Common mistakes / Learn Vocabulary

10 False Friends To Beware Of


‘Tis the season for lists and rankings. What are the worse “faux amis” from English in French?

Faux amis are words that look the same but mean something different from one language to another. We all have our personal list.

Here is mine. What is yours? Do you have a favorite one?

1. Actually / Actuellement

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This is one of my pet peeve.

Actuellement means “as we speak“.

Actually is : En fait /on fett/ or En réalité /on ray  al lee  tay/

2. Attend / Attendre

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Attendre means to wait.

If you say “J’attends une conférence” you’re saying that you are waiting for a conference (as in, you are waiting for it to happen, to be set up).

Say instead: “J’assiste à une conférence“.
I attend a conference.

3. Also,… / Aussi, … 

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Aussi does mean also. Inside a sentence.

Aimes-tu les fleurs? Je les aime aussi.
Do you like flowers? I like them also.

To start a sentence with Aussi, …, however, is like starting it with Therefore, … , not Also.

Il aime les films. Aussi, va-t-il* au cinéma.
He likes movies. Therefore, he goes to the movies/to the theater. 

*Wondering about the inversion? It’s just a style thing the French like to do after Aussi when it starts a sentence. 

So, if you want to express Also,…, use: Également, … or De plus, …

Il organise la fête de Noël. De plus, il joue dans l’orchestre. 
He organizes the Christmas party. Also, he plays in the orchestra. 

4. Character / Caractère

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Caractère is nature:

Avoir un bon caractère: To be of a good nature 

The sentence: “Dans ce film, il y a un caractère principal” doesn’t make much sense, other than there is a main trait in the movie.

Instead, say: “Dans ce film, il y a un personnage principal
 In this movie, there is a main character.

5. Entrée / Entrée

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Une entrée: a starter.

Un plat principal: a main dish (“entrée”).

6. Injure / Injure

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Une injure is an insult.

The bird is injured” is translated as “L’oiseau est blessé” and not “L’oiseau est injurié” (the bird is insulted).

Which brings up the next false friend…

7. Blessed / Blessé(e)

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Someone who is “blessé” is not exactly blessed. In fact, it’s almost the reverse. Blessé means hurt, injured.

To say that someone is blessed, say: il est béni.

8. Sale / Sale

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This one tends to be a reading trap more than a speaking one.

Sale in French is the adjective dirty, filthy.

A sale would be “une solde” (France) or “une vente” (Canada)

Avoir un sale caractère = to be bad-tempered

9. Pain / Pain 

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Walking through Paris (or any French town for that matter), you will come across signs that read “Pain”. No, it does not refer to the throb you are experiencing in your feet from all the walking. It’s actually much better!

Pain means bread.

On veut du pain!
We want bread!

Pain is douleur.

J’ai une douleur au pied gauche.
I have a pain in my left foot.

10. Physician / Physicien 

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If you say : “Vite, j’ai besoin d’un physicien!” you must either be very involved in physics or something extraordinary is happening, as you are saying “Quick! I need a physicist!”

Instead, say: “J’ai besoin d’un médecin.”
 I need a physician.

Know of another one you want to share? Write it! 

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6 thoughts on “10 False Friends To Beware Of

  1. Yes, that one is not so obvious… it’s easy to make the mistake. But “aussi” followed by a coma does introduce a consequence, a result as opposed to adding an element.

  2. Tammy, en effet!
    En français, “Il prétend être le président” = “He claims to be the president”;
    alors que
    “He pretends he’s the president” => “Il fait semblant d’être le président”.
    Très juste.

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