French Words in English

(The "Brush up your French" Holiday Game)

Brian Steel

(Revised 2005)

Copyright 2003 & 2005 Brian Steel email

(From Website:

Since the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 C.E. (A.D.), many thousands of French words have become part of the vocabulary of English and have acquired a native English pronunciation and spelling. Over the centuries, speakers of both languages have continued to borrow useful and attractive words from one another, as needed. With the present international dominance of the English language, the numbers of current English borrowings by French far outnumber those by English, hence the unabating ultra-nationalistic outcry by purists in France against "le Franglais".

However, a close look at current English language usage, particularly in the media, reveals quite a large number of interesting borrowings from French which still retain their basic French flavour. The enduring Frenchness of these English words is to be detected above all; in their French spelling (perhaps with accents amputated - especially in the haste of composing for the print media and the Internet); but a further telltale feature is their approximately French pronunciation (or enough of the latter to present a potential problem for the unwary who only encounter them in print (like abattoir and reservoir in Australia, which are rendered with an -ore ending). For the hundreds of millions of English speakers who do not speak French, and are unaware of its distinctively different 'un-English' sounds system, the pronunciation of such borrowed words (and phrases) can sometimes cause unease, embarrassment, or error.

The following list of over 600 French words, presented in creatively Anglo-friendly spellings, is intended to serve as both an entertaining checklist and an informal quiz to remind us all of the extent of the use of such French words in media usage and in educated writing and conversation. For anyone needing access to any of the original French spellings, these (and a selected number of strategic synonyms or definitions in plain English) are included at the end of the article to for readers' further entertainment and possible benefit. Also included at the end is an Appendix for 'Lexi-gourmets' (or 'Lexi-gourmands', perhaps).

As a party game, the list could be used for you to compete with one another in:

a) recognising the words in their anglicised form below - the easy bit;
b) (somewhat more demanding), adding extra examples of real French words and expressions currently used in English. (Please send them to me for the next revision!)

Although I have searched around quite a bit, this selection of contemporary French-sounding/looking words (etc.) is slightly arbitrary and selective (particularly with reference to gastronomic and oenological terminology, where many terms have been omitted). To avoid complicating the game and being labelled a pedant to boot (if this uncharitable thought has not already flitted through your mind), technical terms (like bouchée, boucle, chicane, renvoi, etc.) have also been omitted. A list of 150 of these deliberate omissions (mainly gastronomic and technical) is included at the end of this article, to which readers are invited to add their own favourites.

Much easier to omit from consideration were words which, although fairly obviously of French origin and form, did not fit the chosen criterion of still retaining a reasonably distinct French flavour in English usage. For such words, a close French pronunciation (by those in the know) would probably sound affected de nos jours. Examples abound for us to play with by pronouncing them firstly in the normal English manner and then, if known, à la française.

Try the following 100 examples:

absinthe, accoutrements, adieu, adroit, affaire, amateur, aplomb, bagatelle, banal, baton, biscuit, blancmange, blonde, brassiere, brunette, buffet, bureau, camouflage, canard, carousel, champagne, chandelier, chiffon, cigarette (and the many other words in -ette, that we owe to French), comedienne, communiqué, complaisant, console, coquette, corset, courier, courtesan, de luxe, debauchee, debonair, dessert, detour, divorcee [and many other nouns containing the anglicised version of the French feminine ending, -ée], doyen, doyenne, employee, enclave, - a brief pause, and on we go:

Encore!, environs, epaulettes, etiquette, finesse, grandeur [but see folie des grandeurs], guillotine, habitué, haricot, legerdemain, libertine, lieutenant, limousine, locale, maisonette, maladroit, mannequin, margarine, marinade, marionette, mayonnaise, mêlée, meringue, millionaire, nocturne, omelette, pastille, peloton, petit beurre, petit bourgeois, poignant, portmanteau, queue, raisin, rationale, Renaissance, repertoire, reveille, reverie, ricochet, riposte, rouge, sortie, suede, suite, surveillance, terrain, tour, travails, and turquoise.

Even without these omissions, it is to be hoped that the items offered below (in their unorthodox but hopefully recognisable anglicised forms) will be current enough to engage the interest and interactive participation of most readers.

Bonne chance! (Bun shahnse!)

(Ici je voudrais témoigner ma reconnaissance à Madame (ou Mademoiselle) Florence Romrod pour la gentillesse de m'avoir envoyé des corrections très utiles de la version antérieure de ce petit glossaire.)

Essential Notes:

1. In the approximate "phonetic" representations in the first list below, two of the most characteristic French sounds are dealt with as follows:

a) French 'j' or 'ge' (like the 's' in 'measure' or in 'decision') is represented by zh. Thus, Jacques = Zhak; Jean = Zhon.

b) French uses of the frequent unstressed 'schwa' vowel sound (also common to English) usually appear as 'e' (e.g. 'de', 'le') but are pronounced like the 'a' in English 'amount - and three times in a moment ago, as my indispensable New Oxford Dictionary of English tells me. This shwa sound will be represented in this article by

'uh', thus': 'de' = 'duh'; 'genre' = 'zhon-ruh'.

Although these subterfuges should simplify most doubts in respect of those two sounds, the French nasal vowels which some of us find difficult to pronounce are only roughly approximated below. (You either know them or you don't.) As for the characteristic and very un-English throaty French 'r' sound, it has been left for the reader to supply, omit, or imply. (e.g. trwa, nwa(r) used as transliterations for trois and noir). Sorry if the game is sounding a bit complicated. It isn't, really. You'll quickly get the hang of things and a smile or two will quickly spread across your visage.

2. Unlike English words, French words are usually (but not always) stressed on the LAST syllable: e.g. PaRIS, BasTILLE, bouQUET garNI, croiSSANT, ingéNUE, etc. In phrases, the last word tends to bear the major stress, thus filet mignon, entente cordiale.


The rest of this article is in 11 compact pages of three- and four-column format. Please download the following Adobe Acrobat Reader .pdf document. It is easier to read and will save you a lot of printing paper. French Words in English

If you do not have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer, it is available as a free download at

Here is the beginning of that material - without the columns!

Basic List of French Words in English with Spellings in Anglicised "Phonetics"

abba twa(r)
ah la ...
ah la cart
ah la mod
Ah-lan [Aust. A lane]
ah-moor pro-pruh
ah-pray mwa luh day-lyouzh
ah-pray voo
ah-zhon prov-okka-ter
aid duh com
aid may-mwa(r)
ann tare nass-yoh-nahl
are noo-voh
arry-air pong-say
ay-me-nonce greez
ay-pa-tay lay boor-zhwa
bahl mass-kay
bahl mew-zett
Bass tea
battery duh kwee-zeen
be-czar [or tsar]
be-yay do
bees you [or bee Zhoo]

..................(End of sample)

Note: For the full .pdf version of this Sample, click here.

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