10 Fake Friends of French and English (Non-Exhaustive List)

Faux amis - this French term literally translates to false friends or fake friends in English. What comes to mind? The toxic friendships that you got out of; that one person who decided to spread rumours; or two-faced backstabbers?

The real meaning is none of the above, but instead French and English words that look alike, but are actually very different. In this week’s article, I’ll talk about 10 common faux amis and what to look out for when using them!

1. grand / grand(e)

While grand in English means great, famous or impressive, grand(e) in French, though it could have similar connotations, more often simply means big or tall. For example, if I say a grand tower in English (of a building), I’d likely mean that the tower is, well, towering and impressive, with skilled architecture and construction. However, if I used grand(e) in French, as in un grand homme, it would simply just mean a tall man. Unlike English, the usage of grand(e) does not guarantee that the man we’re talking about has had any contribution to society.

2. coin / coin

Coin in English means loose change, little round pieces of metal that are worth money. In French, however, coin means corner - this is especially important to take note of! If we say that we have a lot of coins in English, then congratulations! You might be able to buy yourself a coffee. However, if we say il y a beaucoup de coins ici in French, that simply means there are a lot of corners here. Your house could have a lot of coins… and you’d still be broke.

3. pass (an exam) / passer (un examen)

Passer un examen simply means to take an exam, instead of passing an exam like its English counterpart. That means it’s something you’ve got to take note of: your friend might tell you “j’ai passé un examen ce matin”, but they might’ve gotten a 2/100 and simply meant that they took an exam. So don’t congratulate them just yet: ask about their results first!

4. patron / patron

While patron in English means client or customer, patron in French actually means your boss. I can think of numerous situations where mixing up your client and your boss could be bad for the future outlook of your career: actually, it would be bad in every possible situation. So remember, in France, when they say patron, they don’t mean your client, but the person who gives you your salary!

5. deception / déception

Deception in English means that someone is hiding something from you, lying to you, or even betrayed you. However, déception in French, though still something negative, has a much softer meaning: it simply means that someone is disappointed in someone or something. The next time you hear it in an argument, don’t jump to conclusions that they’re accusing each other of deceiving them… maybe they’re just disappointed.

6. location / location

While location in English simply means place, location in French means rental. When you see advertisements saying les meilleurs locations pour vacances, they don’t actually mean the best holiday destinations; they’re a lot more specific than that, offering rentals and air bnbs for tourists!

7. formidable / formidable

This is one of the more drastic differences: in some circumstances, they could even be considered antonyms. As formidable in English has an undertone of fear while implying that something is impressive, it usually doesn’t have very good connotations. But in French, formidable means that something is great, terrific or fantastic. Yeah, the field trip wasn’t scary, but awesome!

8. grape / grappe

A grape in English is one of the most basic fruits, something I’m sure doesn’t have to be explained, but a grappe means a bunch. While we could have a grappe de raisins, or a bunch of grapes, we could also have a grappe de bananes - a bunch of bananas. The latter doesn’t have a single grape in sight.

9. raisin / raisin

On the topic of grapes, raisins are small dried berries in English. However, I’d say that the French raisin is similar to English… but at the same time so very different. Raisin in French means grapes (Aha! Sound familiar?), and aren’t necessarily limited to dried ones.

10. envy / envie

The green-eyed monster in English means something drastically different in French: J’ai envie de toi doesn’t mean “I envy you”, but actually “I want you”. I’m not saying you shouldn’t say that to people! I suppose it’d work for a kdrama-like meet cute.

And that’s it for this week! A list of 10 faux amis to take note of while you’re in France to prevent your English DNA from imposing our own definitions of words on the French language.

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