Learning French: les faux amis

Ah, vocabulary. It can be so enlightening and yet so monotonous, so cute and yet so dull. Discovering gorgeous French words like pamplemousse (‘grapefruit’), invraisemblablement (‘in all likelihood’) and choupinette (‘darling little cauliflower’) is a pleasure, and putting a new word to use for the first time (and in the right context!) is always satisfying. Nobody likes memorising word lists, but learning vocabulary really can be fun.

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As English speakers, we generally have a huge advantage when learning new French words, given the many hundreds of similarities between the two languages.

However, ever so annoyingly, even if a French word looks identical to an English one, their meanings are not necessarily the same. We call these pesky little words faux amis, or false friends.

It’s hard to know when you’re meeting a real friend or a false one. But we’re here to help with a list, in alphabetical order, of some of the most common faux amis:

achever: to complete (not to achieve)

actuellement: currently (not actually)

assister: to attend (not to assist)

avertissement: warning (not advertisement)

blesser: to wound (not to bless)

chance: luck (not chance)

déception: disappointment (not deception)

éventuellement: possibly (not eventually)

excité: aroused (not excited)

hasard: chance (not hazard)

issue: exit (not issue)

location: renting/rental (not location)

normalement: if all goes well (not normally)

pièce: room/ play (not piece)

préservatif: condom (not preservative)

prétendre: to claim (not to pretend)

réaliser: to achieve (not to realise)

rester: to stay (not to rest)

sensible: sensitive (not sensible)

supporter: to put up with (not to support)

Can you think of any other common, pesky false friends? Please share in the comments below!

By Gemma King.

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About frenchatmelbourne

Students, alumni and friends of the Melbourne University French Studies Network

2 comments

  1. Matilda

    I have been told many times in French classrooms that “réaliser” is a faux ami, however this contradicts my anecdotal experience, which is that French native speakers frequently use it (in place of the clunky “se rendre compte” we are taught to use) to mean “to realise” – in both spoken and written formats, and in both colloquial and formal registers. So, with some research I found:

    “Réaliser” is now commonly used and understood to mean “to realise”. Although an “anglicisme” that the Académie recommends avoiding, this use is now widely accepted.

    See the fifth definition given by Larousse:
    http://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/r%C3%A9aliser/66830

    and definition C.2. from TLFi:
    http://atilf.atilf.fr/dendien/scripts/tlfiv5/advanced.exe?8;s=3693314940

    and translations at Linguee:
    http://www.linguee.com/english-french/search?query=r%C3%A9aliser+que

    and the many WordReference forums on the topic!

    Liked by 1 person

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