Although you may not know it, we use many words on a daily basis that find their roots in French. So whether you’re trying to brush up on your language skill, or simply improve and expand your vocabulary there are plenty of French words used often in English. Many of which, we use on a regular, daily basis, often without realising it!
Here are a number of French words used often in English:
À la carte: On the menu!
Art Nouveau: This particular style of art was prevalent and popular in the period between 1890 and 1910. It’s characterised by decorative arts and is often applied to furniture, architecture and painting.
Au pair: This popular job is typically done by adults between the ages of 18-30. The person in question moves to a foreign country where they (usually don’t speak the language) and live with a host family in exchange for looking after the host’s children.
Ballet: Although this popular dance emerged during the Italian Renaissance period, the word we use for ballet finds its roots in French.
Bon Appétit: Literally translated as ‘enjoy your meal‘.
Bon Voyage: Have a good journey!
Chic: Stylish or ‘à la mode’ and fashionable!
Cliché: Something that is overused or lacks original thought. Something that is ‘overdone’.
Clique: An exclusive group of people or friends. In the UK and USA, a clique often refers to a group of high school friends.
Crème de la crème: The very best. I.e. the ‘cream of the cream‘. In the UK, we often would translate this as the ‘cream of the crop‘. In French, you can also say ‘fin du fin‘.
Cul-de-Sac: Originally used in French to denote a tube with only one opening, today it is used in English to describe a dead end street.
Déjà Vu: Literally ‘already seen’. Literally ‘already seen’. (Ha- see what I did there!)
Dieu et mon Droit: The motto for the British Monarchy, meaning ‘God and my right’.
Encore: Again! This phrase is often used at live performances during concerts.
En route: On the way!
Entrepreneur: Someone who sets up their own businesses (often in the hope of making a financial gain).
Façade: Used to describe the exterior of a building.
Faux Pas: Something you shouldn’t do and often used to describe an embarrassing blunder, act or mistake in the context of a social situation.
Femme fatale: Often used to describe an attractive or seductive woman who seduces a man for her own gain. (This is primarily used as a sexist term)
Fiancé(e): As French is the ‘language of love’ it seems somewhat fitting that when you are engaged to someone, you call your betrothed you’re Fiancé(add an extra ‘e’ to the end if it’s a woman!)
Haute Couture: Often used in fashion to denote a well-made and fitted clothing item, usually made by a famous and high-end designer.
Matinée: While in English we use this word to mean ‘a morning performance’, in French it is used to describe the morning. This is a false friend and does not mean the same in English as it does in French!
Mirage: An optical illusion where you imagine something that isn’t actually there/ doesn’t even exist.
Nouveau riche: Often used in English (particularly in the UK) to denote someone who has recently come into wealth and are living an opulent lifestyle.
Nom de Plume: Literally ‘pen name’. Often used to describe an author who has chosen not to use their given name when publishing a book or novel.
Pot-pourri: A mix of dried petals, fruit or other sweet smelling mixes (usually natural) placed into a bowl to fragrance a room. Ironically, one theory about this word is that it was originally used in French to denote a 17th Century meat stew. The literal translation is ‘foul smelling pot’.
Reservoir: An artificial lake often used to store drinking water.
Risqué: Bold moves in either business or in your personal life.
R.S.V.P: Yes, this common acronym actually comes from French and stands for ‘Repondez S’il Vous Plait’- ‘Reply, please’.
Sabotage: This French word means to deliberately destroy or damage something.
Souvenir: Coming back from holiday anytime soon? Planning to bring back souvenirs for your friends and family? Well, you can thank the French for the word!
Vinaigrette: Yep, the stuff you put on your salad!