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Anglophones Beware! Les Faux Amis and French Verbs

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

One of the trickier parts of learning any language is wrapping your head around the grammar. If you haven’t grown up listening to French speakers, media, music, and reading French books, learning the grammar can take a dedicated effort. The fact is that while we learned English, we picked up grammar at the same time - almost through osmosis. We know that ‘I can’t speak the language’ is right without necessarily being able to explain exactly why that structure or word order is grammatically correct. Unfortunately, though, French verbs and tricksters like les faux amis sneak up on new learners to trip them up. Don’t worry - they’re only as scary as you make them! Les Faux Amis: What Are They?

Les faux amis literally translates into ‘false friends’. And for anyone who knows what they are, no truer statement has ever been spoken. Les faux amis are words that look the same in both French and English (or similar!) but have different meanings. Think of two/too/to or there/their/they’re. Their sounds are similar but they’re not as friendly as they look in that sentence there.

These words are ‘cognates’ - or, semi-false cognates. In other words, these false friends have the same root as their French counterparts, even if they don’t have the same meaning. This is due to the close connections between the French and English languages (read more about that here).