7 French words that piss off English learners

The French language has greatly influenced English in the course of historical development. Even now, Shakespeare’s language has about 10,000 lexemes that are directly borrowed from French, with no spelling changes.

In general, about 40% of the roots of English words go back to common ancestors with French lexemes.

It is in the words of French origin that the most confusion arises among students who learn English as a second. We have to memorize even weirder spellings of words than true English. Let’s just say that the British and Americans are also confused about them.

Today we’re going to talk about words with a French flavor that piss or annoy English learners. Go.

Brief historical background

The origins of such a strong influence of the French language on English must be sought in the 11th century. When William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, invaded and captured England in 1066.

Already before 1075, the new king of England changed the country’s policy and carried out reforms of the administrative and judicial system. And one of the important features was the adoption of the French language as the state language in England. French became the language of official documents and the nobility.

In large cities, the majority of the population soon became bilingual, so the vocabulary of English and French began to gradually mix. Interestingly, many lexemes have retained their French spellings, which has only increased the confusion in English spelling.

Interestingly, the influence of the French language on English persisted even with a strong aggravation of Anglo-French relations and long wars. And in the 17th century, when the British Empire became the de facto hegemon in Europe, this process went in the opposite direction – now English words began to actively penetrate into French.

If you are interested in how the English language developed in a historical context, read our material. “The history of the English language is literally on the fingers”

Today, a similar process can be observed in the Canadian language environment. Recall that Canada has two official languages: English and French. The influence of French on English is especially noticeable in Quebec, where French is the main language for 80% of citizens.

Now let’s go directly to the words.

Many words in cooking in English came from French. Starting from cuisine (kitchen), and ending with cafe (cafe).

Restaurant is one of the first words of French origin taught in English courses. It is included in the base 1000 words. But in our experience, students continue to misspell the word right up to the Advanced level. Especially if you turn off the underline of misspelled words 🙂

The main difficulty is the combination of letters au, which is transmitted by sound [ɑː]… This most cunning letter u is most often forgotten to write. Or they change au to a more familiar Russian-speaking o. In Russian, after all, “restaurant”, so I want to write “o”.

The dumb t at the end of a word is also often forgotten. But this is a very common spelling problem for most English words of French origin.

Since we have already touched on the topic of cooking, then it is worth remembering the meanest word from this opera.

It also leaked into the Russian language – many of us like (or don’t like) vinaigrette salad. But in English, this is not a salad at all, but a vinegar dressing or a bottle of smelling salt.

By the way, in Russian the word “vinaigrette” also causes many problems. Because without a dictionary and auto-underline it is extremely difficult to remember how to correctly: “vinaigrette” or “venigret”.

There is a version that the Russian meaning of the word appeared when a French chef at the court of Alexander the First saw that a salad of boiled vegetables was poured with vinegar. The Frenchman exclaimed “Vinaigre?” (“Vinegar?”), And the Russian cooks did not understand him, but only nodded, thinking that he had said the name of the salad.

The word “vinaigrette” is the translator’s classic false friend. But spelling is also a problem. The Russian spelling “vinaigrette” does not directly correspond to the English a la French “vinaigrette”. There is always trouble with vowels.

There are a lot of mistakes here. And “venigrette”, and “vinigrette”, and “venigret” – in general, write anything you like, but just not correctly. Remember that ai stands for sound [ɪ]turns out to be a very difficult task.

The English word “businessman” is already causing a lot of problems for students, and its synonym “entrepreneur” is even more so.

  • First, the pronunciation [ˌɑːn.trə.prəˈnɝː]… Errors begin with the first letter, because you need to say not “entre”, but “antre”.

  • Secondly, many people, by analogy with the word “enter”, write “enterpreneur”. The thing is that it came from the old French “entreprendre” – “venturing”, “undertaking”. And the most interesting thing is that another English word “enterprise” (enterprise) also came from “entreprendre”, but here the order of the letters is different – “enter”, not “entre”.

There is also another classic mistake that students make. She is also at the end of the word. Instead of the usual and familiar English ending “-er”, which is often found in professions, the French “-eur” remained in the word.

Interestingly, in print and on the Internet, the word “entrepreneur” occurs even more often than its synonym “businessman”. According to Word Frequency Data, the first is ranked 4234 in the frequency of English lexemes, and the second – 4673.

Due to the fact that Russian also has the word “boulevard”, this lexeme becomes extremely difficult to learn. Because in English, the word is not pronounced at all:

[ˈbʊl.ə.vɑːrd] in American or [ˈbuː.lə.vɑːd] in the British version.

Have you noticed all the differences? Exactly?

Let’s voice it.

  • First: stress. In Russian “boulevard” the stress falls on the second syllable. And in English – either only the first, or double stress is placed on the first and third.

  • Second: the letter “e” in English is voiced by adding one more syllable, but in Russian it simply softens the sound [л]… The top mistake that almost all Russian-speakers make at first. The pronunciation of “boulevard” is so familiar that it seems like something wild to say “boulevard” or “boulevard”.

  • Third: ending again. Because the Russians and the English chose different sounding letters. In Russian it is [p], and American English – [d], and in British all together – [rd]…

In general, this is a completely common word of French origin, but it is its Russian version that confuses students and prevents them from remembering its correct pronunciation. Bulevad, Karl!

You have already noticed that the most difficult words to learn are the words that have analogues in Russian. The maneuver is from the same cohort.

In general, there are a lot of words in military affairs that came from French. And most of them are pronounced at random.

We have already mentioned the words “colonel” and “lieutenant” in the material “5 words of the English language that cannot be pronounced correctly the first time”… Most students pronounce them incorrectly. And you?

With the maneuver, everything is not obvious: [məˈnuː.vər] – manuver. Not only is the last “e” voiced, but also the vowels are pronounced as necessary.

The fact is that the root “man” is rendered into Russian exactly as “man” in almost all cases. For example, “manuscript” – “manuscript”, “manicure” – “manicure”, “manipulation” – “manipulation”, “emancipation” – “emancipation”. But in English, this root is pronounced only as [məˈn]…

The combination of letters “eu” adds complexity, which must be pronounced as [uː]… But here you can, by analogy with the word Europe, which in English is pronounced through [ю]…

This time we don’t even remember about the graduation – by tradition there are many mistakes in it.

The difficulties here are not with the sound, but with the writing. Because “silhouette” is pronounced exactly the same as in Russian – [ˌsɪl.uˈet]… And there are questions with spelling:

  • First, the dumb h. It is consistently forgotten by a good half of the students. But if in frequently used ones like “hour” it is remembered, then in more rare ones it is not.

  • Secondly, the combination of letters “oue”. Errors are very diverse here. Usually the letter “o” is lost, but in fact there can be a lot of them.

  • Third, the ending. Nothing strange, doubling of the letter “t” is forgotten consistently.

Interestingly, the very word silhouette comes from the surname of the Minister of Finance of France Étienne de Silhouette (Etienne de Silhouette), who held the post in 1759. It was then that “shadow portraits” became popular in France, which were called “silhouette portrait”. Actually, this is why the word practically does not change in other languages.

This very portrait-silhouette.

The most accordionist, but from this no less annoying example, we left for last. This word “queue” means “queue”. It is very accurately characterized by a joke that only the first letter is voiced in it, and the rest are waiting for their turn.

Also, one of the meanings of “queue” is “tail” – in fact, in French it is considered the main one.

Most Russian speakers pronounce this word for the first time as “kueue”. On the one hand, it is clear that something is not right, but the correct option can only be suggested by the dictionary – it is impossible to find it yourself.

Interestingly, one of the obsolete meanings of the word queue is penis. And all because in the 15th century it had the meaning of “sprout”. Over time, only the “tail” remained of the options, and the “queue” is the youngest meaning from the 19th century, which has become the main one today. This word is most commonly used in Britain. In the USA they are lazy and just use “line”.


There are many more French words in English that surprise and annoy students. And in our experience, it is in them that the most errors occur, which are then extremely difficult to fix.

And if you want to learn everything right at once, sign up for a free trial online lesson with a teacher. Then no French words will be a hindrance.

Online school EnglishDom.com – we inspire to learn English through technology and human care

For Habr readers only first lesson with a teacher in an interactive digital textbook for free! And when buying classes, you will receive up to 3 lessons as a gift!

Get a whole month of premium subscription to the ED Words app as a gift… Enter promo code may_21 on this page or straight in the ED Words app… The promo code is valid until 07/01/2021.

Our products:

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *