Languages / Travel Tips


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What’s worse than an unreliable friend?

A false friend. That’s what. And the French language is full of them.

You might have thought that after three months in France I might be halfway decent at French by now. Funny joke that.

Aside from the difficult grammar and the 100 exceptions to every rule, the thing that probably trips me up the most are all the false friends (faux amis) floating around.

Here are some particularly tricky words:

1. Personne

No one– not to be confused with person.

Why does the word for nobody look like the word ‘person’?

2. Sensible

Sensitive– not to be confused with sensible.

No; that person is not sensible, they are sensitive! The adjective for the english word ‘sensible’ in French is ‘sage’.

3. Surnom

Nickname– not to be confused with surname.

Oh my goodness, this one catches me out every single time!

4. Librairie

Bookshop– not to be confused with library.

Walking down the streets of Paris in my first week, I turned to my friend and said ‘gosh, there are a lot of places to borrow books around here aren’t there?’ Her reply was ‘oh dear, you’re really being serious, aren’t you?’ Oops.

5. Raisin

Grape– not to be confused with raisin.

I really dislike this one. I absolutely love grapes and hate raisins…

6. Embrasser

To kiss– not to be confused with embrace. Although this verb can also mean ‘to embrace’, more often than not, it is used in the context of ‘kiss’.

This one has caught me out on many an occasion.

7. Blesser

To hurt/ injure– not to be confused with ‘to bless’.

These words have totally opposite meanings and, as such, it’s important not to muddle them up!

8. Important

Big/ large– not to be confused with important.

I guess big things can also be important though…

9. Slip

Men’s underwear– not to be confused with ‘to slip’. 

Better to be safe than sorry; the verb ‘to slip’ in French is actually ‘glisser’.

10. Passer un examen

Taken an exam– not to be confused with ‘pass an exam’.

Considering that ’tis the season to take exams, what better way to end than on an exam note!

Incidentally ‘to pass an exam’ in French is ‘réussir un examen’.

About Author

Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, Paris, pizza, and history, though not necessarily in that order. A fan of all things France related, she runs when she's not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming her weight in sweet food. Currently based in Paris after studies in London, she's spent most of her life living in the beautiful Devonian countryside in South West England!


  • Frederic
    12th December 2016 at 4:40 pm

    “Passer un examen” and “pass an exam” is the worst for me, very confusing and frustrating.
    No matter how advanced someone’s level becomes in both French and English, those false friends will always bring touble.

  • Darina
    13th January 2016 at 6:29 am

    Great post! I’ve learned French for many years but it is a difficult language!


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