False friends are words that look and/or sound similar in English and French but that have significantly different meanings. They can be misleading so it is a good idea to be aware of them.
However, the list of false friends in English and French is very long and you can’t just learn them all at once. That’s why you will find 10 examples of false friends in this post. More will come in future posts. 🙂
False friends 1: sensible / sensible
The English word sensible is raisonnable in French, while the French word sensible means sensitive in English.
A sensible person in English is reasonable, i.e. raisonnable. In French, if a person is described as being sensible, it means this person is sensitive.
False friends 2: actually / actuellement
|🇨🇵||actuellement||↔||🇬🇧||currently, at the moment|
These false friends are probably the source of one of the most common mistakes I hear in my classes. Make sure you don’t mix the meanings up: to say actually use the phrase en fait in French. The French word actuellement means at present, currently in English.
False friends 3: carnation / carnation
A carnation in English is the word for the flower called œillet in French. In French, the word carnation describes the flesh tone, so the English word for that is complexion. See how easy it would be to mistranslate a sentence such as Il avait une carnation blanche and think it means He had a white carnation whilst it actually means Il avait un œillet blanc.
False friends 4: to deliver / délivrer
|🇬🇧||to deliver||↔||🇨🇵||livrer, distribuer, sauver|
|🇨🇵||délivrer||↔||🇬🇧||set free, relieve|
To deliver is the English verb to say livrer or distribuer in French, but also to say sauver, while délivrer means to set free, to relieve.
In English, you deliver a parcel for example; in French you can délivrer hostages.
False friends 5: to rest / rester
|🇬🇧||to rest||↔||🇨🇵||se reposer|
To rest is the English for se reposer. The French verb rester means to stay.
Of course, if you stay (rester) at home, you can rest (se reposer).
False friends 6: accommodate / accommoder
|🇨🇵||accommoder||↔||🇬🇧||to prepare, to adapt|
The English verb to accommodate is the equivalent of the French loger, héberger ; accommoder means to prepare (when talking about cooking) or to adapt and make suitable.
A room can accommodate 2 guests. In French, you accommode a dish, but you can also accommoder a room to say that you prepare the room so as to make it suitable for your guests (and there you can see the connection between the two).
False friends 7: chance / chance
Chance is often confusing. The English word chance means hasard in French, but the French word chance means luck. Avoir de la chance is to be lucky. Something that happens by chance happens par hasard in French
False friends 8: injure / injure
|🇨🇵||une injure||↔||🇬🇧||an insult, an offense|
The English verb to injure means blesser in French, but injure is a French noun that means insult in English.
In English, you can get injured in an accident but in French, if somebody offends you, you can say that was because of une injure. Clearly, both can hurt though.
False friends 9: cave / cave
Cave in English and cave in French have that in common that you find both below ground level. However an English cave is une grotte in French while a French cave is a cellar in English.
False friend 10: library / librairie
|🇨🇵||librairie||↔||🇬🇧||bookshop / bookstore|
These two are very confusing for a lot of learners of French or English because both words have to do with a place where you find books. Still, a library is where you can borrow books and that is called une bibliothèque in French. Une librairie is where you can buy books, what you call a bookshop in British English and a bookstore in American English.
Of course, as I said earlier, there are many more false friends in English and French and these ten examples show that you can’t just decide to pronounce an English word with a French accent or vice versa, and expect that with a bit of luck, people will understand you. This may sometimes work, but the risk is people actually do understand something, but not what you actually meant! So, be wary of false friends!
There you are! You now know 10 common false friends and will not be fooled by them. Congratulations! 😉