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More Faux Amis: Strategies to Avoiding Confusion Between Seemingly Similar French and English Words

written by: Audrey Alleyne • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 8/2/2012

French nouns and other parts of speech that sound like their English counterparts, but have different meanings, can cause confusion. Students of French should study these tricky words with extra care.

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    Faux Amis

    If you should read the sentence “Il a sensiblement grandi”, it would make little sense, if you think the adverb means the same as its English equivalent. The adjective “sensible” which means “sensitive” would also present a similar predicament. What is really meant in that sentence is “it is obvious that he has grown up”

    Here are some more of those troublesome words shared by French and English. They are called ‘faux amis’ (false friends.). They are listed first with the English word, then the French false friend, then the French meaning for the false friend, then you’ll see its French equivalent for the most common meaning in English. For example the word “agony” in English means anguish and suffering at any time, including before death. In French the equivalent word “agonie” cannot be used so loosely; that word in French pertains only to the last struggle before death. The words are grouped according to nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs from a to e:

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    Nouns

    English / faux amis / French meaning for faux amis / French equivalent for English word

    appointments / appointments (n.m.pl.) / salary / rendez-vous

    audience / audience (n.f.) / plenary session, court hearing / les spectateurs , l’auditoire (n.m.)

    box / box (n.m.) / a horse box or a car compartment / boîte

    bureau / bureau (n.m.) / desk, study / commode

    cabinet / cabinet (n.m.) / small room / placard

    cargo / cargo (n.m.) / cargo boat / charge

    defiance / défiance (n. f.) / suspicion, distrust / défi

    dot / dot (n.f.) / dowry / point

    engagement / engagement (n.m.) / commitment / fiançailles, rendez-vous

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    Verbs

    English / faux amis / French meaning for faux amis / French equivalent for English word

    avert / avertir (v. t.) / warn / éviter

    agree / agréer (v.i.) / accept / être d’accord

    attend / attendre / to wait for / assister à

    assist / assister à / to attend / aider

    bless / blesser / to wound, to hurt, to offend / bénir

    cry / crier / cry out, yell, shout / pleurer

    demand / demander / to ask / exiger

    err / error / to wander / se tromper

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    Adjectives

    English / faux amis / French meaning for faux amis / French equivalent for English word

    actual / actuel / current, present / vrai

    affluent / affluent / affluent (referring to a course of water) / riche

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    Adverbs

    English / faux amis / French meaning for faux amis / French equivalent for English word

    actually / actuellement / currently, presently / véritablement

    eventually / éventuellement / possibly, hypothetically / imprévisiblement

    Here is another article on faux amis