French English False Cognates - Faux Amis

Common false cognates in French and English

avertissement
'Avertissement' is the French word for 'warning', not 'Advertisement'. Bill Smith/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

French and English have hundreds of cognates (words which look and/or are pronounced alike in the two languages), including true (similar meanings), false (different meanings), and semi-false (some similar and some different meanings). A list of hundreds of false cognates can be a bit unwieldy, so here is an abridged list of the most common false cognates in French and English.

Common False Cognates in French and English

Actuellement vs Actually

Actuellement means "at the present time" and should be translated as currently or right now:

  • Je travaille actuellement - I am currently working

A related word is actuel, which means present or current:

  • le problème actuel - the current/present problem

Actually means "in fact" and should be translated as en fait or à vrai dire.

  • Actually, I don't know him - En fait, je ne le connais pas

Actual means real or true, and depending on the context can be translated as réel, véritable, positif, or concret:

  • The actual value - la valeur réelle

Assister vs Assist

Assister à nearly always means to attend something:

  • J'ai assisté à la conférence - I attended (went to) the conference

To assist means to help or aid someone or something:

  • I assisted the woman into the building - J'ai aidé la dame à entrer dans l'immeuble

Attendre vs Attend

Attendre à means to wait for:

  • Nous avons attendu pendant deux heures - We waited for two hours.

    To attend is translated by assister (see above):

    • I attended the conference - J'ai assisté à la conférence

    Avertissement vs Advertisement

    Un avertissement is a warning or caution, from the verb avertir - to warn. An advertisement is une publicité, une réclame, or un spot publicitaire.

    Blesser vs Bless

    Blesser means to wound, injure, or offend, while to bless means bénir.

    Bras vs Bras

    Le bras refers to an arm; bras in English is the plural of bra - un soutien-gorge.

    Caractère vs Character

    Caractère refers only to the character or temperament of a person or thing:

    • Cette maison a du caractère - This house has character.

    Character can mean both nature/temperament as well as a person in a play:

    • Education develops character - L'éducation développe le caractère
    • Romeo is a famous character - Romeo est un personnage célebre

    Cent vs Cent

    Cent is the French word for a hundred, while cent in English can be figuratively translated by un sou. Literally, it is one-hundredth of a dollar.

    Chair vs Chair

    La chair means flesh. A chair can refer to une chaise, un fauteuil (armchair), or un siège (seat).

    Chance vs Chance

    La chance means luck, while chance in English refers to un hasard, une possibilité, or une occasion. To say "I didn't have a chance to..." see Occasion vs Occasion, below.

    Christian vs Christian

    Christian is a masculine French name while Christian in English can be an adjective or a noun: (un) chrétien.

    Coin vs Coin

    Le coin refers to a corner in every sense of the English word. It can also be used figuratively to mean from the area:

    • l'épicier du coin - the local grocer
    • Vous êtes du coin ? - Are you from around here?

      A coin is a piece of metal used as money - une pièce de monnaie.

      Collège vs College

      Le collège and le lycée both refer to high school:

      • Mon collège a 1 000 élèves - My high school has 1,000 students

      College is translated by université:

      • This college's tuition is very expensive - Les frais de scolarité à cette université sont très élevés.

      Commander vs Command

      Commander is a semi-false cognate. It means to make an order (command) as well as to order (request) a meal or goods/services. Une commande is translated by order in English.

      Command can be translated by commanderordonner, or exiger. It is also a noun: un ordre or un commandement.

      Con vs Con

      Con is a vulgar word that literally refers to female genitalia. It usually means an idiot, or is used as an adjective in the sense of bloody or damned.

      Con can be a noun - la frime, une escroquerie, or a verb - duperescroquer.

      • Pros and cons - le pour et le contre

      Crayon vs Crayon

      Un crayon is a pencil, while a crayon is as un crayon de couleur. The French language uses this expression for both crayon and colored pencil.

      Déception vs Deception

      Une déception is a disappointment or let-down, while a deception is une tromperie or duperie.

      Demander vs Demand

      Demander means to ask for:

      • Il m'a demandé de chercher son pull - He asked me to look for his sweater

      Note that the French noun une demande does correspond to the English noun demand. To demand is usually translated by exiger:

      • He demanded that I look for his sweater - Il a exigé que je cherche son pull

      Déranger vs Derange

      Déranger can mean to derange (the mind), as well as to botherdisturb, or disrupt.

      • Excusez-moi de vous déranger... - I'm sorry for bothering you.... 

      To derange is used only when talking about mental health (usually as an adjective: deranged = dérangé).

      Douche vs Douche

      Une douche is a  shower, while douche in English refers to a method of cleaning a body cavity with air or water: lavage interne.

      Entrée vs Entrée

      Une entrée is an hors-d'oeuvre or appetizer, while an entrée refers to the main course of a meal: le plat principal.

      Envie vs Envy

      Avoir envie de means to want or to feel like something:

      • Je n'ai pas envie de travailler - I don't want to work / I don't feel like working

      The verb envier, however, does mean to envy.

      Envy means to be jealous or desirous of something belonging to another. The French verb is envier:

      • I envy John's courage - J'envie le courage à Jean

        Éventuellement vs Eventually

        Éventuellement means possiblyif need be, or even:

        • Vous pouvez éventuellement prendre ma voiture - You can even take my car / You can take my car if need be.

        Eventually indicates that an action will occur at a later time; it can be translated by finalementà la longue, or tôt ou tard:

        • I will eventually do it - Je le ferai finalement / tôt ou tard

        Expérience vs Experience

        Expérience is a semi-false cognate, because it means both experience and experiment:

        • J'ai fait une expérience - I did an experiment
        • J'ai eu une expérience intéressante - I had an interesting experience

        Experience can be a noun or verb refering to something that happened. Only the noun translates into expérience:

        • Experience shows that ... - L'expérience démontre que...
        • He experienced some difficulties - Il a rencontré des difficultés

        Finalement vs Finally

        Finalement means eventually or in the end, while finally is enfin or en dernier lieu.

        Football vs Football

        Le football, or le foot, refers to soccer (in American English). In the US, football = le football américain.

        Formidable vs Formidable

        Formidable is an interesting word because it means great or terrific; almost the opposite of the English.

        • Ce film est formidable ! - This is a great movie!

        Formidable in English means dreadful or fearsome:

        • The opposition is formidable - L'opposition est redoutable/effrayante

        Gentil vs Gentle

        Gentil usually means nice or kind:

        • Il a un gentil mot pour chacun - He has a kind word for everyone

        It can also mean good, as in:

        • il a été gentil - he was a good boy

        Gentle can also mean kind but in the more physical sense of soft or not rough. It can be translated by douxaimablemodéré, or léger:

        • He is gentle with his hands - Il a la main douce
        • A gentle breeze - une  brise légère

        Gratuité vs Gratuity

        Gratuité refers to anything that is given for free:

        • la gratuité de l'éducation - free education

        while a gratuity is un pourboire or une gratification.

        Gros vs Gross

        Gros means bigfatheavy, or serious:

        • un gros problème - a big/serious problem

        Gross means grossierfruste, or (informally) dégueullasse.

        Ignorer vs Ignore

        Ignorer is a semi-false cognate. It nearly always means to be ignorant or unaware of something: 

        • j'ignore tout de cette affaire - I know nothing about this business

        To ignore means to deliberately not pay attention to someone or something. The usual translations are ne tenir aucun compte dene pas relever, and ne pas prêter attention à.

        Librairie vs Library

        Une librairie refers to a bookstore, while library in French is une bibliothèque.

        Monnaie vs Money

        La monnaie can refer to currencycoin(age), or change, and money is the general term for argent.

        Napkin vs Napkin

        Un napkin refers to a sanitary napkin. A napkin is correctly translated by  une serviette.

        Occasion vs Occasion

        Occasion refers to a(n) occasioncircumstanceopportunity, or second-hand purchase.

        • Une chemise d'occasion - a second-hand or used shirt.

        Avoir l'occasion de means to have a/the chance to

        • Je n'avais pas l'occasion de lui parler - I didn't have a chance to talk to him.

        An occasion is une occasion, un événement, or un motif.

        Opportunité vs Opportunity

        Opportunité refers to timeliness or appropriateness:

        • Nous discutons de l'opportunité d'aller à la plage - We're discussing the appropriateness of going to the beach (under the circumstances).

        Opportunity leans toward favorable circumstances for a particular action or event and is translated by une occasion:

        • It's an opportunity to improve your French - C'est une occasion de te perfectionner en français.

        Parti/Partie vs Party

        Un parti can refer to several different things: a political party, an option or course of action (prendre un parti - to make a decision), or a match (i.e., He's a good match for you). It is also the past participle of partir (to leave).

        Une partie can mean a part (e.g., une partie du film - a part of the film), a field or subject, a game (e.g., une partie de cartes - a game of cards), or a party in a trial.

        A party usually refers to une fêtesoirée, or réception; un correspondant (on the phone), or un groupe/une équipe.

        Pièce vs Piece

        Une pièce is a semi-false cognate. It means piece only in the sense of broken pieces. Otherwise, it indicates a roomsheet of papercoin, or play

        Piece is a part of something - un morceau or une tranche.

        Professeur vs Professor

        Un professeur refers to a high school, college, or university teacher or instructor, while a professor is un professeur titulaire d'une chaire.

        Publicité vs Publicity

        Publicité is a semi-false cognate. In addition to publicity, une publicité can mean advertising in general, as well as a commercial or advertisement. Publicity is translated by de la publicité.

        Quitter vs Quit

        Quitter is a semi-false cognate: it means both to leave and to quit (i.e., leave something for good). When quit means to leave something for good, it is translated by quitter. When it means to quit (stop) doing something, it is translated by arrêter de:

        • I need to quit smoking - Je dois arrêter de fumer.

        Raisin vs Raisin

        Un raisin is a grape; a raisin is un raisin sec.

        Rater vs Rate

        Rater means to misfiremissmess up, or fail, while rate is the noun proportion or taux or the verb évaluer or considérer.

        Réaliser vs Realize

        Réaliser means to fulfill (a dream or aspiration) or achieve. To realize means se rendre compte deprendre conscience de, or comprendre.

        Rester vs Rest

        Rester is a semi-false cognate. It usually means to stay or remain:

        • Je suis restée à la maison - I stayed at the house

        When it is used idiomatically, it is translated by rest:

        • He refused to let the matter rest - Il refusait d'en rester là

        The verb to rest in the sense of getting some rest is translated by se reposer:

        • Elle ne se repose jamais - She never rests

        Réunion vs Reunion

        Une réunion can mean collectiongatheringraising (of money), or reunion. A reunion is une réunion, but note that it usually refers to a meeting of a group that has been separated for an extended period of time (e.g., class reunion, family reunion).

        Robe vs Robe

        Une robe is a dressfrock, or gown, while a robe is un peignoir.

        Sale vs Sale

        Sale is an adjective - dirty. Saler means to salt. A sale is une vente or un solde.

        Sympathique vs Sympathetic

        Sympathique (often shortened to sympa) means nicelikeablefriendlykindly. Sympathetic can be translated by compatissant or de sympathie.

        Type vs Type

        Un type is informal for guy or bloke. In the normal register, it can mean typekind, or epitome.

        • Quel type de moto ? - What kind of motorbike?
        • Le type de l'égoïsme - The epitome of selfishness.

        Type means un type, un genre, une espèce, une sorte, une marque, etc.

        Unique vs Unique

        The French word unique means only when it precedes a noun (unique fille - only girl) and unique or one of a kind when it follows. In English, unique means uniqueinimitable, or exceptionnel.

        Zone vs Zone

        Une zone usually means a zone or an area, but it can also refer to a slum. A zone is une zone.