8 Expressions You’d Think are French (But Aren’t)

Bonjour !

The English language uses words that look French, sound French, and actually are French – except that no French speaker would understand if you used them this way!

Words like: Double entendre, resumé, a la mode are actually expressions exclusive to the English language! Learn more here.




« Faux Amis »

Et toi ?

Have you used these expressions?

Which other example could you give?

Which word from your own language is being misused in other countries?

Bonne journée,

Géraldine

Join the conversation!

  • “Galore” used by others to mean a lot of (things).
    It comes from an Irish phrase “Go leor” which means enough, (not lots)

  • Pie “a la mode” was invented many years ago at the Cambridge Hotel, near my town in upstate NY. I believe the chef named it that considering the original French meaning, as in “of the fashion” of the hotel. It now just means pie with ice cream on top.

  • Some years back I was living in Miami and a French acquaintance came to visit. I showed him a painting on a wall, what we call a trompe l’oeil and he didn’t know the term (or I pronounced it very badly). We use it for paintings that look hyper-realistic or three dimensional from some viewpoint.

  • In the US, we use “a la mode” to mean topped with ice cream! For instance a piece of cherry pie a la mode. Maybe this comes from an expression of how pie was served at people’s homes long ago and is now ubiquitous.

  • Bonjour Géraldine et Arthur! Merci beaucoup for the classes, I am just starting but the videos are fun and very motivating, even if I don’t understand everything!

    Une question:
    Is there a feminine version of bon vivant? Is anyone displaying those qualities a “bon vivant”, or would an especially gregarious and life-loving woman be a “bonne vivante” or ?

    • Hi Kip!

      Good question 🙂
      We would just use “Elle est bon vivant” in the masculine, to be honest – it’s an expression that doesn’t adapt well in the feminine. Or we could say “Elle a un côté bon vivant” = “She has a hedonistic side to her.”
      Or even: “Elle aime la vie.” = She loves living (well).

      Have a great day,

      – Arthur, writer for Comme une Française

  • CV very commonly used in British English – more than resume, especially for anyone with academic qualifications.

  • There’s an expression/word usage we have in the Appalachians that I’ve pondered for a long time: rarin’. As in, “he got up just a-rarin’” or “we’re just rarin’ to go.”

    Because of the large number of Scots who settled here, I suspect that rirer drifted in meaning from laughter to anger or excitement.

  • J’aime bien. I am new and some if this is over my head but I continue to enjoy listening and learning. Merci beaucoup. Au revoir a remain. Cape town.

  • En Grèce on utilise plusieurs mots français mais on les utilise d’une manière différente. Par exemple, on utilise le mot crayon en Grèce pour dire lipstick et on utilise le mot caleçon en Grèce pour dire pantyhose.

  • I suppose that adding a scoop of ice cream was “a la mode” at some point but the recipe was associated with the expression. Weird!
    My impression is that “la pièce de résistance” in English is the culinary part of the meal that makes the whole experience spectacular. It could be the main dish or it could be a spectacular dessert. But it should be the creation of the host, not store bought.
    Another French culinary reference used as the recipe is “cordon bleu”. In American it always means a piece of chicken cooked with ham and cheese inside. Whereas in French it is any recipe created by a chef which is accorded the acclaim of “the Blue Sash”.

    • Hi Lil!

      I think “à la mode” in recipes doesn’t come from “fashionable.” Because “à la mode” also means “in the custom of”.

      For example:
      “Tripes à la mode de Caen” = Guts / Tripes prepared in the way they use in the Normand city of Caen”
      “Savez vous planter les choux, à la mode de chez nous ?” = Do you know how to plant cabbages, the way we do it at home? (popular French children song)

      So I think it morphed from “ice cream à la mode of this house / of this city” into simply “icre cream a la mode” – a shortcut that made the words meaningless in French. But I also guess it’s the same transformation that occured in French to create the expression “à la mode” (on its own) = “fashionable.” (Disclaimer: etymology is always weirder than we think and I might be wrong about this)

      “Le cordon bleu” is indeed the Blue Sash, and a “cordon bleu” chef is well-respected. Also we can use it to compliment the cook : “tu es un vrai cordon bleu !” (= You’re a real Blue Sash cook!) (it’s a bit quaint but it’s a great compliment). However, if a French person talks about a dish as “un cordon bleu”, it’s usually about the piece of chicken cooked with ham and cheese inside. It’s a very common dish at “la cantine” (= group restaurants in schools or office building).

      Have a great day,
      – Arthur, writer for Comme une Française

  • Thank you Geraldine for another funny lesson! The French words I can think of that we use are:
    Mayonnaisse
    Garage
    Foyer
    Vestibule
    Mousse au Chocolat
    Mousse (hair product) is it the same in France?
    « comme ci comme ça »
    Voilà

    I have a question on another subject. Maybe other students will be interested. It seems more difficult to understand French song lyrics. Why? I never know if they are written in textbook French or popular spoken French., or a mix. Last year I discovered ZAZ, and I am trying to learn the songs, but I had to see them written, and then I had to translate, which was not always so easy. Do you have a video on song lyrics? Thank you

  • In the States, if you say “a la mode” you mean one thing: a scoop of ice cream on top. For example: “apple pie a la mode.” A slice of apple pie with a scoop of ice cream on top.

    • Oh, I didn’t know that, Lynn!

      (In French it means “fashionable”)

      (- Arthur, writer for Comme une Française)

  • Je crois que ‘résumé ‘ est un mot américain.En Angleterre on utilise ‘CV’aussi.ce vient du latin Curriculum Vitae
    Merci beaucoup pour vos leçons Géraldine

    • I agree. Here in the states, we use “resume” pretty much all the time to mean a summary of our qualifications for a job. I once had a boss from Australia, who, in my interview, asked me for a copy of my CV. Thank goodness I understood what he meant, but “CV” is rarely used here.

  • Comment dit-on “by mail”? La premiere fois que j’avais écouté “mon lettre de motivation pour la poste” j’avais compris “by mail” et non “for the position”. Merci!

    • Salut Bev!

      Oh, c’est une question intéressante 🙂

      – “By mail” = “Par la poste.” / “Par courrier postal.” / “Par courrier.”
      – “For the position” = “Pour le poste.”
      Ça se ressemble beaucoup ! Je comprends ton erreur !

      Le mot “poste” a plusieurs significations en français. “La Poste” c’est le service de courrier national. “Le poste” c’est “the position in the company”. (Mais parfois, “le poste” c’est aussi “le poste de télévision” = the TV set)

      (- Arthur, writer for Comme une Française)

  • Bonjour Géraldine
    Je ne connais pas l’utilisation de toutes ces expressions françaises en anglais, mais résumé aussi bien que CV, en anglais “resume” signifie: “begin again or continue after a pause or interruption” .
    En espagnol, (je suis espagnole)”resume”: c’est la troisième personne du singulier du verbe “resumir: “exponer de forma breve oral o escrita la forma principal de un asunto o materia.”
    “resumen” (nom) signifie: “exposición breve, oral o escrita, de las ideas principales de un asunto o materia”.
    Et “en resumen”: “indica que lo que se dice a continuacion es la consecuencia o la conclusión de un razonamiento, discusión etc.
    La mot anglaise “resume” c’est un faux-ami pour l’espagnol.
    La expression “à la mode” en espagnol on dit “a la moda” signifie le même qu’en français “in the fashion of”.
    Maria Posada.

  • On utilise cettes mots et phrases de français en anglais

    Bon voyage
    Croissant
    Je ne sais quoi (ie, she has a certain je ne sais quoi, to say someone or something has a certain unnamable quality)
    Joie de vivre
    Bon appétit

    As far as misused English words used in France, je ne sais pas quelque mots les françaises utiliser, mais, en anglais “has been” c’est pas la même que comment on utilise “passé”. En anglais, “passé” signifie un chose que c’est démodé et je pense qu’on ne utilise beaucoup et “has been” est une personne qui à accompli quelque chose en le passé et le personne n’est pas encore relevant. “Has been” est toujours une personne. Aussi, “has been” c’est très, je ne sais pas le mot en français, très “harsh”. C’est une mot méchant.

  • Merci, Geraldine. I love how you teach, the way you repeat phrases so clearly, and your sense of humor! There is another You Tube “Frenchness” teacher I watch who could be your sister! She’s Marie-Anne LeCoeur. Maybe you could do a collaboration? She’s also fun and caring, and super French, of course.

  • Salud Geraldine. Bonne podcast!! Tres utile!
    Avez-vous déjà entendu parler de ‘entente cordiale’ en l’usage commune francais? (Please correct me if this is in correctly worded!)

  • I’ve always found the Korean use of the English word “fighting” to be funny and interesting. They’ll say “Fighting!” as an encouragement to not give up, or to do your best, as if it’s been shortened from “Keep on fighting!” (which isn’t really an expression you’d hear commonly in English, but which at least makes sense). Comment dit-on en français? “Te peux le faire” ?

      • In English it refers to a kind of “live and let live” way of thinking, or a policy of non-interference, in particular about economics (that individuals should be free to do what they will and governments should not interfere in affairs between private parties). I almost never hear it spoken unless it’s being paired with another word, such as “He has a very laissez-fair approach to handling his employees” or “They are proponents of laissez-fair capitalism.”

  • Haha…mon mari dit souvent “Ces Bon vivants bizzares”…bien sûr, dans le mauvais contexte. Je viens du lui dire ce que cela veut dire.
    J’ai dit maitre’d!! No… 🙁 🙁

  • Géraldine. Love your videos. Working my way through the first 10 now. I always knew that maitre d’ was short for maitre d’hôtel. I think that is because I am older and grew up in England. It used to be the latter years ago but became shorter over time. Our tounges are lazy.

  • Beaulieu is used as a place name in England, it’s the name of a small village in The New Forest on the south coast, but we pronounce it “Bew-Lee” (‘bew’ to rhyme with “You”).

    I’ve only ever heard “à la mode” used in the UK to mean fashionable. We tend not to use “resumé” either – I think it’s more an American usage… in the UK employers ask for a CV. And my understanding is that a resumé is a summary of your working life, focusing on what is relevant to the job being applied for whereas a CV is a full listing of your entire experience, with a great deal more detail. Although in the UK we call it a CV, its format is similar to the American resumé!

    Interestingly, “special” is starting to be used also as an insult in the UK, as in “well, aren’t you just special!” meaning either implying the person is mentally challenged in some way, or that they have an inflated sense of self-importance. I think it has been influenced by US usage (a lot of English words/phrases are being altered by American usage, probably due to the vast amount of US TV shows that are shown in the UK).

    The origins and subsequent changes in word usages is a subject that fascinates me, and is in part a driving force in my desire to learn other languages. But, through your videos I am rediscovering my love of French! Merci Géraldine!

    • in the US apple pie a la mode – means a serving of apple pie with ice cream. No idea on how the usage of that term evolved. HA!

  • Bonjour Geraldine.
    Very much enjoying, and learning from, your videos. Impressed by the extent of wardrobe! Smiles.

    A very common expression in England which we all assume is French is “en suite”.

    en-suite:(of a bathroom) immediately adjoining a bedroom and forming part of the same set of rooms.

    “all rooms have en-suite facilities”

    Best wishes and thank you for your great videos.
    Noel

  • Bonjour Géraldine et merci beaucoup ! Thank you so much for another wonderful lesson and for your passion in helping us to learn your beautiful language. Many, many thanks! 🙂

  • Salut Géraldine, merci beaucoup pour ces exemples interessants. Ici en Afrique du Sud on emploie souvent le mot ‘croissant’, mais il se ressemble plus au ‘crussont’. Et il y a plein de noms de banlieue qui se dérivent du français, par exemple: Beaulieu = Bowloo.

  • I love my friend videos because she takes time to explain for proper understanding even within a short time.
    Her lessons are always fantastic.
    What are you waiting for just subscribe to her Géraldine Lepère YouTube.

  • Bonjour chere Geraldine,
    Merci beaucoup pour les merveilleuses leçons! Je vais voyager en France au moi de juin, et j’espere parler couramment avec des français.
    Je voudrais partager avec toi et tes élèves ce que je trouve (de/à?) m’aider à comprendre le français: ce sont les videos de TED.com en français.
    Parfois la video offre les sous-titres, parfois une traduction en anglais. Mais pour moi c’est entendre l’orateur/euse parler plus ou moins avec vitesse et ça me pousse a comprendre — aussi à developper le vocabulaire.

  • I love your videos.
    I have never heard bon viveur, but I have seen and heard bon vivant from time to time. I admit to being old.
    A French expression I find myself using is en passant, for in passing, or by the way.
    If you go to the grocery store, will you stop by the pharmacy, en passant.

  • I cant remember any words that French people misuse in America. However, When Americans imitate French people on tv shows, they made up a phrase called ”sacre bleu”.

  • Hi Geraldine! First of all, merci beaucoup pour ta lessons. In this video, before diving in, you say “c’est parti!”. What is the actual translation of “c’est parti”? I have always used it in a sports context when a team loses and leaves the tournament.

  • hi! in my experience, in the US, “a la mode” usually means with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (I think someone else said that below). so “pie a la mode” means not pie of the house but pie with ice cream! thank you for another very helpful video 🙂

  • J’entends tojours parmis nous les anglophones: “Il n’est pas consistent” au lieu de “Il n’est pas conhérent” (for “He’s not consistent.)

  • Funny… In brazilian portuguese “quid pro quo” exists in the same meaning as the English one, but it’s barely used and most of cases by older people. And there’s many many other french words we use probably with different meanings and a funny pronounciation.

  • Bonjour Géraldine!

    Je pense que j’ai trouvé un autre exemple de “faux amis”:
    En Anglais on utilise le mot “issue” (an issue) au sens de “problem/ difficulty or matter of concern”, mais, en francais “issue” a le sens de “une sortie, une solution, un conclusion”. C’est correct?

  • Le mot “bureau” est utilisé aux E-U pour une commode. Et, une “commode” veut dire “toilet” ou “chamber pot” (among other things!).
    Nous utilisons le mot “foyer” pour “entrée.”

  • En-suite, is the term we use in UK for a bedroom that has its own private bathroom (for said bath/shower room), but our immoblier did not understand this expression at all, and said that here it is called an Italian bathroom – although others have told me that an Italian bathroom is a wet-room….

  • Soon after we arrived we went to the Cuir Centre to buy a sofa, and saw a bright red leather one which came with a “chaise longue”, as we would say in English, but the vendeur did not understand us at all. It turns out that in France this is called a “meridian”. A chaise longue is something you recline on beside the pool.

    • Bonjour Jane,

      Yes, “une chaise longue” is something you put outside, by the pool if you have one.
      “Une méridienne” is the extra space you have on some sofas.

  • In Dutch we say ‘plan de campagne’ (plan or strategy) – but when I use it in a conversation with my French hubby he has no clue what I am talking about 😉

  • This was fun, and not something I had thought of!
    Ps — in most American restaurants, ‘a la mode’ only means adding a big scoop of ice cream (usually vanilla) to a large slice of pie (usually apple or another fruit)

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