9 French Words Used in English

As we all know, English is a great “catch all” language in that it is one big mish-mash of other languages, and boy oh boy, does English love taking words from French! We’ve already written about German loan words here and here, and last week about Yiddish.  But what about French words used in English?


About 45% of English words have a French origin. 29% of those words are words that are directly stolen from French. (This is the same percentage of words in English with Latin origin). Suffice it to say, French is one of the biggest influencers on the English language. This is all thanks to the Normans and William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings in 1066. After his victory, French became the language of administration and nobility in England, and some words have hung around ever since.


However, when foreign words get taken over by another language, they don’t always maintain their original pronunciation. There are tons of examples of this- just listen around to how people from other countries pronounce standard English words. With words of French origin, however, there are quite a few for which we’ve kept the original pronunciation (or at least pretty close), particularly in the United States.


Want to brush up on your French without learning any new words? Then read on…


Art Nouveau


Do you love spending time in museums when you’re on vacation? Or is your apartment filled with lots of art? Then you’ve probably heard the term art nouveau, or art in a new style, particularly art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


I adore Art Nouveau, and some of my favorite artists include Alphonse Mucha, Gustav Klimt, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. If you haven’t seen their work, check it out!




I had to try very hard to not make this list all different kinds of food. It should come as no surprise that with all the amazing French food out there, that the French word is used in English. Aubergine is one of them.


While aubergine might not be so common in American English, I think it sounds much nicer than “eggplant.”




As a ballet dancer for about 10 years, I haaad to include ballet in this list. This beautiful dancing art form takes a lot of talent and skill, and ballet dancers are deceptively strong. If you want a new form of exercise, maybe sign up for a ballet class in your area and work on your pirouettes (see what I did there?)!




I’ve heard many an English speaker complain about the spelling of colonel, generally saying that whoever came up with the spelling for colonel must have also come up with the spelling for bologna. When it comes to colonel, at least, we have the French to thank for the word for this military officer.




Along with different food words, we take a lot of our military words from French. Communiqué is one of them. A communiqué is a message sent within the military, and is the Frenchiest to say.




You know the main body of a plane? Well, English took the word to describe that from French as well (and has even kept the pronunciation). The next time you’re on a flight and the flight attendants say not to move around the cabin, you’ll know that they mean you can’t move around the fuselage.




Ok, I had to include one more food word. I couldn’t help myself! Gateau is just too yummy.


While in French gateau is the general word for cake, since we’ve adopted this word into English, gateau has come to mean a particularly rich, expensive cake. Treat yourself to some chocolate gateau for dessert the next time you’re on a date. Whomever you’re with will certainly thank you for it.




Where would we park our cars without this French word? Garage is a great word that we Americans have kept the pronunciation of. It’s that lovable place beside the house that we keep cars, garden tools, and those old moving boxes that we’ve never managed to unpack.




Need another word besides agenda (Latin word!)? Why not use protocol, which we’ve adapted from our French friends? A protocol is another word for a set order of things, such as a procedure followed in certain formal situations, or predetermined guidelines to how a certain topic should be handled.





Do you have any favorite French words used in English that didn’t make the list? Share them with us in the comments below!


Erin Duffin lives in Berlin, is an English teacher,  yoga instructor, and is thinking about heading over to the Bröhan Museum this weekend to catch up on her art deco!  

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