common mistakes / Culture / Vocabulary

Innocent Words That Are Bad In French


Last we saw how some words with a strong negative meaning in English are much milder and sometimes inoffensive in French.

In this post are some expressions that ARE damaging in French, even though they remain innocuous in English.

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Excité /ex see tay/  is a false friend, a truly mean one too. While “I’m excited” is something you’d readily say in public, to strangers, to a crowd, je suis excité(e) /shew ee ex see tay/, on the other hand, is not. It means : I’m aroused, and yes, in the sexual sense. So use it wisely – or don’t.

Use J’ai hâte /jay aht/ if you’re excited about an upcoming event:

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Use Je suis ravi(e) de vous présenter…  /shew ee rah veed voo pray zohn tay…/ if you are excited to introduce someone:

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Use Je suis fier/fière de vous présenter… /shew ee fee aird voo pray zohn tay…/ if you are excited to introduce a product to an audience:

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Use énervé(e) /ay nair vay/ if you mean excited or overexcited:

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I can’t wait to get to « I can’t wait ». This one seems innocent however, if you translate it word per word it doesn’t work. Je ne peux pas attendre doesn’t sound like I can’t wait, if you try to use it for this, it sounds like “Je ne peux pas parler français”.

Use: J’ai hâte /jay aht/  J’ai hâte à /jay ahtah/ + noun;   J’ai hâte de /jay ahtd/ + verb (Infinitive).

If it’s really bad, then use J’ai trop hâte /jay troe aht/.

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“Finir” is conjugated with “avoir” in past tense, not “être”! I know, I know, in English we say I am… I am done, I am finished… but in French, “Je suis fini” means I’m a dead man (I’m finished, kaput, ruined…). So in French, we say J’ai… j’ai fini, j’ai terminé.

-          But Madame! Madame! What about “C’est fini”?

Hum…. Ok. Yes, “C’est fini” and “C’est terminé” don’t count. In this case it’s because “fini” and “terminé” are used as adjectives.

-          Can’t we use “fini” and “terminé” as adjectives for people too, then?

Non. Sorry. I’m done is always expressed with passé composé: J’ai fini.

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To “feel like” something is expressed in French with avoir envie de… /av war ohn veed…/.

You can /ahwahr ohn veed…/ a thing, for instance pizza.

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You can /av war ohn veed…/ do something, for example swimming.

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So,  you feel like something? Go ahead, knock yourself out! /av war ohn veed…/ is there for you.

HOWEVER, careful with this expression! Do you notice the d at the end?

Very important. Repeat with me : VERY IMPORTANT!

It makes all the difference in the world between a simple, innocent “I feel like” and

J’ai envie   /jay ohn vee/,  I need to pee.

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In a bilingual dictionary, one of the entries for “enjoy” is “jouir”. Be extra cautious. Alone, the verb literally means “To have an orgasm”.

If you want to express the idea of “enjoy”, you can use the verb apprécier /app ray see ay/ or aimer /ay may/.  In English, we often use it in the imperative form, “Enjoy!” which cannot be translated into one single expression in French. If you’re drinking, you may say “À la vôtre!/ah lah voe tr/; if eating, “Bon Appétit” /bonn app ay tee/; if you’re wishing well to people you may tell them “Amusez-vous!/amew zay voo/.

Seen: Some juice company had cheapened on translation services. One could read on their bottle caps:

Shake and Enjoy! – Secouer et Jouir! (!!!)

*”Jouir de…” can be used as “enjoy the rights to” in highly administrative language or legal terms… but outside of these context, it still means to have an orgasm.

More translation fun here.

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If you look up “kids”, the translation suggested might be the French slang word “gosses” /goss/. That’s all fine and dandy as long as you are in Europe. But in Canada, it’s another story. The word there means, er… balls. As in, man privates. Yes. It’s true.

So next time someone asks you if you want to see their /goss/, check in which continent you are before accepting. It might not be what you thought.

Just ask this Laval couple about their encounter (around 2:25):

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© Ouicestca 2012, tous droits réservés.

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11 thoughts on “Innocent Words That Are Bad In French

  1. Aw, this was a really nice post. In concept I wish to put in writing like this additionally taking time and precise effort to make a very good article however what can I say I procrastinate alot and under no circumstances appear to get something done.

  2. Thank you for #5. I was looking for a translation for the phrase “enjoy!” and now realize I came so close to a horrible, horrible mistake!

  3. Pingback: Seven Ways To Say I Feel | Oui, c'est ça!

  4. Hi! I have a quick question on pronunciation: in #4, your pronunciation guide for avoir doesn’t include a “v”–do the French (or Canadians) sort of slur over the “v” sound in avoir (because it’s so frequently used) like some Spanish do their s’s in some words?

  5. Lorraine, while it’s true that Canadian slang French slurs over “v”s, I think my pronunciation guide here is not accurate. “v” should be pronounced, and I am correcting this! Thanks for noticing! (I don’t know what went through my head).

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