English-speakers share the funny mistakes they have made in French

Here is a selection of embarrassing but amusing language anecdotes

Make sure to not pronounce the ‘t’ in chiot (puppy) - otherwise you are informally talking about a toilet

Thanks to all the readers who sent in their feedback about funny mistakes they have made in French, they were an enjoyable read. 

From confusing banks with benches to veterinarian bewilderment, here is a selection of embarrassing but amusing anecdotes. 

‘I am full’

When asked by her neighbours whether she would like more food, R.D. made the mistake of answering je suis pleine. A literal translation of ‘I am full’, saying je suis pleine has different connotations across France and her hosts first understood that she was saying she was pregnant, something they still laugh about 30 years later. 

Je suis plein(e) can also mean that you are drunk, depending on the region. To mean pregnant, pleine is mostly used for animals rather than humans. 

Nowadays, it has come to mean that you are full in the English sense (although it is informal).

It would be best to avoid using that expression in any case and saying je n’ai plus faim, merci (I am no longer hungry, thanks) or j’ai assez mangé, merci (I have eaten enough, thanks).

Wiggly tooth

When W.J.’s husband went to the dentist with a loose tooth, he made the effort of looking up what to say in French, landing on ‘ma dent se branle’, much to the amusement of his dentist. 

While branler does technically mean to shake or wobble, it also has a more informal meaning: to masturbate. Almost every French person would understand this meaning in any context. We suggest you steer clear of branler and instead say j’ai une dent qui bouge (one of my teeth is moving).

Read more: Funny you should say that – the language of French laughter

Offering a pipe 

When C.S.’s friend asked her boyfriend’s father if he wanted a pipe, as he regularly smoked a pipe, she thought she was being kind and generous. 

Unfortunately for her, she used the formulation ‘voulez-vous une pipe ?’ which is actually an offer of oral sex and explained the confused look she received from her potential father-in-law. 

To avoid the colloquial meaning of pipe, add the word fumer to clearly show that you are referring to a pipe you smoke: ‘voulez-vous fumer une pipe ?’ (would you like to smoke a pipe?) would have avoided the embarrassment. 

Bank robbery 

When T.G. woke one morning to find that a beloved bench had been stolen from outside his flat, he was encouraged to report it to the police. There, he attempted to explain what had happened to a police officer but was met with confusion. 

Bench is spelt banc in French but the ‘c’ is silent. By pronouncing the ‘c’, he was actually telling the police that his bank (banque) had been stolen from outside his front door, hence the officer’s confusion and eventual amusement.

Read more: Five language ‘faux-amis’ that confused me as a French person in US

Puppy or toilet?

Two readers wrote in with a similar mistake involving the word for puppy in French: chiot.

J.A. recounts needing to tell an English friend to stop pronouncing the ‘t’ in chiots (should be pronounced something like ‘shee-o’).

B.H. remembers telling his vet that he would soon be adopting a chiotte (meaning to say a female puppy) 23 years ago, a mistake that is still brought up today. 

Chiottes is an informal term to refer to toilets, which is why this mistake is funny. B.H. was particularly unlucky with this error, because a lot of words in French become féminin by doubling the last letter and adding an ‘e’ (chien → chienne for example). However, chiot has no féminin version and can refer to a male or female puppy. 

Read more: Why being told to go cook an egg in French is rarely a good thing

Leaving behind your skirt 

When M.H. forgot her jumper at a bar, she went back and asked for it but mistakenly asked for her jupe back, meaning skirt. The bar staff must have imagined she had an eventful night.

Drawing from mistakes

J.H. is an English as a foreign language teacher and uses a mistake he made in French to use an example of why not to be scared when learning a foreign language. 

Explaining to a friend why he did not put his marmalade in the fridge, he said that it was because he put a préservatif in it, a mistake explained in the previous article. 

Read more: Mistakes that English-speakers make in French that make natives laugh

Since then, he always makes sure to offer a préservatif to his friend or her husband, leaning into the joke.

Pronunciation problems 

G.C. recounts the story of an American that arrived in France and moved to a small village. After spending his Saturday and Sunday helping his neighbour to build a wall, he was asked what he got up to on the weekend. 

In a southern drawl, he answered: ‘j’ai fait l’amour avec ma voisine tout le weekend’ (I made love to my neighbour all weekend). Of course, he had meant to say le mur but a combination of confusing the gender of mur and a southern American pronunciation of the tricky ‘u’ sound led to a very different statement.

Can you add to the examples or has a French friend of yours made a similar mistake in English? Let us know at feedback@connexionfrance.com