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Use of French words in English language

Updated on November 9, 2011
There is a fine ine between sounding cool and sounding snobby if you are going to use French words in English - Don't cross it!
There is a fine ine between sounding cool and sounding snobby if you are going to use French words in English - Don't cross it! | Source

French and English are a part of an open marriage where French words are conveniently and frequently used in the English language. French words are often used in English to sound snobby and sophisticated or to completely confuse the other person. Many French words and phrases have become irreplaceable in the English vocabulary, especially in areas of fashion, food, art, film, greetings, behavior and architecture. Let's take a look at few and how they are used.

1) À la mode

This French word has a hilarious meaning. When Apple Pie was newly introduced and discovered, it was considered fashionable and stylish to be eaten with ice cream. Although the context of apple pie no more applies, the meaning of a la mode being 'stylish' has still stuck on.

Example: She wore her dress with LBD pumps, a la mode.

2) Faux Pas

If you happen to commit a blunder by saying or doing something you shouldn't have, you've made a faux pas! This French word has been used innumerably in the media, especially in context of the fashion industry.

Example: The model wearing burgundy for the fall collection was a total faux pas.

3) Déjà vu

Has it ever happened to you that you experience the feeling of already having been here, seen it or experienced it? Déjà vu originally means 'having seen it' which can also be used to suggest something that has already been done before. This is one of the most commonly used French word in English language.

Example: I had a déjà vu when I saw his painting. There's something magical about it.

4) Crème de la crème

Crème de la crème is used often in English and it means 'the best of the very best' or 'top notch'. Just make sure you roll your tongue to create the 'rrrrrrr' sound in crème to sound like an authentic French speaking person.

Example: The Melbourne Business School only invites crème de la crème faculty to teach. This helps in maintaining its lofty rankings.

5) Joie de vivre

The use Joie de vivre in English implies at trying to convey exuberance or a high spirited enjoyment of life. If you are aware, this term is excessively used by the lifestyle and travelling industry.

Example: Maria is a chirpy girl in our neighborhood who people admire for her evergreen joie de vivre.

6) Raison d'être

Deeply philosophical on one hand and extremely flippant on the other, the beauty of Raison d'être is that it can be molded according to what the speaker wants to convey. It can be translated as 'the very reason for being'.

Example: Her raison d'être is wine, viticulture, barrels, vineyards, sommeliers and everything related to the heavenly drink of the heavens.

7) Touché

You may have heard Touché as a jargon in the sport of fencing. That's because when Touché is used in English, it means to acknowledge an effective, powerful argument, a wit or a striking comment made against you. This is how it has come to be used in fencing where you pause to acknowledge the opponent's hit.

Example: If you are so concerned about your country's poverty, stop complaining and do something about it yourself. Touché!

8) Genre

Surprised? Yes, Genre is a French word that is used commonly in English without most of us knowing it to be originally French and it literally means 'style, technique of a specific form of content'. Can you even imagine what the field of English literature would have done without it?

Example: Alfred Hitchcock was a master of the thriller, crime and suspense genre.

9) Rendezvous

If you have a pre-decided meeting with a person at a specific time and place, it means you have a rendezvous with them.

Example: My rendezvous with my school time friends turned into a long session of emotional stories yesterday night.

10) C'est la vie

If you ever want to heave a sigh of disappointment or acknowledge the fact 'that's the way it is', all you need to do is to use this French word in English.

Example: I lost all my hard earned money in the stocks yesterday in a lightening flash. C'est la vie!

11) Cul-de-sac

If you gave someone directions using this French word, they'd either be suitably impressed or thoroughly confused. Although it literally means 'dead end of a street', it is often figuratively used as an action leading to no outcome.

Example: The nightclub was located towards the right turn on at the cul-de-sac.

12) Tête-à-tête

Literally translated as head to head, Tête-à-tête is used to suggest a private meeting between two individuals. This word is often used in the media.

Example: The two Prime Ministers are scheduled to leave the city for a tête-à-tête to discuss matters of national security.

13) Adieu

Many people use this French word in English as a way of saying goodbye, but it is actually translated as 'until God', which means 'until we die'. You might want to consider using it more sparingly now onwards!

Example: Why don't you bid adieu to Aunt Martha with a hug, darling? We won't be seeing her until next summer.

14) Vis-à-vis

Believe it or not, vis-à-vis is straight out of Voltaire land, but we've used it to death in English. Interestingly, it originally means 'face to face', but over time its use has been altered to suggest 'rather than' or 'in comparison to'.

Example: I think you should take the road vis-à-vis the flight. You'll probably reach quicker.

15) Prêt-à-porter / Haute couture

The former means ready to wear and the latter can be translated as 'high fashion'. Both these French words are overused in English in the fashion world to the extent that no one even realizes that they're of French origin.

Example: We recommend you opt for our pret-a-porter line if you're looking for everyday, casual clothing in a reasonable budget. On the other hand, if you're looking at a no price bar, luxurious evening gown, you'd be better off with our designer haute couture range.

16) Tour de force

Have you ever performed an action or a feat that requires great strength or a show of achievement? Then ladies and gentlemen, that's your very own tour de force. In other words, your own brilliant creation.

Example: The way he negotiated with his boss to double his salary in just 5 months, was a tour de force.

17) Hors d'œuvre

Amongst the many French words used in the culinary field in English, hors d'œuvre is one that you must know. Hors d'œuvre is an extra dish served before a meal to whet the appetite. This is a widely used term that you might come across in the first page of the menu of a 7 star hotel.

Example: Patrons of this restaurant come here to savor the beautiful view and its hors d'œuvre.

18) Débutante

Not a single French in 17th or 18th century would have thought that the term they used to mark a young woman's formal entry into the society will be used with complete indiscretion in the English language! Débutante is used in English especially when we talk about new actors and actresses, don't we?

Example: Angelina Jolie must have been very young when she would have been a débutante in the world of Hollywood.

19) Sang-froid

You could use this French word in English to signify cold bloodedness and indifference on one hand and poise and composure on the other. Not to forget that you will have to perch your nostrils while you say this word, pronounced song-fwa!

Example: Her complete sang-froid when the crowds went berserk was admirable.

20) Soirée

If the French have such an exquisite sounding word that means 'evenings', their lifestyles must be really exotic and sophisticated, don't you think? You can use this French word in English to show off to your friends that you've planned a beautiful evening party for them. Make sure you don't overdo it else you may end up sounding snobbish.

Example: Are you going to attend Jean's musical soirée tomorrow?

If you've like this pièce de résistance, share it with your friends right away!


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    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Hi BAJPAI

      I'll be glad if you can put these words to use n your own writing. Language itself, whether English, French, Spanish, Mandarin, etc, is a beautiful thing to explore. I hope you have a pleasant journey exploring the beauty of language in general when you use these French words in your blog.

      Thanks very much for reading and commenting!


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      THANKS , I use these words sometime in my blog , now will use more.

    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Hi mistifields

      Although French is considered by the masses to be an exotic language, many of us don't realize how much of it we use it even in our daily conversations. You seem to be very talented because being multilingual is not everyone's cup of tea. Thanks for reading and commenting.


    • mistifields profile image


      6 years ago

      I am somewhat fluent in French and use it only to speak or text my best friend. Interesting hub.

    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Hi Phil

      I'm sure Montreal gives you a strong taste of Franglais. I am yet to travel/live in a place where French and English are both spoken widely. But my passion and appreciation for literature and language makes me explore such intricacies.

      Thanks heaps for your warm feedback.


    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 

      6 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      Great list - living where I live there is actually a number of occasions that people here speak 'Franglais' - a mixture of french and English.

    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Hi Chatkath

      Yes, Spanish would have been more practical but surely you would have had a lot of fun picking up this exquisite language, didn't you?

      Sharing these French words with fellow hubbers is my pleasure because it was fun to write. And it feels great to receive appreciation from prolific writers like yourself.


    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Hi randomcreative

      You're right, learning never ends. Which by the way brings me to asking, is there an end to your talents? From jewelry to cooking to education to business to being multi-lingual. Very impressive!


    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Hi rai2722

      Glad this could help! Thanks heaps for commenting.


      Yes, looking at literature and how it evolved is a pleasure indeed! Glad to have a fellow enthusiast showing appreciation. Thanks for your warm comment. It made my day!

      Hi JoKalvin

      That's great! You must take notes as you learn and make hubs about it. I'm sure a lot of hubbers can benefit and learn french along with you. Thanks for stopping by.

      JT Walters

      I'm glad you liked this. Surely all the readers will benefit from knowing the other words that you have pointed out. Thanks!


    • Chatkath profile image


      6 years ago from California

      I always loved French - Not the snobby sounding sentence or two, I opted to take in high school instead of Spanish, which would have been more practical in California-that's for sure and probably easier to learn!

      Thanks for sharing these fun phrases en Francais! I sure didn't remember many from school....

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I took French for 4 years and still learned a lot from this hub! It's amazing how many languages English borrows from. French is no exception. I didn't know that touche had any relation to fencing. It's crazy what you learn every day.

    • JT Walters profile image

      JT Walters 

      6 years ago from Florida

      Lovely hub but there also some really obvious ones like.



      sioux=cut throat

      I really enjoyed this.


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very useful. I am currently interested in the French language as I have taken a few basic classes this year. :)

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Great Hub. I love examining the many words which have become part of everyday English, but once belonged exclusively to another language, And our borrowing from French is immense. Very enjoyable.

    • rai2722 profile image


      6 years ago

      Now I know more about using French in a writing. Thanks for sharing.


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