7 Tricky French-English Faux Amis (False Friends)

Bonjour !

Many words in French and English look alike. They’re useful – you can quickly understand or use them and voilà! You’re bilingual! But watch out because some of these pairings are faux amis—false cognates: they sound similar, but they mean totally different things.

A french language learner can easily make these mistakes so be careful, or you might accidentally insult someone without knowing it.

Let’s prevent that.




Le Prénom – Bande-annonce
L’envie d’avoir envie – chanson

Et toi ?

Were you aware of these differences?
Which other false cognates do you know?
What mistakes have you made with these words?

Bonne journée,

Géraldine

Join the conversation!

  • my friend is a bit wierd, she only eats plums and makes a mess everywhere – I’m a bit obsessed about cleaning, so for me that is horrible

  • I received this message and thought he was ignoring me or himself: “J’ignore moi-même la réponse. Elle vous répondra.”

    • Bonjour Erika,

      J’ignore moi-même la réponse. Elle vous répondra. = I do not know the answer myself. She will get back to you.

      Bonnes fêtes,

      Fabien
      Comme Une Française Team

  • Je n’etais pas au courant de ces differnces. Merci pour cette super video!!!
    C’est la traduction:
    My friend is a little special, she only eats plums and that messes her up. I’m a little maniac (crazy/freak/manic) , so for me it’s dramatic.
    J’adore tes cours!!!

  • Coucou Geraldine, please allow me to be a daredevil. My first comment!
    “My friends is a bit unusual. She eats plums and dribbled everywhere. To me that is horrible!”

  • My friend is quite strange, she only eats plums and it is dirty everywhere – I am a bit cleanliness freak, so it is terrible for me.

  • Moi, je n’etais pas consciente de ces differences de sens. Merci bien pour la connaissance. Katrina

  • My mate is a bit unconventional, he only eats plums and what’s more, he is very untidy. Fortunately, I’m the opposite of my mate as I am obsessed with tidiness!

  • Mon amie est un peu peculiar elle ne mange pas des pruneaux sauf avec le sel..je suis une dramatique maniaque quand la sel a tomber partout!

  • I already had heard of this but it is good to learn more about this differences between the two languages and there meaning s

  • My friend is a little strange, she only eats plums, and makes a mess everywhere – I am a little obsessive, so, for me, this is terrible.

  • My friend is a little strange. She does not eat plums, and she is messy. I am a clean freak, so this is terrible.

  • The use of the word ‘special’ for someone with a mental illness is a harsh and unkind description only used by people who are unsympathetic. It often used for people who are born with a variety of incurable health problems. This use of special is unprofessional and insulting. It is like using the awful ‘N’ word for a person of colour.
    It comes from the term ‘special needs’ – someone who will need intensive help for the rest of their lives.

  • My friend is a bit peculiar, she eats only plums and makes a mess throughout. I am a neatness freak, thus for me this is intolerable.

  • Probably every French word, expression, and sentence is at least slightly different from it’s English translation. Therefore, only those who grew up in France (or any French-speaking nation) will attain true fluency.

  • My friend is a bit weird, she eats plum and messes up everywhere. I am a neat freak so for me it is terrible.

  • My friend is a little weird, she eats only plums, and it soils everywhere! I am a little cleanliness obsessive, so for me it is terrible!

    Geraldine, I am confused about l’envie. On the email review of the lesson, you stated l’envie was not used often. In the video, you discussed it a lot, as a noun and more as a verb. Please clarify. Thank you! I am enjoying your lessons very much.

    • Hi Bonnie!

      The word “envie” is used commonly for “desire / want” – but it’s very rarely used as “envy” / “jealousy” (we msimply use “la jalousie.”) Because, except if the context is explicit, people would understand it as “desire / want” rather than “envy.”

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

  • Two ‘faux amis’ related to cars had me fooled at first: ‘Location de voitures’ means car rental and not a place where they help you to find your car, and ‘voitures d’occasion’ means second hand cars, not specialist cars like a hearse, for instance. There is also ‘avertissement’, which is a warning, not an advertisement. And ‘eventuellement’ means possibly, not eventually. Finally, ‘actuellement’ means ‘at present’, not actually.
    Love the course. Best wishes.

    • These are good faux amis, Peter!
      And really useful to know for everyone, thanks for sharing 🙂

      Have a great day,

      (- Arthur, writer for Comme une Française)

  • My friend is weird. She only eats plums, and it is dirty everywhere! I am OCD, so for me it is terrible.

  • J’ai dit “sans preservatif” quand je faisais mes courses chez Whole Foods! Maintenant, je connais la différence entre les conservateurs et les préservatifs!

  • Bonjour Geraldine Les lecons sont bons mais il n’y pas assez temps pour nous a comprendre vos transductions en Anglais. Mais ensemble il y a tres utile Brian

  • To support someone et supporter qqn, les deux sont vraiment différents.
    Merci pour cette video !

  • M’a voisine ma parle de sa recherche d’un piano pour sa cuisine. Je pensais qu’elle était étrange d’avoir envie jouer du piano dans sa cuisine. Après plusieurs des heures de recherche, j’ai trouvé que cela veut dire un four ou bien une plaque chauffante et pas musique !!
    Merci bien Géraldine je profites beaucoup tes cours. (I hope profiter means enjoy but also profit would be good!

  • Hello Géraldine, alors relevant le défi : My girl friend is a bit weird she’s eating plums only messing all around thing that for me spotless fric is terribel.
    Je m’excuse d’avance pour les inévitables fautes d’anglais

  • Bonjour ! My friend is a bit odd – she only eats plums and that drips everywhere! I am a bit obsessed (with cleanliness) so for me it’s horrible!

  • Bonjour Géraldine et Bonne Annee!
    J’aime beaucoup tes leçons de français ! J’aime ton style! Tu es mignonne et énergétique ! J’ai 60 ans. J’ai appris le français il ya très longtemps au lycée et a l’université. Je viens de découvrir tes leçons sur YouTube . Déjà j’apprends beaucoup de neuf et nuances que je ne connaissais pas avant. Merci beaucoup pour les merveilleuses leçons !

  • my friend is a little weird. She only eats plums, and it gets messy/dirty everywhere. I’m a little obsessive, so for me it’s terrible.

  • My friend is a bit strange, she only eats plums and it makes a mess. I am a little obsessive, therefore it is horrible for me.

  • My friend is a little special, she likes to eat plums. (Lost here)…
    I’m a little crazy, for me..It’s terrible.

    Trop bien! . Je attend un classe (meetup) a la Française heir. Beaucoup parlaient mal! Vos classes ont moi saviour beaucoup plus

  • Bonjour Géraldine et merci beaucoup for another excellent lesson and introducing me to new ‘faux amis’ that are different to the usual ones in text books etc. I will watch your video again and again to learn the new ones! From the usual ones, I have a problem with, ‘demander’. When I read it in a French sentence, I immediately think, ‘demand’ rather than, ‘ask’ and I have to remind myself that they are not being rude and ‘demanding’ something but they are merely ‘asking’ something. Merci encore ! 🙂

  • My friend is a bit wierd, she only eats prunes and they make a mess everywhere – I am a bit OCD, so for me it’s unbearable.
    I often want to say ‘terrible’, but in French it is ‘affreux’. Puis-que ‘terrible’ est ‘terriffic’, non ?

  • Si quelqu’un vous demande si vous avez assez mange, Il ne faut pas dire, “ Je suis plein (e). Plein peut dire etre enceinte pour un animal. Il faut dire “ Je suis rasassie (e). C’est vrai?

    • Bonjour Jacqueline,
      “pleine” est en effet le mot pour parler d’un animal qui attend un petit.
      Ce n’est pas très utilisé au féminin.
      Mais ce n’est pas une très grosse erreur.

  • My friend is a bit strange, she only eats plums and it gets everywhere – I’m a bit obsessive about cleanliness, so for me it’s terrible!

  • My friend is a bit strange, she only eats plums and that makes a mess everywhere – I am a little obsessional and so for me it is terrible.

  • Comment traduire l’expression anglaise: ” she’s a drama queen” c’est quelqu’une qui exagere, ou qui aime se faire remarquee. (Ca pourrait etre qu’on la trouve ou embetante ou bien amusante) [Pardon, j’ai pas les accents!]

  • coucou Geraldine et merci pour tout ! moi j’habite à Toulouse depuis 2.5 ans et j’apprends le français. Mon fils, qui a 7 ans, est bilingue (il est né aux États-Unis, comme moi) — mais après quelques mois en France il a commencé de faire les traductions directs. Un jour très ensoleillé, il m’a dit: “Maman, I don’t support the sun.” C’était vraiment rigolo! 🙂

  • Vous devez utiliser la subjunctif pour la phrase: « Je suppose que tu es au courant ? «  ? Merci vos leçons et vidéos !

  • Bonjour Géraldine! Merci pour ces leçons que m’avait aidé beaucoup! Je suis en Chambéry pour une année, et vos vidéos ont rendu les conversations avec mes amis français plus facile!

  • My friend is a little weird, she only eats plums and makes the mess everywhere. I’m a little obsessive about cleanliness, so for me, it’s terrible!

  • Bonjour Geraldine, Merci pour les explications. J’apprends beaucoup de ces videos.
    My friend is a bit weird she only eats plums and makes a mess everywhere. I am a bit of a cleanliness freak so for me it is terrible.

  • Infact i love this lessons and you are best… tu es mellieur but can you make the sentences very brief and short for some us. It becomes quite difficult for me when it’s longer. At least, in short will be great.. Thanks very much! Merci beaucoup mon ami.. 🙂

  • Bounjour Géraldine,

    La traduction est la suivante:
    “My friend is a little strange, she only eats plums and makes a mess everywhere – i’m a little of a clean freak, so for me it’s terrible!”

  • My friend is a little strange, she only eats prunes and is messy. I am a little fanatical so this is terrible for me.

  • Geraldine, Here is my translation.
    My friend is a bit strange, she eats only plums and makes a mess everywhere – I am a little obsessive, therefore for me this is terrible.

    I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying your lessons. Having had a French mother, I have been speaking French or in many cases Franglais all my life. I have always used the french word dramatique incorrectly. Thank you for talking about “false friends”.

  • Salut Geradine, Des trompe’ mots. C’est a ma response a la premiere question-I assume you are the best woman jogger in the group. Formidable! Seconde- My freind is a bit strange,she never pays her parking ticket, just throws them away. I am a obessive so for me, this is terrible. Sincere Merci Claudia

  • My friend is a little weird; he makes messes everywhere and I’m a little OCD so this is tragicc for me. (is this right?)

  • blessé/béni, la grappe/le raisin, je suis chaude/j’ai chaud, je suis pleinne/j’ai bien mangé, visiter/rendre visite, passer un contrôle/réussir à un contrôle.

  • My friend is a bit weird, she only eats plums and makes a mess everywhere – I’m a bit of a neat freak, so for me, it’s terrible!

  • Another confusing pair:
    la bibliothèque = the library
    la librairie = the bookshop.

    (Mind you, some people use bookshops as if they were libraries …!)

  • This was a really useful one! A pair of words that I’ve noticed seem to have opposite meanings between French and English are demand and request. In English, a request would be less insistent than a demand, and a demand is very forceful. I’ve gathered that it is the opposite in French?

  • Alors, un episode tres bien! J’apprendre si je m’aider avec Google translate pour les mots “salit” et “partout”.

    My friend is a little odd, she only eats plums and that makes a mess everywhere. I am a bit neurotic, so it is horrible for me!

    I’m sorry, but even after the boating explanation, I don’t think I could stop laughing if someone said poupe.

    A bientot!

  • Deux autres faux amis: j’attends=I am waiting, (J’attends le train) not “I am attending” a performance, while “j’assiste à” (un match, un pièce de théâtre)= I am attending a play/game etc, not “I am helping someone”. Also “passer un film” is to show it, not go past it, but you don’t “montrer” (show) un film.
    so, assister à= to attend, “attendre” =to wait for.

  • Hi Geraldine. When I first came to France we still had film cameras and when I took my film to be developed I hesitated because I did not know the word for the paper tag they give you with your order. I thought, well I will just use the English word, someone will know it.. This is not a true false friend but I said loudly , ” J’ai oublie mon slip”. All the heads in the shop swiveled in my direction.

    • GREAT story Mary. 🙂
      Also, as a side note, we also smile when we read “enter your PIN” in English on the ATM as “pine” is slang for penis in French. Easy mistake to make for a foreigner too.

  • Salut!
    Just after watching the video I came across one of faux amis – formidable. The thing is I didn’t know that in English it means “scary, terrific, horrible” – exactly the opposite than in French, “cool, gorgeous”. So I was puzzled when formidable was related to Neville Longbottom’s grandma from Harry Potter book: “How could she have something to do with formidable?!” – I wondered.
    And I figured out another false Frenglish friend of mine after watching the video Le Tour De France – la course vs le cours. Hope I won’t yield to them anymore 🙂
    Merci beaucoup!

  • I hope you plan a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona. We would love to have you here. We’ll be happy to host you in our home. I really enjoyed this episode.

  • What about ‘réunion’? If I’m having a reunion with a friend I haven’t seen in years, do I use ‘réunion’ or ‘retrouvailles’? Merci.

  • My friend is a little strange, she doesn’t eat plums and that’s a little messy, I’m a little obsessive, so for me its terrible.

    I think I’m a little off, but this is my best guess!

  • Merci Geraldine.
    I offered to write my French teacher a glowing reference when she had to return to France, from Australia. I didn’t have a large French vocabulary, so I told her I would write: ‘Elle est une bonne femme’. Apparently, by the look on her face, that insinuated en entirely different occupation than being a teacher!

  • Ta video était très interessante. Je vais l’employer en classe pour la prochaine année scolaire.
    Merci bien

  • How wonderful that you are coming to New York City! I live in Manhattan and hope to have a chance to meet you in person and tell you how much I have enjoyed CUFTV. Please keep me posted re your plans.

  • Salut Geraldine…great video…still having trouble following your words as they are a bit to fast, but I remember your interview with your friend where you said it is very hard to slow down your French….I can appreciate that and as an English speaking person we are the opposite some times. We we meet foreigners we slow done our English like we are talking to idiots, very bad habit habit which I try hard not to do! Anyway I’m never brave enough to translate on here but I’m studying hard as a beginner I thought I would finally have a go…and this is my translation. I scrolled quickly through everyone’s comments and did not read them as I want to see how bad my translation was!
    “my friend is quite special, she eats her plums quite dirty, I am a little crazy but I am not that dramatique” thankyou great épisode!

  • I just thought of a few more: commander does not mean to command. I think that it means to order food. Demander does not mean to demand. It simply means to ask. Also, faire du stop or auto stop, I have heard to mean hitchhiking.

  • Je suis envieuse de vous tous ceux qui vont à New-York rencontrer Géraldine. J’ai grandis à Long Island 70 km à l’est de NYC et ma famille y habite toujours, mais maintenant j’habite 2200 km à l’ouest de Manhattan. Impossible d’y aller actuellement. ????

    Ahh, les faux ami. Il y a des livres sur cet sujet, et j’en ai deux. ????

    Ce qui m’est venu à l’esprit tout de suite, ce sont au moins deux choses:

    À propos du mot maniaque, c’est encore Daniel Lavoie (et son bébé dragon) à qui je pense. En ce cas, c’est la chanson rigolote «Pop corn». Écoutez-en 30 secondes :

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/p

    Quant au mot spécial, ça me rappelle l’épisode de la série télé «A Year in Provence» ou Peter Mayle voulait percet le secret de produire du vin extraordinaire. Le peintre Ramos utilise le mot spécial dans cette scène-ci :

    https://www.youtube.com/emb

    On comprend maintenant ? ????

    PS. Jean Bon → jambon → Saucisson !! ????

  • Salut Geraldine, voilà ma traduction. My friend is a little bit strange. She eats nothing but plums and _______ everywhere. I’m a little freaked out, because for that’s terrible.

  • I asked a French friend when she was getting married. She said “Pas encore ! ” J’ai dit “encore? je sais pas que tu ai déjà été mariée avant.” She said “No I meant not YET!!”

  • My Friend is a bit strange, she eats the plumes and that mess evrewhere – i’m a bit obsessive so it is horrible for me.

    je suis maniaque de parle le français couramment, et j’ai l’envie de progresse tout les jours. mais la peu me freine pour atteindre ce but. (j’epere que mes phrases au-dessus sont correcte)
    Merci Geraldine (have a nice Day 🙂

  • Thank you so much Géraldine ..

    this is only a very brief comment this week,
    but you’ve given us such a useful gem of
    a lesson here. And … a very important one,
    it’s SO easy to make these faux amis mistakes
    from English into French. I’ll be looking at this
    post again .. très utile ..

    merci et salut

    John 🙂

  • Bonjour Geraldine,
    Interestingly, because of the comparatively recent use in English of the term “special needs” to refer to people with intellectual disabilities, phrases like “He’s a bit special” have also appeared, meaning he’s weird, strange, not normal or not bright. This use didn’t exist a generation or two ago.

  • Yes! It is used in the exact same manner as in the French. Strange. Weird. But this use is not as common so people don’t realize it.

    • My comment was in reference to “special”. The other false friends are Interesante (someone already mentioned that it means a good deal instead of interesting), normalmente (means it may not happen but that is the plan), arrive (means happens or is coming or will come), brushing (I think this means to blow dry your hair straight), crayon (means pencil, right?), danceuse (I heard it means stripper and not dancer- is this true?), etc. Please correct me if I am wrong!

      • Bonjour Simone,

        intéressant usually means interesting
        danseuse means a dancer. it means stripper IF the person implies it.

  • My friend is a little strange. She only eats plums and it makes everywhere dirty. I am a little obsessive so for me its terrible.

  • bonjour, je n’ai pas idea que je te reponds les questions. alors je te comprends que tu expliques le lecon.
    peux tu repondre ma question? how do you say “to give a hug” in french?

    • Bonjour Melissa,

      Il n’y a pas de “hug” en français. 🙂

      Si c’est tendre (famille ou romantique), c’est “faire un calin”.
      Si c’est moins proche, c’est “prendre dans les bras”

  • Je suis d’accord avec Martin quant aux erreurs classiques “actuellement” et “eventuellement.”
    Il y a aussi les distinctions difficiles avec “douter” – “Je doutais que c’était vrai.” (I doubted it was true) vs. “Je m’en doutais.” (I suspected. / I thought so.) C’est égale avec
    “C’est terrible. / C’est pas terrible. ” Amis / Faux amis.
    On discutait du trajet de retour après un dîner au resto, quand une camarade a dit qu’il y avait une “confiture de traffique.” Cette erreur aurait dû être évidente!

  • Bonjour Geraldine. Merci pour l’explication de la phrase “un drame personal”. Je n’avait pas encore entendu cette expression.
    Et…quant a New York, mon dieu! je n’ai pas vu New York depuis 1984. Je ne connais plus personne la-bas.
    J’etais plus jeune quand j’y allais. A l’epoque elle etait une ville merveilleuse, bizarre, super! mais, peut-etre toutes les villes de nos jeunesses le sont…

  • Salut Géraldine

    Merci encore. Quelquefois ces faux amis sont très difficiles pour moi à comprendre. Par exemple, il faut souvenir que “sensible” (en français) ne signifie pas pratique (“sensible” en anglais). La significance a changé en anglais depuis le XIXme siècle, par exemple, dans le livre “Sens et Sensibilité”.

    Mes voisins Bretons appellent mon mari Jean l’Anglais – c’est son surnom, non ?

    Bisous

  • My friend is a bit odd, she eats only plums and makes a mess everywhere- I am a tad fastidious, so for me it is horrible.

  • My friend is a little bit different, he doesn’t eat but plumes and it dirty everything – I am kind of obsessive, it’s terrible for me then.

  • When I lived in Switzerland and was just beginning to learn French, I invited a work colleague and his wife and young daughters over for dinner.
    When we got to the cheese course, one of the cheeses I served was a goat cheese covered with edible ash. I didn’t know how to say ash so I just faked it, announcing the cheese as “chèvre avec ash.”
    At this point my colleague and his wife stiffened and the little girls’ eyes grew wide. I knew I had stepped in it.
    When I explained what I had been trying to say, my colleague told me rather severely that “ash” in French (spelled hasch) means marijuana and that the word I should have used was cendre.
    I have never forgotten that French lesson!

  • Fun Géraldine!
    I got the point with “special/ speciale” when a friend of mine describing people always made either a goggling expression or sort of rolled his eyes after using it. Then I got scared of describing an exceptional person that way. God knows how many mistakes I made before that!

    Also I noticed the same friend emphasized a nuance when saying something ” peu être intéressant,” meaning actually it was financially advantageous… Is that general?

      • Yikes!! “Je suits”?!! Where did that typo come from?? I can’t wait for iOS 10, where the OS will automatically change the international keyboard based upon what language you’re typing.

  • blesser = to injure (not ‘to bless’)
    I was with a very sweet friend who gave money to a beggar on the street, and then told him “Que Dieu vous blesse”. Oops!

  • A few weeks after moving here my friend was taking advantage of the abundance of strawberries and making jam. She ran out setting agent. She visited her neighbour and asked if she had any préservatif. Her neighbour was somewhat confused!

  • J’ai deux mots que je connais sont faux amis – mais j’oublie souvent parce qu’ils sonnent si l’Anglais!

    La première – ACTUELLEMENT – que j’utilise quand je veux dire ‘EN FAIT’ quand je veux dire “CURRENTLY” en Anglais.

    La deuxième est que EVENTUELLEMENT – il signifie «IF NEED BE”, mais je toujours l’utiliser comme FINALEMENT.

  • The worst that I ever heard (fortunately not me!) was when a friend was visiting a vigneron who determined not to use any sulphur to prevent his wine from spoiling. ‘Dans ce cas, qu’ est ce que vous utilizez comme preservatif (en lieu de ‘agent de conservation’)?

  • mixing up un fil and une fille when asking for ‘un peritel’ in an electronics store has got me into trouble!

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