Bonjour! Comment allez-vous? English has borrowed a wide variety of words from the French language over the centuries, providing our vocabulary with a touch of elegance and sophistication. From fashion to cuisine, the French have had a significant influence on the way we talk. Let’s take a look at 10 English words that have French roots. Chances are, you’re already using some of these on a daily basis!
Why Are English and French So Similar?
The connection between French and English goes back to their history and shared linguistic origins. Both languages are part of the same language family, Indo-European, which created similarities in their grammar and vocabulary. Of course, there are large differences in many areas like syntax, pronunciation, and spelling (hors d’œuvres anyone?).
The languages became historically linked after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. French became the language of the ruling elite, which heavily influenced English. This led to many French words making their way into English, especially in the areas of law, government, and culture. In fact, about 30-40% of English words are derived from French. The common linguistic background and historical ties between French and English have created a shared vocabulary that can help make learning French a little easier.
English Words of French Origin
Parlez-vous français? You actually know more French words than you think! Take a look at the list below to find 10 common English words of French origin. We’ll look into their history, meaning, and use. So pour yourself a glass of Bordeaux, put on some Edith Piaf, and let’s dive into the fascinating world of English words that come from French. You might just be surprised how much French influence there is in our everyday language!
You may have seen #coquette or #coquetteasthetic blowing up on social media. While it currently refers to a flirty and fun fashion trend, the word coquette has its origins in the French language. Its etymology can be traced back to the Old French word coquetterie, which refers to a woman who “strives to attract attention” and “flirts with boldness.” So, next time you’re watching an Instagram reel or a TikTok showing you how to apply this style, you’ll know there’s some French flair behind it. Oh là là!
In English, we’ve co-opted the word chic to describe anything that is effortlessly stylish and sophisticated, whether it be a fashion choice, interior design, or even a person’s demeanor. The word chic has its origins in the French language, where it was used to describe a sense of style and elegance, not so different from its usage today! If you want to impress someone with your impeccable taste, you can tell them that their outfit or new hairstyle is très chic.
In English, the term entrepreneur is used to describe those go-getters who are always thinking of new ideas and taking risks to make them a reality. We often see this word in the context of start-up businesses. The word entrepreneur stems from the Old French word entreprendre, which means “to undertake” or “to engage in.” It’s no surprise that the French came up with a word to describe the bold and daring individuals who take on the challenge of starting their own business ventures.
The word debut comes from the French word débuter, meaning “to start.” It was first used in English in the early 18th century to refer to the beginning of a performance or presentation. Today, we use it to describe the first public appearance or performance of someone, typically in the entertainment or sports industry.
Originally, the French word rendez-vous, was the second-person plural conjugation of the verb se rendre, which literally means to surrender. Now, it means a meeting or appointment. In English, we use it in a more casual sense to denote a planned get-together. And let’s be honest, it just sounds fancier than saying “meeting up,” non? Note that the English version drops the hyphen (-) which is needed in the French version.
The word sport comes from the French word desport, which means “leisure” or “pleasure.” In English today, the word sport is used to describe any physical activity or game that involves skill and competition. Whether you’re into football, tennis, or even curling, you can thank the French for giving us a word that makes our sweaty, adrenaline-fueled pursuits sound oh-so-sophisticated.
The word souvenir comes from the French verb souvenir which means “to remember.” In English, we use souvenir to refer to those little mementos we pick up on our vacations to remind us of that time we got scammed in Paris or lost in the Louvre. It’s the perfect word for those overpriced snow globes and keychains that always seem like a good idea at the time. Ah, the joys of being a tourist.
In French, RSVP stands for Répondez s’il vous plaît, which roughly translates to “Please respond.” In English, we use the initials RSVP to indicate that a response to an invitation is required. Next time you receive an invitation, you’ll know that you’re being politely requested to confirm your attendance in a timely manner.
The word cinema comes from the French word cinéma, which was derived from the Greek word kinēmatographos, meaning “moving picture.” In English today, we use it to refer to the art of making, showing, and watching films, and also as a fancy way of saying “movie theater.” It’s the perfect word for when you want to sound sophisticated while discussing the recent film noir you watched.
10. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity
The French words for liberty, equality, and fraternity are liberté, égalité, fraternité. This might seem like a random inclusion in this article, but these words are the national motto of France. They have deep roots in the French Revolution and have come to symbolize the principles of the Republic. Vive la France!
Ways to Practice French
There are many ways to practice your French skills, so why limit yourself to just one? Dive into a language-learning app like Rocket Languages or Babbel for some interactive practice. Dust off that old textbook from high school and give it another go. Or feel free to check out some newer options. And if you’re feeling particularly tech-savvy, sign up for an online course and learn from the comfort of your own home. With so many options at your fingertips, there’s no excuse not to parler le français!
English Words That Have French Origins: Final Thoughts
When you sip on a café au lait or attend a soirée, remember that English is filled with French flair. From chic to rendez-vous, these borrowed words add a certain je ne sais quoi to our language. So go ahead, embrace the French influence and sprinkle some sophisticated savoir-faire into your everyday conversation. After all, c’est la vie! Keep practicing and these words will come to you naturally. Au revoir!