Beware False French Friends…

Published 12th May 2011
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I don’t mean false friends of the human variety, thought they should be treated with caution, nor do I mean to imply that the French are untrustworthy. What I am talking about, of course, are actually called false cognates, but are more colloquially referred to as ‘false friends’. These are words in another language which look or sound like an equivalent to an English word, but actually have a completely different meaning. As a student of French and French translation, I have encountered many of these, and I wanted to share some of the worst examples with you, so that you don’t make the same mistakes as countless others. Here are some of the worst offenders…

‘Actuel’ – meaning ‘present, current’ and not ‘actual’. For actual, ‘réel’ is more appropriate.

’Assister à’ – meaning ‘to attend’, not ‘to assist’. Athough, with out the ’à’, it can mean ‘to assist’. Confusing or what?

’Crier’ – meaning ‘to shout’ not ‘to cry’.

’Expérience’ – meaning ‘experiment’ not ‘experience’ – so don’t put on your CV that you have ’Expérience’ – unless you’re applying to be a scientist…

’Location’ – meaning ‘rent, hire’ and not ‘location’. I told you these were tricky!

’Noise’ – another one which looks exactly like an English word, but means something completely different – this one means ‘quarrel’. The translation of our ‘noise’ is ’bruit’.

Can you think of any particularly nasty examples that I may have missed out here? I’m sure there are plenty! I’d also love to hear about any interesting or funny experiences that anyone has had when using a false cognate, help others to learn!

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