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5 Faux Amis to Watch Out For Posted by on Apr 20, 2015 in Grammar

Les faux amis, or false friends, are words or phrases that look the same or very similar in one language, but differ greatly in meaning. These are also known, more technically, as false cognates.

Les faux amis can be tricky for many levels of French learners and are made even trickier by the fact that English and French share so many roots (and words). Many of these roots and words in English and French share similar meanings, so it can certainly be difficult to recognize the cases where they do not, in fact, mean the same thing. For example, une librarie is a bookstore and not, in fact, a library (which would be une bibliothèque).

Here are five common faux amis (in all the examples below, the French word comes first, followed by the English word):

1. Actuellement/actually

This is, perhaps, the most common faux amiActuellement means “currently,” and the adjective actuel means “current”. If you want to say “actually,” you could use en fait instead.

2. Prétendre/pretend

In fact, preténdre CAN mean “pretend,” but this is not its common meaning. Rather, preténdre means to claim or assert something. For example, il prétend jouer au piano means “he claims to play piano.” If you want to say “pretend” in French, use faire semblant instead.

3. Attendre/attend

In French, attendre means to “wait,” although it unfortunately sounds very much like the English word “attend.” If you would like to say that you are attending a conference, for example, you would use the verb assister. For example: Elle assiste à une conference aujourd’hui.

4. Monnaie/money

In French, monnaie refers strictly to change or loose coins. It does not mean the more general concept of money. Rather, “money” in French would be l’argent.

5. Demander/demand

Demander is the common verb used for “to ask.” It does not mean “demand,” which carries more force with it. If you want to say “demand” in French, use the verb exiger. You can also use it as an adjective: Elle est très exigeante means “she is very demanding.”

Can you think of any other faux amis?

 

 

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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at http://www.imaginistwriter.com. A la prochaine!


Comments:

  1. Deny Gunawan:

    The word “preservative”, I think.

  2. Katherine:

    Préservatif!!

    • Elizabeth Schmermund:

      @Katherine Yes, Deny and Katherine, préservatif is a faux ami native English speakers should look out for!

  3. Christophe:

    Éventuellement / Eventually
    As a French native speaker, the sentence “Eventually he died” sounds funny to me.

    Sensible / Sensitive
    Perceptible / Sensible

  4. Tom Sanders:

    “Rester,” to stay or remain, not the same as the English “rest,” to relax or sleep. For example, the French title of the song “stand By Me” is “Reste avec moi.”