In any language, you will find false friends (also known as false cognates, false friends, or false lovers): words that look similar but have a different meaning from their original one.
If you are learning the French language, make sure to be familiar with these confusing words.
11 French false friends
False friends are almost always nouns and adjectives; verbs are rarely false friends.
However, it is advisable to pay close attention to any word you come across in French that has a different meaning than what you expect it to have.
In this article, we will introduce 11 French false friends that might catch you by surprise.
Waiting is referred to as “attendre” in French. “Je t’attends” is one of the little phrases lovers often use next to each other when they are separated.
This phrase means “I am waiting for you” rather than “I am attending to you.”
If you want to romance someone in French, you must realize this distinction (and learning these French romance words would not hurt either!).
Your arm, from your shoulder to your wrist, is called votre bras.
A soutien-gorge is a bra in French. It has no connection with your arm whatsoever.
Blesser means to wound in French. It is either emotionally or physically.
So un enfant blessé is not a child that you are expected to kneel and worship, but more likely a child that needs patching up with an antiseptic wipe and a bandage.
Un bouton in French refers to a pimple, though the word bouton does indeed mean button.
Teenagers can be perplexing to uninitiated French learners because of their unique language.
Monnaie means loose change. A person who gets to the checkout and says they have no monnaie is apologizing for not having the right change.
You could easily have no monnaie, but plenty of money.
The words decevoir, déception, and déçu all refer to being disappointed or disillusioned and are therefore not to be taken as synonyms for a deceiver.
You may get the wrong idea if you assume someone is accusing someone else of deceiving them rather than simply disappointing them.
Be careful with this one. The verb envier can be used as “to envy” or “to desire”, but the noun envie refers to a desire or wish.
You may express your desire for ice cream by saying, “ai envie d’une glace.” It is incorrect to say, “J’ai envie de toi” if you mean “I envy you” because, in reality, you would be saying, “I desire you.”
You will not make this mistake if you learn French as a language since the line “J’ai envie de toi” is heavily used in French pop music and movies whenever love and desire are depicted.
A big person can be described as grand (un grand écrivain is a great writer).
When used to describe a person’s physical appearance, grand means tall.
Une grappe de raisins mean a bunch of grapes, but do not get confused; grappe means a bunch.
You can also have une grappe de bananes without a grape in sight.
Joli(e) means pretty and is used to describe objects as well as people.
It is common to confuse this term with “bonne journée,” which means “have a good day.”
Une journée is a day, so if someone wishes you bonne journée, they wish you a nice day. It does not imply that they think you are going away.
The false friends on this list will catch you off guard if you do not keep a close eye out for them.
If you are careful, you can avoid these false friends, and you will be well on your way to fluent French. 🙂