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Faux Amis: False Cognates Between English and French Nouns

written by: R. H. • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 3/2/2012

Although English and French have many true cognates, which is a help to the English-speaker learning French, beware! There are also many nouns between these languages that look like cognates but do not refer to the same things at all. Sometimes the differences in meaning can be surprising.

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    Often, when you see a French noun that looks like an English noun, it means just what you would guess. But not always! Do not make the mistake of assuming that just because the French noun looks familiar, it means the same thing as the similar English noun. For example, apology in English does not correspond to the French word apologie very well at all; in French, apologie can mean eulogy or praise. Some of the false cognates have vague correspondences to one another, while others have meanings that are completely unrelated.

    Read on to discover which French nouns are called les faux amis, “false friends,” because they have meanings an English-speaker might not automatically guess. If you learn true cognates in French and English, as well as false cognates, you will be well prepared to speak French without accidentally embarrassing yourself by using a word incorrectly.

    English word /French word - French meaning

    achievement / achievement -completion, culmination

    advertisement / avertissement - warning

    agreement / agrément - charm

    apology / apologie - eulogy, praise

    apparel / appareil - appliance

    angina / angine - sore throat

    bachelor / bachelier - student who has passed the baccelauréat

    ballot / ballotbundle, package

    bride / bride - bridle

    car / car - bus

    carpet / carpette - small rug

    cave / cave - basement, vault

    chair / chair - flesh

    chance / chance - luck

    college / college - junior high school

    commode /commode - dresser (chest of drawers)

    conductor / conducteur - driver

    deception / deception - disappointment

    default / défaut - flaw

    education / education - manners, upbringing

    email / émail - enamel

    entrée / entrée - appetizer

    fabric / fabrique - factory

    figure / figure - face

    glass / glace -ice

    habit / habit - outfit, clothes

    infant / enfant - child

    injury /injure - insult

    journey / journée - day

    lecture / lecture - reading

    library / librairie - bookstore

    location / location - rental

    mode / mode - fashion

    pain / peine - sorrow

    patron / patron - boss

    place / place - seat

    pub / pub - advertisement

    sentence / sentence - verdict

    trouble / trouble - confusion