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Faux Amis: False Cognates Between English and French Nouns

By R. H.

Although English and French have many true cognates, which is a help to the English-speaker learning French, beware! There are also many nouns between these languages that look like cognates but do not refer to the same things at all. Sometimes the differences in meaning can be surprising.

Often, when you see a French noun that looks like an English noun, it means just what you would guess. But not always! Do not make the mistake of assuming that just because the French noun looks familiar, it means the same thing as the similar English noun. For example, apology in English does not correspond to the French word apologie very well at all; in French, apologie can mean eulogy or praise. Some of the false cognates have vague correspondences to one another, while others have meanings that are completely unrelated.

Read on to discover which French nouns are called les faux amis, “false friends,” because they have meanings an English-speaker might not automatically guess. If you learn true cognates in French and English, as well as false cognates, you will be well prepared to speak French without accidentally embarrassing yourself by using a word incorrectly.

English word /French word - French meaning

achievement / achievement -completion, culmination

advertisement / avertissement - warning

agreement / agrément - charm

apology / apologie - eulogy, praise

apparel / appareil - appliance

angina / angine - sore throat

bachelor / bachelier - student who has passed the baccelauréat

ballot / ballotbundle, package

bride / bride - bridle

car / car - bus

carpet / carpette - small rug

cave / cave - basement, vault

chair / chair - flesh

chance / chance - luck

college / college - junior high school

commode /commode - dresser (chest of drawers)

conductor / conducteur - driver

deception / deception - disappointment

default / défaut - flaw

education / education - manners, upbringing

email / émail - enamel

entrée / entrée - appetizer

fabric / fabrique - factory

figure / figure - face

glass / glace -ice

habit / habit - outfit, clothes

infant / enfant - child

injury /injure - insult

journey / journée - day

lecture / lecture - reading

library / librairie - bookstore

location / location - rental

mode / mode - fashion

pain / peine - sorrow

patron / patron - boss

place / place - seat

pub / pub - advertisement

sentence / sentence - verdict

trouble / trouble - confusion