French; however, in France, it means a repairman. In France, a convenience store would be a "supérette" or "épicerie [de quartier]."
one who has emigrated for political reasons. In French, it means someone who emigrated. To imply the political reason, French would use of the word "exilé" (exiled).
A request to repeat a performance, as in “Encore!”, lit. again; also used to describe additional songs played at the end of a gig. Francophones would say «Une autre!» (Another one!) to request « un rappel » (an encore).
en masse
in a mass or group, all together. In French, 'mass' refers only to a physical mass, whether for people or objects. It cannot be used for something immaterial, like, for example, the voice: "they all together said 'get out'" would be translated as "ils ont dit 'dehors' en choeur" ([like a chorus]). Also, 'en masse' refers to numerous people or objects (a crowd or a mountain of things).
en suite
as a set (not to be confused with "ensuite," meaning "then"). In French, "suite," when in the context of a hotel, already means several rooms following each other. "J'ai loué une suite au Ritz" would be translated as "I rented a suite at the Ritz." "En suite" is not grammatically incorrect in French, but it is not an expression in itself and it is not used.
a fencing weapon descended from the duelling sword. In French, apart from fencing (the sport) the term is more generic: it means sword.
a writing table. It is spelt écritoire in modern French.
a published exposure of a fraud or scandal (past participle of "to expose"); in French refers to a talk or a report on any kind of subject.
extraordinary, out of the ordinary capacity for a person. In French, it simply means extraordinary (adjective) and can be used for either people, things or concepts. The rule that systematically puts 'extraordinary' after the noun in English differs from French, because in French, an adjective can be put before the noun for emphasis—which is particularly the case for the adjective extraordinaire. In fact, French people would just as well use 'un musicien extraordinaire' as 'un extraordinaire musicien' (an extraordinary male musician, but the latter emphasizes his being extraordinary).
a stereotypically effeminate gay man or lesbian (slang, pronounced as written). In French, femme (pronounced 'fam') means "woman."
fin de siècle
comparable to (but not exactly the same as) turn-of-the-century but with a connotation of decadence, usually applied to the period from 1890 through 1910. In French, it means "end of the century," but it isn't a recognized expression as such.
a minor weakness or quirkiness. The word is spelt faible in French and means "weak" (adjective). Weakness is translated as faiblesse (noun).
a strength, a strong point, typically of a person, from the French fort (strong) and/or Italian forte (strong, esp. "loud" in music) and/or Latin forte (neuter form of fortis, strong). French use "fort" both for people and objects.
According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, "In forte we have a word derived from French that in its "strong point" sense has no entirely satisfactory pronunciation. Usage writers have denigrated \'for-"tA\ and \'for-tE\ because they reflect the influence of the Italian-derived forte. Their recommended pronunciation \'fort\, however, does not exactly reflect French either: the French would write the word le fort and would rhyme it with English for [French doesn't pronounce the final "t"]. All are standard, however. In British English \'fo-"tA\ and \'fot\ predominate; \'for-"tA\ and \for-'tA\ are probably the most frequent pronunciations in American English."
The New Oxford Dictionary of English derives it from fencing. In French, "le fort d'une épée" is the third of a blade nearer the hilt, the strongest part of the sword used for parrying.
cheese. Used in place of Say cheese. when taking pictures of people to get them to smile, one would utter Say fromage. French people would use the English word "cheese" or "ouistiti."
la sauce est tout
"The sauce is everything!" or "The secret's in the sauce!" Tagline used in a 1950s American television commercial campaign for an American line of canned food products. Grammatically correct but not used in French, where one might say "Tout est dans la sauce" or "C'est la sauce qui fait (passer) le poisson" (also fig.).
the sign above a theater that tells you what's playing. From "marquise," which means not only a marchioness but also an awning. Theater buildings are generally old and nowadays there is never such a sign above them; there is only the advertisement for the play (l'affiche).
a man or woman lacking experience, understanding or sophistication. In French, it only refers to the last two and often has a pejorative connotation, as in gullible. Also, naïve can be used only for women; naïf is used for men.
nostalgie de la boue
"yearning for the mud"; attraction to what is unworthy, crude or degrading.[6] Though grammatically correct, it's not an expression used in French.
ooh la la!
"wowie!" Expression of exaggerated feminine delight; variation of an expression more commonly used by the French, "oh là là!" which means "yikes!" or "uh-oh!" The "wowie" intent does exist in French, but is not as pretentious as the English usage.
out of the ordinary, unusual. In French, it means outraged (for a person) or exaggerated, extravagant, overdone (for a thing, esp. a praise, an actor's style of acting, etc.) (In that second meaning, belongs to "literary" style.)
out of fashion. The correct expression in French is "passé de mode." Passé means past, passed, or (for a colour) faded.
a woman’s dressing gown. In French it is a bathrobe. A dressing gown is a "robe de chambre" (lit. a bedroom dress).
small; waiflike; skinny; In French, it means only small and does not have those other connotations it has in English. Also, this is the feminine form of the adjective (used for girls); the masculine form (used for boys) is "petit."
a French intellectual and writer of the Enlightenment. In French, it applies to any philosopher.
pièce d'occasion
"occasional piece"; item written or composed for a special occasion. In French, it means "second-hand hardware." Can be shortened as "pièce d'occas'" or even "occas'" (pronounced "okaz").
portemanteau (pl. portemanteaux)
a blend; a word that fuses two or more words or parts of words to give a combined meaning. In French, lit. a carry coat, referred to a person who carried the royal coat or dress train, now meaning a large suitcase; more often, a clothes hanger. The equivalent of the English "portemanteau" is un mot-valise (lit. a suitcase word).
medley, mixture; French write it "pot-pourri," literally rotten pot (it is primarily a pot in which different kinds of flowers or spices are put to dry for years for the scent).
a concise summary. In French, when talking about a school course, it means an abridged book about the matter. Literally, 'Précis' means precise, accurate.
prime minister or head of government. In French, it is only an adjective meaning "first."
refers to the first performance of a play, a film, etc. In French, it means "the first" and only for a live performance; it cannot be used as a verb ("the film premiered on November" is the equivalent of "the film firsted in November").
a type of author intrusion in which a writer inserts a character to argue the author's viewpoint; alter ego, sometimes called 'author avatar'. In French, a "raisonneur" is a character in a play who stands for morality and reason, i.e., not necessarily the author's point of view. The first meaning of this word though is a man (fem. raisonneuse) who overdoes reasonings, who tires by objecting with numerous arguments to every order.
lit. searched; obscure; pretentious. In French, means sophisticated or delicate, or simply studied, without the negative connotations of the English.
lit. "go to"; a meeting, appointment, or date in French, but in English has taken on other overtones. Always hyphenated in French, as in "rendez-vous." Its only accepted abbreviation in French is RDV.
repetition of previous music in a suite, programme, etc. In French it may mean an alternate version of a piece of music, or a cover version. To express the repetition of a previous musical theme, French would exclusively use the Italian term coda.
in North American English, a document listing one's qualifications for employment. In French, it means summary; French speakers would use instead curriculum vitæ, or its abbreviation, C.V. (like most other English speakers)
sexually suggestive; in French, the meaning of risqué is "risky," with no sexual connotation. Francophones use instead "osé" (lit. "daring") or sometimes "dévergondé" (very formal language). "Osé," unlike "dévergondé," cannot be used for people themselves, only for things (such as pictures) or attitudes.
table d'hôte (pl. tables d'hôte)
a full-course meal offered at a fixed price. In French, it is a type of lodging where, unlike a hotel, you eat with other patrons and the host. Lit. "the host's table": one eats at the host's table whatever he has prepared for himself or herself, at the family's table, with a single menu. Generally, the menu is composed of traditional courses of the region and the number of patrons is very limited.
tableau vivant (pl. tableaux vivants, often shortened as tableau)
in drama, a scene where actors remain motionless as if in a picture. Tableau means painting, tableau vivant, living painting. In French, it is an expression used in body painting.
a brief description; a short scene. In French, it is a small picture, and now in some European countries also means 'permit for driving on motorways.'

Found only in English

A Canadian aide-de-camp
"camp assistant"; in the army, a military assistant to a senior military officer (heads of State are considered military officers because of their status as head of the army). In Canada, it may also refer to the honorary position a person holds as a personal assistant to a high civil servant. It is written "aide de camp" (without any hyphens) in French.
Avant-garde's antonym. French (and most English) speakers use arrière-garde (either in a military or artistic context).
art deco
a style of decoration and architecture of the early 20th century made famous by the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes. Spelled "art déco" (note the accent) in French.
French use brassière (note the accent). Also, the French equivalent of "bra" would be "un soutien-gorge" (which can be colloquially abbreviated as soutif). A "brassière" in French is a newborn baby's knitted garment but is also a special kind of woman's undergarment for sports. Larger than a simple "soutien-gorge," it offers better breast support.
five-petal, five-leaf flower of the genus Potentilla, family Rosaceae; also a circular 5-lobed ornamental design. Spelt quintefeuille in French.
Suggested as "corde du roi" ("the king's cord") but this does not exist in French. More likely from 1780 American English "cord" and 17th "duroy," a coarse fabric made in England.
cri de cœur
"cry from the heart": an impassioned outcry, as of entreaty or protest. In French, the exact expression is "cri du cœur".
a class of women of ill repute; a fringe group or subculture. Fell out of use in the French language in the 19th century. Frenchmen still use "une demi-mondaine" to qualify a woman that lives (exclusively or partially) of the commerce of her charms but in a high-life style.
small cup, usually for coffee. Comes from "une demi-tasse," literally a half cup. It's not an expression as such in French.
a term of post-modernist criticism, meaning both the fact that words and signs can never fully summon forth what they mean, but can only be defined through appeal to additional words, from which they differ and the force which differentiates elements from one another and, in so doing, engenders binary oppositions and hierarchies which underpin meaning itself. This notion is a neologism created by French Jacques Derrida in 1963, but isn't a French word per se, as it never made it to any dictionary and is unknown in French.
double entendre
double meaning. French would use either "un mot / une phrase à double sens" (a word / a sentence with two meanings) or "un sous-entendu" (a hidden meaning). The verb entendre, to hear (modern), originally meant to understand. "Double entendre" has, however, been found previously in French documents dating back to the 15th century.[citation needed] The dictionary of the Académie française lists the expression "à double entente" as obsolete.
term used for films that are influenced by other films, in particular by the works of a notable director. French word is written "hommage," and is used for all shows of admiration, respect, or in a close sense for dedication of an artwork to another.
léger de main
"light of hand": sleight of hand, usually in the context of deception or the art of stage magic tricks. Means nothing in French and has no equivalent.
maître d’
translates as master o'. Francophones would say maître d’hôtel (head waiter) instead (French never uses "d'" alone).
A robe or a dressing gown, usually of sheer or soft fabric for women. French uses négligé (masculine form, with accents) or nuisette. Négligée qualifies a woman who neglects her appearance.
pièce de résistance
the best; the main meal, literally "a piece that resists." Francophones use plat de résistance (main dish).
Pur autre vie
for another's life. Used in the context of estates and meaning that the life-duration of the estate is based on a third party, not the life tenant. French would use "droit pour autre vie" (note how "pour" is spelled. "Pur" means "pure" in French).
the range of skills of a particular person or group. It is spelt répertoire, in French; also, the meaning is slightly different: it means the range of songs / musics a person or group can play.
a holding tank for liquids; an artificial pond for water. It is spelt réservoir, in French.
literally "red" in Canadian football, awarded when the ball is kicked into the end zone by any legal means, other than a successful field goal, and the receiving team does not return, or kick, the ball out of its end zone.
succès de scandale
Success through scandal; Francophones might use «succès par médisance».
term in architecture, for which there is no equivalent in English, given to the lower courses of ribs of a Gothic vault, which are laid in horizontal courses and bonded into the wall. It is written "tas de charge" (without any hyphens) in French.
voir dire
jury selection (Law French). Literally "to speak the truth."[7] (Anglo-Norman voir [truth] is etymologically unrelated to the modern French voir [to see].)[8] In modern American court procedure, the examination of prospective jurors for their qualification to serve, including inherent biases, views and predelictions; during this examination, each prospective juror must "speak the truth" so that counsel and the court may decide whether they should remain on the jury or be excused.
from the French "flight in the wind", or "windblown". A vol-au-vent is a culinary term meaning a small canapé - circular pieces of puff pastry with a small hole that accommodates various fillings, such as mushrooms, prawns, fruit, cheese, etc. It is thus named because of the lightness of its pastry. French Canadians however still use the term.

French phrases in international air-sea rescue

International authorities have adopted a number of words and phrases from French for use by speakers of all languages in voice communications during air-sea rescues. Note that the "phonetic" versions are presented as shown and not the IPA.

(securité, “safety”) the following is a safety message or warning, the lowest level of danger.
(panne, “breakdown”) the following is a message concerning a danger to a person or ship, the next level of danger.
([venez] m'aider, come to help me"; note that aidez-moi means "help me") the following is a message of extreme urgency, the highest level of danger. (MAYDAY is used on voice channels for the same uses as SOS on Morse channels.)
(silence, “silence”) keep this channel clear for air-sea rescue communications.
(silence fini, “silence is over”) this channel is now available again.
(prudence, “prudence”) silence partially lifted, channel may be used again for urgent non-distress communication.
(médical, “medical”) medical assistance needed.

It is a serious breach in most countries, and in international zones, to use any of these phrases without justification.

See Mayday (distress signal) for a more detailed explanation.

See also


  1. ^ Larousse definition for "adieu"
  2. ^ Eric Partridge: Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 1951
  3. ^ Pour encourager les
  4. ^
  5. ^;s=3375794295;;
  6. ^
  7. ^ voir dire The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (2006)
  8. ^ voir The Anglo-Norman Dictionary

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