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Five French words that we use in English…and vice versa

Ever wondered about the origin of some French words used in English, and if they still mean the same thing? We look at some common terms

A photo of an English-French, Francais-Anglais dictionary

There are many words that cross over or have links between French and English Pic: sweeann / Shutterstock

While it can feel like a challenge to manage your budget and the stress of living in France, learning the language can be a great hobby to pass the time. 

And did you know that the sentence you just read includes five English terms that are also used in (or come from) French, with many words appearing in both languages throughout history?

We explain (with thanks to Le Figaro for compiling the first list).


Comes from old French. Derived from the word ‘bougette’, which means ‘small purse’, according to Le Littré dictionary. First found in the form of ‘bouge’, meaning ‘leather bag, purse’, which also meant ‘bad place’.

Began to be used in English from the 12th century, when it meant ‘king's purse, royal treasure’. The French used it at the beginning of the 19th century, to mean ‘annual statement of public revenue and expenditure’.


This term has been used in both languages across the centuries. It was originally a riding term. Meaning ‘to train’, or use in dressage.

It probably originally came from the Italian ‘maneggiare’, and the Old French ‘mesnager’, and ‘ménager’, meaning ‘household’. It is also close to the word ‘ménagère’, which originated from the Old French ‘maynagier’, meaning ‘a ‘person of small status’ or ‘day labourer’.


Today’s use of the word comes from the English word ‘stress’ (meaning ‘force, constraint, effort, tension’), the Trésor de la langue française states that it first came from the Anglo-Norman 'destre(s)ce, destresse'.

This word itself comes from Old French, which is the origin of the French 'distresse’, which came from ‘détresse’, meaning ‘tension, discomfort, constraint, hindrance’. From this came ‘distresse’, meaning ‘cause of fear or anxiety, danger’.

This then became the English term 'distress'.


The origin of this word is the Old French 'chalenge', states the Académie française

It is itself derived from the medieval Latin ‘calengia’ meaning 'claim', and from ‘calumnia’, meaning 'accusation'. In Old French, a ‘chalenge’ meant ‘an action in court, then a duel’.

The word has gradually disappeared in modern French, which now uses the word ‘défi’.


The word ‘hobby’ comes from the French word for ‘little horse’. The English borrowed the term from the Middle French ‘hobin’, meaning a ‘little horse that goes wandering’. 

English used the word ‘hobby’ in the same way, until it became ‘hobby-horse’ in the 16th century, which means ‘a kind of petticoat horse used in comic or burlesque performances’. This then referred to the ‘child's toy of the same type, or a wooden riding horse’.

From this use of the word to describe a toy, came the current meaning of the word: ‘fun, relaxation or recreation activity’.

Today, French linguists prefer the word ‘passe-temps’.

Other common French words used in English


In English, this term typically means “an arrangement to meet someone, especially secretly, at a particular place and time, or the place itself”, states the Cambridge English Dictionary.

The term typically means a similar thing in French, but is also used in the infinitive as an instruction, and comes from the French verb ‘rendre’, meaning ‘return’ or, less commonly, ‘visit’.


This word means the same in English as French, but in English takes on an extra dimension of meaning ‘especially fancy’, ‘elegant’, ‘smart’, or ‘stylish’.

It may also describe something that seems particularly ‘French’, such as a jaunty beret. It may come from the German word ‘Schick’, meaning ‘ability’ or ‘aptitude’. 


Literally translating as ‘already seen’, déjà-vu in English describes that peculiar-but-common feeling that you have experienced or lived this situation before, even if that should be impossible.

It can also be used to describe something repetitive or commonly-seen.

…And two English words used in French


Sometimes also written as ‘tee-shirt’, this is a direct use of the English word, which describes a cotton top with short sleeves that is literally in the form of a capital T. 

It typically refers to a cotton, informal top without a collar. The Larousse dictionary explains it as from the English ‘tee / T’, and ‘shirt’, which translates to ‘chemise’ in French.


Used to describe the act of smoking in English, such as puffing on a cigarette. In contrast, in French, ‘smoking’ means ‘black tie’ or ‘tuxedo’.

This is a dress code outfit worn for very formal occasions. It requires the wearing of black trousers with a velvet line down each side, a matching jacket, white dress shirt, and bow tie.

This is similar to other ‘false friends’ between English and French. 

These are words that sound similar (or are said or spelled the same) in French and English, but actually mean different things. For example:

  • Ancien / ancient - One means old, traditional, or ‘former’; the other means ‘very old’ or from Classical times

  • Attendre / attend - One means to wait or expect, the other means to show up or be present at

  • Blessé / blessed - One means injured, the other means the receiver of good fortune

  • Monnaie / money - One means loose change in coins, the other means any kind of currency in any form

  • Coin / coin - One means a little corner or neighbourhood, the other means a physical, metal piece of currency
  • Déception / deception - One means to be disappointed, the other means intentional misleading

  • Envie / envy - One means to simply want or desire something, the other is a painful or resentful feeling of wanting what someone else has

  • Grand / grand - One can mean tall, big, or great; the other means something imposing or impressive

  • Librairie / library - One is a bookstore that sells books, the other is a place you only borrow books from

  • Location / location - One means to hire, the other signifies a physical place

  • Passer / pass an exam - One means to take the exam regardless of result, the other means to succeed at it

  • Sensible / sensible - One means sensitive, the other means being wise or cautious. The French word is typically 'sage'

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