One of the great things about learning French or English is that many words have the same roots in the Romance languages and English. However, there are also a great many faux amis, or false cognates, which look similar but have different meanings. This is one of the biggest pitfalls for students of French. There are also "semi-false cognates," or words that can only sometimes be translated by the similar word in the other language.
This alphabetical list includes hundreds of French-English semi-false cognates, with explanations of what each word means and how it can be correctly translated into the other language. To avoid confusion due to the fact that some of the words are identical in the two languages, the French word is followed by (F) and the English word is followed by (E).
Abandon (F) vs Abandon (E)
- Abandon (F) is a noun that means abandonment, desertion, neglect, or giving up. It can also mean abandon, especially with a verb: danser avec abandon = to dance with abandon. Abandonner = to abandon.
- Abandon (E) = abandon.
Habileté (F) vs Ability (E)
- Habileté (F) refers to a skill, cleverness, a talent, or a skillful move.
- Ability (E) is a similar but weaker term, translatable by une aptitude, une capacité, or une compétence.
Abus (F) vs Abuse (E)
- Abus (F) can mean abuse, excess, or injustice.
- Abuse (E) = abus, while verbal abuse is des injures or insultes.
Abuser (F) vs Abuse (E)
- Abuser (F) means to exploit, abuse, take advantage of, deceive, or mislead. S'abuser means to be mistaken or to delude oneself.
- Abuse (E) can be translated by abuser, injurier, insulter, or maltraiter.
Accéder (F) vs Accede (E)
- Accéder (F) means to reach, attain, get to, access.
- Accede (E) has three different meanings. (1) to agree/accept: agréer, accepter. (2) to take on a new position: entrer en possession/fonction. (3) to join: adhérer, se joindre.
Accidenté(F) vs Accidental (E)
- Accidenté (F) can be an adjective: hilly, undulating, or damaged; or a noun: casualty, injured person. Accidenter means to injure or damage.
- Accidental (E) means accidentel (bad) or fortuit (good).
Achèvement (F) vs Achievement (E)
- Achèvement (F) refers to the completion or culmination of something.
- Achievement (E) has a more positive sense of attaining something that was sought after: exploit, réussite, accomplissement.
Achever (F) vs Achieve (E)
- Achever (F) usually means to finish, end, complete, reach. It can also be more figurative: to finish off, destroy, kill.
- Achieve (E) = accomplir, réaliser, atteindre.
Acompte (F) vs Account (E)
- Acompte (F) refers to a deposit, down payment, or installment.
- Account (E) = un compte.
Action (F) vs Action (E)
- Action (F) can mean action as well as act or a share of stock.
- Action (E) = action or effet.
Actuellement (F) vs Actually (E)
- Actuellement (F) means at the present time, and should be translated as currently or right now. Je travaille actuellement = I am currently working. A related word is actuel, which means present or current: le problème actuel = the current/present problem.
- Actually (E) means "in fact" and should be translated as en fait or à vrai dire. Actually, I don't know him - En fait, je ne le connais pas. Actual means real or true, and depending on the context can be translated as réel, véritable, positif, or concret: The actual value = la valeur réelle.
Adepte (F) vs Adept (E)
- Adepte (F) is a noun: follower or enthusiast.
- Adept (E) is an adjective: compétent or expert.
Addition (F) vs Addition (E)
- Addition (F) can refer to addition, a sum, or a restaurant check or bill.
- Addition (E) = une addition, une augmentation, or un surcroît.
Ado (F) vs Ado (E)
- Ado (F) is an apocope of adolescent-teen or teenager.
- Ado (E) is a somewhat rare word that is equivalent to agitation or bruit (figuratively)
Adresse (F) vs Address (E)
- Adresse (F) can refer to a mailing, email, or spoken address or to deftness, skill, or dexterity.
- Address (E) = une adresse or un discours.
Affaire (F) vs Affair (E)
- Affaire (F) can mean business, matter, deal, transaction, or scandal.
- Affair (E) is the equivalent of affaire only in the sense of an event or concern. A love affair is une liaison, une affaire d'amour, or une aventure amoureuse.
Affluence (F) vs Affluence (E)
- Affluence (F) is a crowd of people: Il y avait une affluence attendant à la porte = There were crowds waiting at the door.
- Affluence (E) indicates a lot of something (usually wealth): There's an affluence of information here = Il y a une abondance d'information ici. His affluence is obvious = Sa richesse est évidente.
Agenda (F) vs Agenda (E)
- Agenda (F) refers to a datebook.
- Agenda (E) means l'ordre du jour or le programme.
Agonie (F) vs Agony (E)
- Agonie (F) refers to death pangs or mortal agony.
- Agony (E) means severe physical or mental pain, but not necessarily just this side of death: angoisse, supplice.
Agréable (F) vs Agreeable (E)
- Agréable (F) means pleasant or nice when describing a thing, such as the weather or situation. It's not used to describe people other than in the construction être agréable de sa personne = to be pleasant-looking/personable.
- Agreeable (E) does not normally mean agréable, but rather "in agreement," which doesn't have an exact equivalent in French. I'm agreeable to doing it = Je le ferai volontiers. If that's agreeable/acceptable = S'il n'y a pas d'inconvénient, Si cela vous convient.
Agrément (F) vs Agreement (E)
- Agrément (F) refers to charm, attractiveness, or pleasantness.
- Agreement (E) = accord or harmonie.
Aimer (F) vs Aim (E)
- Aimer (F) means to like or to love.
- Aim (E) can be a noun: but, visées; or a verb: braquer, pointer, viser.
Allée (F) vs Alley (E)
- Allée (F) is a generic term for any sort of road or path: lane, path, avenue, driveway, etc. It can also refer to an aisle.
- Alley (E) = une ruelle.
Allure (F) vs Allure (E)
- Allure (F) normally refers to speed or pace: Rouler à toute allure = to drive at full speed. It can also refer to an appearance or look. Allures refers to behavior or ways.
- Allure (E) indicates charm or attrait.
Altérer (F) vs Alter (E)
- Altérer (F) can mean alter, but it nearly always has a negative connotation: distort, falsify, tamper with, spoil, debase.
- Alter (E) = changer, modifier, transformer, etc.
Amateur (F) vs Amateur (E)
- Amateur (F) is a semi-false cognate. It can mean amateur in the sense of non-professional, but it can also mean a lover of something: un amateur d'art = an art lover.
- Amateur (E) refers to someone who dabbles in a trade or activity: an amateur photographer: un amateur de photographie.
Amitié (F) vs Amity (E)
- Amitié (F) is the generic French word for friendship.
- Amity (E) is used more specifically to mean peaceful relations between nations = concorde or bons rapports.
Ancien (F) vs Ancient (E)
- Ancien (F) can mean old in the sense of not young as well as in the sense of former: mon ancien professeur = my old (former) teacher, mon professeur ancien = my old (aged) teacher. Learn more about adjectives.
- Ancient (E) means antique or très vieux.
Animation(F) vs Animation (E)
- Animation (F) is much more general in French than in English. In addition to animation, life, liveliness, it can also refer to cultural or sports activities as well as leadership.
- Animation (E) means animation or vivacité.
Antique (F) vs Antique (E)
- Antique (F) as an adjective means antique or ancient. As a noun, it refers to antiquity or classical art/style.
- Antique (E) means the same an adjective, but as a noun it refers to une antiquité, un objet d'art ancien, or un meuble ancien.
Apologie (F) vs Apology (E)
- Apologie (F) has three different meanings. The original meaning of defense or plea is related to the judiciary meaning of vindication or justification. The current and most common meaning is praise.
- Apology (E) = les excuses.
Appareil (F) vs Apparel (E)
- Appareil (F) is an apparatus, device, or appliance.
- Apparel (E) is an out-dated term for clothing: habillement.
Are (F) vs Are (E)
- Are (F) refers to an area of one hundred square meters.
- Are (E) is a conjugation of "to be" (être): we are (nous sommes), you are (vous êtes), they are (ils sont).
Argument (F) vs Argument (E)
- Argument (F) is a semi-false cognate. It means argument in the sense of a mathematical or philosophical argument. Also: argument massue = sledgehammer blow; argument publicitaire = advertising claim; argument de vente = selling point.
- Argument (E) is une discussion, une conversation, un débat, or une dispute.
Arriver (F) vs Arrive (E)
- Arriver (F) can mean to arrive or to happen, while arriver à + verb means to succeed in doing or to manage to do something.
- Arrive (E) is translated by arriver.
Arroser (F) vs Arose (E)
- Arroser (F) means to water or spray.
- Arose (E) is the past participle of arise: survenir, se présenter, s'élever.
Assistance (F) vs Assistance (E)
- Assistance (F) is a semi-false cognate. Its primary meaning is audience.
- Assistance (E) indicates help or aid.
Assister (F) vs Assist (E)
- Assister (F) is nearly always followed by à and means to attend something: J'ai assisté à la conférence = I attended (went to) the conference.
- Assist (E) means to help or aid someone or something: I assisted the woman into the building = J'ai aidé la dame à entrer dans l'immeuble.
Assumer (F) vs Assume (E)
- Assumer (F) only means to assume in the sense of taking on responsibility or assuming control. It also means to hold a job or fulfill a role.
- Assume (E) is a semi-false cognate. In addition to assumer, it can also mean supposer or présumer.
Assurance (F) vs Assurance (E)
- Assurance (F) refers to self-confidence or insurance in addition to assurance.
- Assurance (E) means assurance or conviction.
Attendre (F) vs Attend (E)
- Attendre (F) à means to wait for: Nous avons attendu pendant deux heures = We waited for two hours.
- Attend (E) is translated by assister (see above): I attended the conference = J'ai assisté à la conférence.
Audience (F) vs Audience (E)
- Audience (F) is a semi-false cognate. In addition to the meaning of the English word, it can signify: Votre audience, s'il vous plaît = Your attention, please. Ce projet a une large audience - This project has a lot of attention. Donner audience à quelqu'un = To meet with / listen to someone. Une audience publique = A public meeting.
- Audience (E) is a group of spectators or listeners.
Avertissement (F) vs Advertisement (E)
- Avertissement (F) is a warning or caution, from the verb avertir = to warn.
- Advertisement (E) is une publicité, une réclame, or un spot publicitaire.