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False Friends in English

Common False Friends in English – for French Speakers

Attention French speakers – beware of false friends in the English Language

It’s easy to confuse similar words, especially when learning a new language. Here are some examples of ‘False Friends’ in English and French, but we have them in other languages too.

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What is a False Friend in a foreign language?

There are many common English words which appear to be the same in French, but which have an entirely different meaning. Lots of French and English words are indeed the same, as they often have the same origin, but there are some words which look or sound identical and are in fact ‘False Friends’ or ‘False Cognates’ as they are known in linguistic circles. So be sensible and make a habit of checking if the words which you happily recycle into English, really convey the meaning that you expect.

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There is already a suspicious word or two lurking in the previous lines. In French ‘sensible’ means ‘sensitive’ and ‘habit’ means clothes. Need I say more?


Examples of False Friends in English

Some more ‘usual suspects’ from French to English are:

  • Important = Big/Large
  • Controle = Check
  • Delai = Time limit / Deadline
  • Deception = Disappointment
  • Ignorer = To not know something
  • Chance = Luck
  • Librarie = Bookshop
  • Monnaie = Small change
  • Injure = Insult
  • Inconvenant = Improper

As you can see, there is plenty of scope for miscommunication and the many difficulties that can ensue.


How to avoid False Friends?

Ask if you understood correctly

Always be ready to ask if you have correctly understood what people have said to you and what they have understood from your words (especially if it seems out of character or if they react strangely to your words).


Be vigilant when using similar words

It is of course a very useful thing to be able to increase your available vocabulary so easily, and indeed it is a skill that should most definitely be developed, (actually some people can’t even recognise similar words between languages, even though they look and sound almost the same). So if you are able to recognise them, that is a wonderful asset, but make sure you use your skill in a controlled and observant way. Don’t forget to pronounce your pet words in an English manner. (Only Hercule Poirot can pull off Franglais on a daily basis).


Check secondary meanings and common usage in dictionaries

Always check the words that seem the same, look at secondary meanings and common usage in dictionaries. Once you are confident that you know how the word is used and perceived in English, then you can use your ‘real friends’ help.

Clear communication cannot be taken for granted!

Do you know ‘false friends’ in other languages? Have you ever had a funny or embarrassing situation because of a ‘false friend’? Share is with us – write in the comment box below.


Read more about English learning:

– Common mistakes in English: connect to or with?
– How to improve English grammar – podcast and article

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