You Use a Lot of French Words in English
It may surprise you to learn that, as an English speaker, you already know a fair amount of French. And this can help you learn French faster. But knowing what these loanwords and cognates are, you can enhance your French vocabulary quickly. Find out which French words are used in English every day.
Why Is There So Much French in English?
A brief refresher history lesson will help you understand how French came to be one of the foundations for modern English. Linguists often consider the origins of the English language ripe for debate. Ancient cultures in the British Isles spoke Celtic-based languages. The Romans invaded Britain around 50 AD, bringing the Latin language with them. Latin would become an essential language in the public life of Britain during Roman rule.
The Anglo-Saxon invasion in the 5th and 6th centuries involved the introduction of Germanic languages that were responsible for many of the foundations of English. The origins of French words in the English language dates to 1066, the year of the Norman Conquest. The Normans who ruled England spoke a dialect known as Anglo-Norman French. Because of Norman rule, this dialect became an essential part of English culture, as well as law and administration. French words, even some of the quirkier ones, have had a steady place in English ever since.
How Much of English Comes From French
Thanks to the French occupation of the British Isles, English has plenty of vocabulary of French origin. Did you know that well over 10,000 English words come from French? Besides words that come from French, many other English words come from Latin, which French has its origins in.
Many words in English either have close equivalents or exact counterparts in French, which is pretty impressive. Where did all these words come from, anyway? We’ll take a closer look at French’s influence on our language, and you might even build up your vocabulary.
How Many French Words Are in English?
About 7,000 French words are in the modern English language. Initially, there were about 10,000 French-origin words in English.
England’s sometimes-complicated history his given it influences from many languages. However, here are some interesting facts:
- 58% of words in modern English have Latin and French origins
- 29% of words in modern English have entirely French origins
- English and French have 170,000 true cognates, similar or same words with identical meanings in both languages
Common French and English Suffixes
The -tion suffix found in words like action is common to a lot of words in both languages. There are other suffixes that lead to common words, such as:
- -isme, such as le racisme (racism) and l’impressionnisme (impressionism)
- -able, such as adorable, la table, and capable
- -ssion, such as la passion and la mission
- -tion, such as attention or l’accélération
- -if/ive, such as créative or furtive
- -ation, such as l’information and la nation
Although these words are not always identical, they are often similar enough despite the article used or slight spelling differences in the suffix. Although you will still need to learn the necessary vocabulary, understanding the use of common suffixes is an excellent way to learn more of the words you need to know.
Cuisine and Food Terms That Come From French
- À la carte – Ordering individual dishes off the menu, without following a specific course
- Alcool – A word for alcohol that comes from Arabic, with a Latin base
- Apéritif – An alcoholic beverage consumed before the main meal
- Bon Appétit – Enjoy your meal
- Café – In French, this refers to a special type of restaurant
- Chef – In French, this word translates more closely to “boss” than just “cook”
- Hors d’œuvre – Usually an appetizer, but can refer to any small savory dish
- Maître d’hôtel – restaurant staffer in charge of servers and buspeople
- Menu – Basically the same as in English, although it may refer to determined items served as courses or a’ la carte items
- Vinaigrette – A salad dressing consisting of oil, wine vinegar, and spices
Other exact words include menu, picnic, and restaurant. Salade and soupe have the same meanings in both languages, with a different spelling. Some French food-related words British English speakers use include aubergine (eggplant), cornichon (pickles), courgette (zucchini), and gâteau (cake).
Fashion-Related French Words Used in English
France has a long history of involvement with fashion, and it is easy to see its involvement through the use of some common words and phrases. Here are some of the most common words and their original meanings:
- Blond/blonde, brunette -Many are surprised to learn that the names for these hair colors have French roots
- Boutique – A store selling stylish clothing, jewelry, and luxury goods
- Chic – Usually used to describe something stylish and sophisticated
- Couture – Made-to-measure or customized designs
- Eau de cologne/toilette – Cologne or perfume
- Faux – Synthetic, usually referring to fake “fur” or “leather”
- Petite – A small clothing size geared towards small women
- Prêt-à-porter – Clothing made “ready to wear”, instead of “made-to-measure”
- Sans fard – Photos of celebrities appearing without or with very minimal makeup and without their hair styled
- Silhouette – The outline and dark shape that appears against a lighter background
Artistic and Cultural French Words Used in English
France has been at the forefront of the art world for centuries. Here are the exact meanings of some terms used in artistic or cultural settings:
- Art Nouveau – Modern art
- Avant-Garde – Experimental art
- Bas-relief – Sculpture attached to a solid background
- Film noir – Thriller or detective movies
- Genre – A specific film type, such as drama, horror, action, etc.
- Matinée – A daytime film screening or theatrical performance
- Papier mâché – Paper material, possibly reinforced with textiles, used in art
- Trompe-l’œil – Art that creates a visual illusion
Other terms in the art world that are similar include cubisme (cubism), impressionisme (impressionism), realisme (realism), and surrealisme (surrealism).
Other Familiar French Words
Some French words are used essentially the same way in both languages and are a part of everyday vocabulary. Common words that require no explanation are:
- Au pair
- Déjà vu
- En route
- Par excellence
- Pot pourri
- R.S.V.P. (for Répondez s’il vous plaît)
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