You want to learn French but feel overwhelmed by all the new words? With so many French words used in English, you’ll be glad to see that the two languages have more similarities than you think! This is because French and English have many common roots, both historical and etymological.
To help bridge the gap between the two languages, welcome to our list of 20 common French words used in English.
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À la carte
Choosing a dish à la carte is a way of ordering food in a restaurant that allows you to pick whatever individual items you want off the menu.
- I’ll take a side salad à la carte. – Je vais prendre une petite salade à la carte.
While enjoy your meal is sometimes used in English instead, the French expression bon appétit is just as common. The French say this all the time whenever we see someone eating!
- This chicken looks delicious. / Bon appétit! – Ce poulet a l’air délicieux. / Bon appétit !
Bon voyage is a popular expression used to wish someone an enjoyable journey.
- Bon voyage! Take care. – Bon voyage ! Prends soin de toi.
In both languages, a boutique is a specialized store, often with a tinge of prestige to it.
- I like this clothing boutique. – J’aime cette boutique de vêtements.
Café is one of the most famous French words used in English. It can refer to a coffee shop or a coffee in French. Even in English, it always keeps the accented é: café.
- Let’s go get a coffee at the café. – Allons prendre un café au café.
Carte blanche is an old French military term that was used to signal surrender. Nowadays, in both English and French, this expression means you are given full authority in whatever you wish to do.
- He gave me carte blanche to decorate the room as I like. – Il m’a donné carte blanche pour le décor de la chambre.
When it comes to fashion and style, you may recognize a lot of French words that are used in English. Chic refers to a stylish look that stands out.
- Your dress is so chic! – Ta robe est tellement chic !
Cuisine in French can mean both cooking and kitchen.
- I love Italian cuisine. – J’adore la cuisine italienne.
A coup d’état in English translates literally as a stroke of the state. In both languages, it refers to a forced takeover of the leadership, usually of a country. Note that, unlike in English, coup d’état can’t be shortened to just coup in French.
- The coup d’état failed, and the opposition was imprisoned. – Le coup d’état a échoué, et l’opposition était emprisonnée.
With this common French expression used in English, déjà-vu is the experience of feeling as if an event has already happened before.
- I have a sense of déjà-vu every time I hear an ambulance. – J’ai une sensation de déjà-vu à chaque fois que j’entends une ambulance.
In English, the word encore is usually used when performers return to the stage for an extra performance at the end of their main show. In French, this is actually called a rappel, which translates better as a callback. Nonetheless, this is because the word encore in French means again, so it’s what spectators call out to performers when they want more.
- Encore! Encore! – Encore ! Encore !
- The musicians were called back for two encores. – Les musiciens ont été rappelés pour 2 rappels.
Encore has a much broader meaning in French, and can translate to again, still, or yet.
- He forgot his phone again. – Il a encore oublié son téléphone.
- I still have the drill you lent me. – J’ai encore la perceuse que tu m’as prêtée.
- I did not do my homework yet. – Je n’ai pas encore fait mes devoirs.
This French word used in English refers to the front face of a building. Did you know that although it’s often omitted, the proper spelling in English still includes the accented ç?
- The western façade of the building is still intact. – La façade ouest du bâtiment est toujours intacte.
Literally, a faux-pas in English is a false step.
- That’s a serious diplomatic faux-pas. – C’est un sérieux faux-pas diplomatique.
Hors-d’œuvres are little bite-sized snacks served before a meal, usually informally while standing.
- Those hors-d’œuvres are very tasty. – Ces hors-d’œuvres sont très bons.
Je ne sais quoi
The French expression je ne sais quoi in English translates directly as I don’t know what. It expresses an indefinable quality that sets someone apart from the ordinary.
- Angèle is just enchanting to me. She has a certain je ne sais quoi. – Angèle m’enchante tout simplement. Elle a un certain je ne sais quoi.
The most common translation of milieu in French is middle, though it’s also used to refer to a general area or a circumstance. This latter use has been adopted into English. Note that the plural of milieu in both languages is milieux.
- He comes from a modest milieu. – Il vient d’un milieu modeste.
Rendez-vous is a common French word for a meeting, which can refer to anything from a formal appointment to a chance encounter. In English it’s generally used for social encounters planned ahead of time.
Note that while the French expression always includes the dash (rendez-vous), the English adaptation is considered correct when written as a single word (rendezvous).
- I can’t miss this rendezvous. – Je ne peux pas manquer ce rendez-vous.
The term sabotage comes from the French word sabot, which was a wooden clog or a horseshoe. Sabotage historically refers to workers protesting oppressive labor conditions by throwing their shoes into machinery.
- The union members attempted a sabotage on the assembly line. – Les syndicaux ont tenté un sabotage sur la chaîne de montage.
In English, a souvenir is a keepsake that brings back memories of the place it was acquired. While this meaning of souvenir is indeed used in French, for French speakers un souvenir can also refer simply to a memory. Se souvenir is also the French verb for to remember.
- I bought this souvenir in Paris. – J’ai acheté ce souvenir à Paris.
- I have no memory of my preschool. – Je n’ai aucun souvenir de ma maternelle.
- I remember your last visit. – Je me souviens de ta dernière visite.
Touché is used differently in English than in French. In English, touché is used to admit a valid point made by someone during a debate. In French, however, it’s the past particple of the verb toucher, meaning to touch, so touché in French simply means touched or hit.
- You say you miss me, but you never call. / Touché. – Tu dis que je te manque, mais tu n’appelles jamais. / C’est vrai.
- He was hit in the leg. – Il a été touché à la jambe.
French can seem like a difficult language to learn at first, but we hope this post helped you realize the similarities it shares with English. This isn’t surprising when one considers how entwined the two cultures have been since the Middle Ages, with French remaining a language of prestige in Europe until modern times.
If you liked this list of French words used in English, you can check out our complementary post on BaseLang for even more French words used in English.