Major Differences Between the French and English Languages

But they've influenced each other, so there are also similarities.

The French and English languages are related in a sense, because French is a Romance language descended from Latin with German and English influences, while English is a Germanic language with Latin and French influences. Thus, they share some similarities, most notably the same alphabet and a number of true cognates.

Perhaps more important, though, are the many differences, both major and minor, between the two languages, such as a long list of false cognates—words that look similar but have vastly different meanings.

French and English have hundreds of cognates (words that look and/or are pronounced alike in the two languages), including true cognates with similar meanings, false cognates with different meanings, and semi-false cognates—some similar and some with different meanings.

But it seems that false cognates confound us most. For instance, assister in French nearly always means "to attend" something, while "assist" in English means "to help." And formidable in French means "great" or "terrific," nearly the polar opposite of the English meaning, which is "dreadful" or "fearsome."

Here are some brief explanations of the major differences between French and English, with links to further information.

A Comparison of Characteristics

 

French

English

accentsin many wordsonly in foreign words
 
agreementyesno
 
articlesmore commonless common
 
capitalizationless commonmore common
 
conjugationsdifferent for each grammatical person
 
different only for third person singular
 
contractionsrequiredoptional and informal
 
genderfor all nouns and most pronouns
 
only for personal pronouns
 
liaisonsyesno
 
negationtwo wordsone word
 
prepositionscertain verbs require prepositions
 
many phrasal verbs
 
rhythmstress at the end of each rhythmic groupstressed syllable in each word, plus stress on important word
 
Roman numeralsmore common, often ordinal  
 
less common, rarely ordinal
 
subjunctivecommonrare

Other differences between French and English

false cognatesWords that look alike but don't necessarily mean the same thing
 
pronunciationMany differences, particularly vowels and the letter R
 
punctuationDifferent uses and spacing
 
silent lettersMany in both, but not the same letters
 
singulars and plurals
 
The grammatical number of nouns may be different.
 
spelling equivalents Patterns in spelling differ in the two languages.
 
word orderAdjectives, adverbs, negation plus pronouns may cause problems.