English is not a ‘pure language’.
Instead, it is made up of words that come from other languages. One reason for this is that the so-called British Empire, as it colonised other countries, not only made English the ‘official language’ but it acquired words from those countries’ languages.
Those words will be the topic of a future article.
For this article, I want to explain why so many French words appear in English because France was never a colony of Britain. In fact, France, like Spain, was a colonising power as well.
It is commonly believed that the conquest of the Britons in 1066 by the Normans was a key event that led to French words being used in England. Under Norman rule, Anglo-Norman French became the language of administration, law, and culture in England, and hence making its mark on the English language.
You may not even realize you are speaking French when you use these words. And did you think that as well as learning English, you had to learn French as well?
Here is a small selection of the more common French words you will see in English.
French words in English
Bouquet – More than just a bunch of flowers from your garden, a bouquet typically means a pretty, even 'arty' arrangement of fresh flowers. It also means an aroma, a scent or perfume. It is pronounced “boo-kay” or /bu'kei/ .
*Many French words end in ‘-quet’ which is pronounced “kay” or /kei/ . For example,
a tourniquet ( /ˈtʊə.nɪ.keɪ/) is something tied around a bleeding arm or leg to stop the loss of blood.
Café – a place to drink coffee or eat light meals. (pron: “caff-ay” or /ˈkafeɪ/ ). Perhaps you are eating a croissant (pron: “kwa-sonn” or k(r)wäˈsänt or /ˈkwæsɒ̃/ ) with your coffee perhaps a café au lait (pron: “café-oh-lay” or /ˌkafeɪ əʊ ˈleɪ/ ) - a coffee with milk.
Chauffeur – (pronounced “show-fer” or /ˈʃəʊfə(r) or /ʃəʊˈfɜː(r)/ ) A person who drives others, this term usually applies to formal drivers like those operating limousines - another French word. It is pronounced “lim-oh-zeens” or /ˌlɪməˈziːnz/ – often shortened to ‘limo’.)
Cliché - an overused expression or idea; in written English, clichés are best avoided. It alludes to an opinion, phrase, or concept that has been used so often it has lost any originality or impact. It is pronounced “klee-shay” or /ˈkliːʃeɪ/ .
Faux – (pron: “foh” or /fəʊ/ ) Not real, or an imitation. French for “fake” the word is typically used in English to describe materials that copy other materials, such as faux fur, which is not made from animal fur.
Fiance/fiancée – (pron: “fee-yon-say” or /fiˈɒnseɪ/ ) A person engaged to be married. The stage between being a boy/girlfriend and husband/wife. The male is a fiancé; the female is a fiancée.
Not to be confused with the word ‘finance’.
Queue – (pronounced like the letter ‘Q’ or /kjuː/ ). A line of people/documents waiting to be served/printed.
Also, ‘queue-jumper’ – merging one French word with an English word – means a person trying (and perhaps succeeding) to be at the front of the line.
Rendezvous – (pron: “ron-day-voo” or /ˈrɒndɪvuː/ ) A pre-arranged meeting or meeting place. Taken originally from military terminology it has become common in ordinary use.
RSVP - RSVP is an abbreviation for the French phrase “répondez s'il vous plaît,” which means “respond if you please” or more simply “Please reply”. If you have ever been formally invited to a party, you will have seen this abbreviation on the printed invitation. “RSVP” is all you need to say, but it is informative to know the French.
Souvenir - A memento or keepsake, that remind us of special moments in our lives, it is pronounced “soo-ven-eer” or /ˌsuːvəˈnɪə(r)/ .
This is a short selection of French words found in English to boost your vocabulary. In future articles, I will introduce you to a few more. In the meantime, keep an eye out for these as you read or listen to English and make an effort to learn them, as well as the contexts in which they appear.