Did you know that there are quite a lot of words in English which are actually borrowed from French? These are called loan words. Do you know the meaning of faux pas, cliché or tête à tête? Keep reading to learn more!
Before we start, it's important to know that loan words sometimes change their meaning a little when they are used in another language. I’m going to tell you how English speakers use these words, not French speakers, because I’m not a French expert! There are even some words that the French don’t use at all!
Another thing is I’m showing you how they are written in English. They might be written slightly differently in French. English people might drop the accents on the letters or join two words together to make one.
This is not a complete list. I tried to choose the most interesting and useful words.
This is usually a young woman who lives with a family in another country in order to learn the language. She looks after the children and might do some housework in return for a small salary.
Example: She worked as an au pair in London for a couple of years.
A type of performance which tells a story with dancing and music, like “Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky.
A beautiful arrangement of flowers.
A small shop selling clothes, shoes or accessories. It’s usually run by a small company and is not part of a chain.
1. An office or organisation, e.g. the Citizens Advice Bureau of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)
2. In British English, an old-fashioned type of writing desk
3. In American English, a piece of furniture with drawers for clothes, called a chest of drawers in the UK.
Somebody who is employed, usually by a rich person, to drive and look after the car.
This adjective means stylish and fashionable.
Something unoriginal and uninteresting, maybe even annoying, because it’s been said or done many times before, like an often-repeated phrase, a stereotypical opinion or an overused idea in a TV show or film.
Examples of clichés:
Choosing an idiom that’s overused, like “there’s plenty more fish in the sea” when somebody breaks up with a girlfriend or boyfriend.
Giving red roses on Valentine’s Day
This is a street which is closed at one end and doesn’t lead anywhere. It’s a dead end.
Example: Our house is in a cul-de-sac so there isn't any noisy traffic.
(My French friend says that the French don’t actually use this word!)
A soft warm bed covering, filled with feathers or a similar material, to keep you warm at night.
Déjà vu or deja vu
A strange feeling that you’ve seen or done something before, or that something has happened before.
Example: I had a strange sense of déjà vu when I arrived, even though I'd never been there before.
A person who sees a great business idea and starts their own company (or more than one).
An embarrassing mistake in a social situation, like offering alcohol to guests that don’t drink.
Fiancé (man) and fiancée (woman)
This is the person you are engaged to, in other words, the person you have agreed to marry (before you get married).
This is the type or style of a book, film or TV show, for example, action, romance, comedy, horror or thriller.
Je ne sais quoi
This means “I don’t know what” but English speakers use it in a specific way, to describe a mysterious but pleasing quality that is hard to put into words.
Example: He isn’t really handsome but he has a certain je ne sais quoi which the ladies like!
Joie de vivre
This is literally the joy of living. It describes a sense of happiness and enjoyment of life.
Example: He fell in love with her energy and joie de vivre.
If a woman is petite, she is small and slim in an attractive way. Clothes shops often have a section of clothes for petite women.
This literally means the reason for existence. It describes your purpose in life.
Example: She loves her job. Teaching is her raison d’être.
This is a secret arrangement to meet, often between lovers, although not always.
Example: They had a rendezvous in a restaurant every Friday.
This is a piece of paper which you send when you are applying for a job. It lists your personal details, education, qualifications and work experience. It’s more common in American English. British people say “Curriculum Vitae” or “CV” (and so do the French, I believe!)
This stands for “Répondez s'il vous plaît”, which means “please reply”, and is often found on invitations
This is when you just see a dark shape against a bright background. If you look at somebody when the sun is behind them, you might just see a black shape.
This is something you take home to remember a holiday or a gift for somebody else. Or it could be something you give someone to remember you by.
Tête à tête
This is a private conversation between two people.
You might also like this post about Japanese loan words.
If you would like to know the best ways to learn vocabulary and remember new words, this e-book is for you:
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