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French phrases used by English speakers

Here are some examples of French phrases used by English speakers.

There are many words of French origin in English, such as croissant, baguette and hors d'œuvres, but this article covers only words and phrases that remain identifiably French. That said, the phrases are given as used in English, and may seem more French to English speakers than they do to French speakers. The general rule is that if the word or phrase looks better in italics, it has retained its French identity, but if it doesn't need italics, it has probably passed over into English.

Note that these phrases are pronounced using the French rules, and not the English ones. Thus, the stress most often falls on the final syllable, the final letter is silent (unless it's "r" or "à" or "é"), consequent words are pronounced without a pause between them, unaccented "e" is usually pronounced as [ @ ], and final "n" is nasalized as /~/ (see SAMPA for a guide to phonetic symbols).

  • à bientôt! -- See you later!
  • adieu! -- Good bye!
  • Au revoir! -- See you again! (or) Good bye!
  • Bon appétit! -- Have a good meal!
  • Bonne chance! -- Good luck!
  • Bon voyage! -- Have a good trip!
  • Bonjour! -- lit., Good day! but also means Hello!
  • carte blanche -- unlimited authority (literally, blank card)
  • c'est la vie! -- That's life!
  • c'est magnifique! -- That's great!
  • comment allez-vous? -- How are you?
  • coup de grâce -- a strike of grace, the final blow, aimed at terminating honorably a defeated adversary's suffering
  • croissant -- a crescent roll (present participle of the verb croître -- to grow (or) to increase (or) to wax (as in the moon))
  • d'accord -- "agreed, okay" (mostly Canadian)
  • déjà vu -- the vague perception or sense that one has had a present experience before. (Literally, "to have already seen".)
  • douceur de vivre -- sweetness of life
  • escargots -- snails
  • l'esprit d'escalier -- thinking of the right answer too late (literally "staircase wit"), originally a witticism of Rousseau
  • faux-amis -- false friends (used to refer to similar words in French and English that have different meanings).
  • hors d'œuvres -- appetizers
  • je ne sais quoi -- indefinable quality, literally "I don't know what"
  • joie de vivre -- joy of living
  • merci beaucoup! -- Thank you very much!
  • (or) née -- born (past participle of naître -- to be born), often used to give someone's former or maiden name
  • n'est-ce pas? -- isn't it? Used after a statement, as in, right?
  • nom de plume -- literal translation of pen name, for which the French say nom de guerre or pseudonyme
  • non -- no
  • oui -- yes
  • raison d'être -- reason for being, career.
  • répondez s'il vous plaît (R.S.V.P.) -- please reply
  • le roi est mort. Vive le roi! -- The king is dead. Long live the king!
  • sauté -- cook while tossing in a pan (past participle of sauter "jump")
  • s'il vous plaît (S.V.P.) -- please (or) if it pleases you (or) if you please (formal).
  • soupe du jour -- the soup of the day
  • touché! -- Hit! Usually in the sense of "a good one".
  • tout de suite -- Immediately (lit., "all in sequence")
  • Vingt et un -- Twenty-one (the card game, also called Blackjack.
  • Vive la différence -- Long live the difference (between England and France, or between the sexes)
  • Vive la France -- Long live France
  • voilà! -- There you go!

Table of contents

Phrases on their way to entering English

Seemingly French phrases used in English, but not in French

  • auteur -- in French it just means "author", but in English it means "film director who controls everything about the film, or other controller of an artistic situation".
  • double entendre (pronounced dubble entendre or dobble entond)-- double meaning, for which the French say double entente or double sens
  • le mot juste -- the right word. (means the same literal thing in French, but isn't used in the particular context English-speakers use it).

French phrases in international air-sea rescue

International authorities have adopted a number of words and phrases from French for use by speakers of all languages in voice communications during air-sea rescues. Note that the "phonetic" versions are presented as shown and not in SAMPA.

  • SECURATE (securité, "safety") -- the following is a safety message or warning, the lowest level of danger
  • PAN PAN (panne, "breakdown") -- the following is a message concerning a danger to a person or ship, the next level of danger
  • MAYDAY (m'aider, "help me") -- the following is a message of extreme urgency, the highest level of danger. MAYDAY replaced SOS in this function.
  • SEELONCE (silence, "silence") -- keep this channel clear for air-sea rescue communications.
  • SEELONCE FEE NEE (silence fini, "silence is over") -- this channel is now available again.
  • PRU DONCE (prudence, "prudence") -- same as SEELONCE FEE NEE.
  • MAY DEE CAL (médical, "medical") -- medical assistance needed

It is a serious breach in most countries, and in international zones, to use any of these phrases without justification.

External Link

  • Communications Instructions, Distress and Rescue Procedures Combined Communications-Electronics Board (http://www.dtic.mil/jcs/j6/cceb/acps/Acp135e.pdf) of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States. PDF document.

See also common phrases in different languages.


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