Cognates are words that sound similar and can mean the same thing across different languages. However, in French, there are some tricky cognates that don’t mean what you might think they mean. French tutor Carol Beth L. shares five common French false cognates…
In French, there are a number of words that look like English words but have completely different meanings. These are called “false cognates” and can be confusing for students of the language.
Here are five of the most common French false cognates to watch out for.
What is an Example of a False Cognate French?
There are many words in French that look similar to words in English, but have different meanings. These words are known as false cognates, and can often lead to confusion for French learners, with some common examples of false cognates including:
- actualité (news/current affairs) vs. actuel (current)
- visage (face) vs. viser (to aim)
- librairie (bookshop) vs. libérer (to release)
- secret (secret) vs. secrètement (secretly)
As you can see, these words can often be confusing for English speakers learning French. It’s important to be aware of these false cognates in order to avoid making mistakes in communication.
The best way to learn these false cognates French learners should know – as well as other tips for speaking and reading French – is to hire a French tutor. You’ll learn all you need to know about English French false cognates, plus more helpful tips as detailed in the video below:
What is a False Friend French?
A False Friend is a word in another language that looks similar to a word in your language, but has a different meaning. It’s the same thing as a false cognate – the two terms are often used interchangeably.
For example, the English word “embarrassed” is similar to the French word “embarrassé”, but in French it means “to block”. This can be confusing for English speakers learning French, because they might think the word means the same thing. False Friends can also be phrases, not just individual words.
For example, the English phrase “I’m going to put on a brave face” is similar to the French phrase “je vais faire bonne figure”, but in French it means “I’m going to pretend to be brave”. So if you’re an English speaker learning French, be careful of these false French cognates!
What is a False Cognate Examples? Here Are Some French False Cognates to Be Aware Of
Due to their similar roots, French and English share some vocabulary and grammar. La table is table, la geographie is geography, and un film is a film – otherwise known as a movie. Similar word pairs between two languages are known as cognates.
Not all such similar words mean the same thing, however, so watch out, or some pairs may trick you! These false cognates – also known as “false friends” – sound alike but don’t actually mean the same thing. Here are a few notable examples.
1) Une librarie
Would you normally expect to pay to use the books in une librarie? In France, yes. Une librarie is a bookstore, while a library is une bibliothèque.
Football sounds a lot like the American sport “football.” Like football, football is also in fact quite popular in France. But when the French play football, there are no yardage lines on the field, and the field goals have nets and no poles – because in fact the French word football actually refers to “soccer.” Our version of football is called le football américain, or American football.
Attendre sounds like the English verb “to attend.” Logically, “j’attends le concert” would mean “I’m attending the concert,” right? Well, not quite. Attendre actually means to wait, so, “j’attends le concert” actually means “I’m waiting for the concert.”
So if attendre doesn’t mean to attend, how do you say to attend in French? The French verb is assister. If you want to say you are attending the concert, say “j’assiste au concert.”
“But wait,” you say. “That sounds like the English verb ‘to assist’ meaning ‘to help.’” Not quite.
So then what about to assist or to help? This one actually makes some sense. The French verb is aider, and you can actually see the word “aid” (also meaning to help) in its root. “Je t’aide dans ton jeu de football,” translates to “I’ll help you in your soccer game.”
“Actuellement, je fais mes devoirs.” Of course you’ve probably guessed by now that this sentence doesn’t mean you’re actually doing your homework – except it kind of actually does, indirectly.
This sentence quite simply says that you’re doing your homework right now, because actuellement means currently or right now. After all, if you’re doing them now, you are actually doing them, right? At any rate, both meanings make sense in many situations, so someone who doesn’t realize the distinction might not catch on to their mistake in conversation. If you really want to say actually and truly that you’re doing something, try using en faite (actually) or véritablement (really / truly).
In French, blesser means to wound or hurt someone, not to bless them. So be careful; if you want to look out for their physical and spiritual well-being, it might be wiser to ask a priest, rabbi, monk, or other spiritual leader for a bénédiction (a blessing). Or you can use the verb bénir (to bless) to express what you’d like him to do.
More Examples of False Cognates in French
When learning a new language, it’s important to be aware of false cognates. These are words that may look or sound similar to words in your native language, but they actually have different meanings. Here are some more examples of false cognates in French:
- “Bras” does not mean “arm.” It actually means “armrest.”
- “Champagne” is not a type of industry. It’s a type of sparkling wine.
- “Crayon” is not a type of chicken. It’s a type of pencil.
- “Déception” is not the act of receiving something. It means “disappointment.”
As you can see, false cognates can often lead to misunderstandings. So when you’re learning a new language, be sure to pay attention to these potential pitfalls!
False Cognates in French – Friends and “Fauxs” Alike!
These are only a few examples, but nonetheless take heed! French can be easier than some languages because it has some similarities with English, but it can also be tricky. When in doubt, look it up, and don’t let any of its false friends trick you!
Think you know your French false cognates after this lesson? Take the quiz to find out!
For more insider tips and tricks to learning French, try working with a French tutor. French tutors are available to work with you online via Skype or in-person, depending on your location. Find your French tutor today!
Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!
Photo by Adams K.