Misused English words in French

The French use many English words or anglicisms. This article focuses on misused English words in French as well as English words used in a rather unexpected way for English-speakers.

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Misused English words in French

The French use many pseudo-anglicisms, which are English words with a totally different meaning in French. As an English-speaker, it’s useful to learn these erroneous anglicisms because French people will assume you understand them. Don’t you speak English? 🙂

un drive
to place an order for pick-up
J’ai fait un Drive Ă  IntermarchĂ©.
I placed an order for pick-up at Intermarché.
un flipper
pinball machine
J’ai jouĂ© au flipper pendant toute mon adolescence.
I used to play pinball in my teenage years.
un footing
Il fait un footing tous les matins.
He’s jogging every morning.
un jogging
running pants
J’enfile un jogging et j’arrive !
I’m putting on running pants and I’ll be right there!
un lifting
face lift
Elle s’est fait faire un lifting.
She had a face lift.
du playback
On voit qu’il fait du playback.
You can tell he’s lip-syncing.
un pressing
dry cleaner
J’ai emmenĂ© ma robe au pressing.
I took my dress to the dry cleaner.
un pull (short for pullover)
Est-ce que tu as pris un pull ?
Did you pack a sweater?
to give a makeover
J’ai complètement relookĂ© mon salon.
I gave my living room a complete makeover.
en mode roots
down-to-earth, basic, rudimentary or minimalist
Ils sont partis en mode roots l’Ă©tĂ© dernier.
They went on a minimalist camping trip last summer.
de standing
high quality
Il vit dans un appartement de standing.
He lives in a high quality condo.
un string
Il y a peu de femmes en string sur la plage.
Few women are wearing g-strings on the beach.
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When the adjective becomes the noun in French

In many occasions, French only keep the first word of an English nominal group, which often happens to be the adjective in English. The noun is unfortunately dropped in these misused English words in French.

des baskets
sneakers or basketball shoes
J’ai achetĂ© une paire de baskets.
I bought a pair of sneakers.
un dressing
walk-in closet or dressing room
Il y a un dressing à côté de la chambre.
There’s a walk-in closet next to the bedroom.
un fake
fake news, fake account..anything that is not legit or real
Elle a utilisé un fake pour le contacter.
She used a fake account to contact him.
du scotch
scotch tape
J’ai rĂ©parĂ© le trou avec du scotch.
I fixed the hole with scotch tape.
un slow
slow dance
Elle n’aime pas les slows.
she doesn’t like slow dances.
un smoking
tuxedo or smoking jacket
Les témoins du mariage étaient en smoking.
the wedding witnesses wore tuxedos.
un sweat
J’aime bien son sweat rouge.
I like his red sweater.
Sweat in French is pronounced like sweet.
des tennis
tennis shoes
Mes tennis ne sont pas imperméables.
My tennis shoes are not waterproof.

Made-up English-sounding words

Some French words look and sound English but they actually don’t exist in English. Check out these fake English words.

un baby-foot
foosball table
On a joué au baby-foot chez Jim.
We played foosball at Jim’s.
du shampoing or shampooing
Tu as amené du shampooing ?
Did you bring shampoo?
Les compagnies aériennes pratiquent le surbooking.
Plane companies overbook flights.
un talkie-walkie
Le talkie-walkie a été inventé en 1935.
Walkie-talkies were invented in 1935.

Misleading American words for food

American names used incorrectly can be misleading and highly disappointing when it comes to food. Tacos is probably one of the most disappointing misused English word in French (to me, anyway).

des potatoes
potato wedges
French potatoes, which are actually potato wedges, have become quite common on French menus in the past years.
un tacos (singular form has an “s”)
A French tacos is some sort of burrito loaded with meat (kebab, chicken cordon bleu, lamb, turkey ham, chicken nuggets, moroccan sausages…you name it!), cheese, French fries and a lot of cheese sauce. Tacos are very popular amongst teenagers and young adults in France.
If you’re from California and you’re missing tacos, don’t rush to get tacos in France as they are not your beloved Mexican-style tacos.
French tacos or tacos de Lyon are the latest novelty in a trend of kebabs and American sandwiches.

French tacos are very different from tacos in the U.S.
Tex-Mex restaurants
When you feel like Tex-Mex food, check out the items on the menu before going to a Tex-Mex restaurant in France. It seems that the French label a lot of things as Tex-Mex and you can find any of these items on a Tex-Mex menu: hot dogs, chicken nuggets, chicken wings, onion rings, mozzarella sticks…

Anglicisms with a French pronunciation

If you think that you can pronounce an English word the English way when you’re in France, think again. Here is a list of words that the French have adopted from the English language but that you probably should learn to pronounce incorrectly the French way.

un bifteck
steak (beefsteak)
Bifteck is pronounced beef-tech.
un brownie
Brownie in French is pronounced broo-nee.
du catering
Catering in French is pronounced kat-ring, almost like the French first name Catherine.
un clown
Clown is pronounced cloon in French.
un cow-boy
Cowboy in French is pronounced co-boy.
un cutter
box cutter
Cutter in French is pronounced like the succession of two French words “cul” “terre” (“ass” “earth”).
un chewing-gum
chewing gum
Chewing-gum in French is pronounced chwing-gom.
un burn-out or burn out
Burnout in French is pronounced burn-a-oot.
un magnet
Magnet in French is pronounced ma-niet.
un smoothie
Smoothie in French is pronounced smoo-ssee.
Nike and Reebok
Nike and Reebok
Brand names get their own pronunciation as well in French.
un thug
Thug in French is pronounced tug.
Brownie and cookie are two anglicisms in French.
Brookies have become quite popular in France

“Frenchified” English verbs

The following English terms are not per se misused in French but they’ve been “Frenchified” to the point that you can conjugate English verbs as if they were regular French verbs.

to boost
Je bois du café le matin pour me booster.
Coffee in the morning gives me the energy boost I need.
to brainstorm
Nous avons brainstormé toute la soirée.
We brainstormed the whole evening.
to check
Tu peux checker tes emails ?
Can you check your emails?
to customize
Il a customisé sa voiture.
He customized his car.
(se) fighter
to fight
Ils se sont fightés devant toute la classe.
They fought in front of the whole class.
to like (a video or any online content)
J’ai likĂ© sa vidĂ©o sur YouTube.
I liked her video on YouTube.
(se) speeder
to speed up
Je dois me speeder pour ne pas ĂŞtre en retard.
I should speed up not to be late.
to spoil (a movie)
Il m’a spoilĂ© le dernier Ă©pisode de la sĂ©rie.
He spoiled the series finale.

Now that you learned a few misused English words in French, how about getting familiar with some English-French false friends?

Nathalie Nahmani

About Nathalie Nahmani

Nathalie is the creator of ma French Life. She moved back to France after living in Los Angeles for 20 years. She writes practical articles to help expats in France. Nathalie lives with her family in the French Alps near Grenoble.

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6 thoughts on “Misused English words in French”

  1. I loved this article. I have one question: I’ve never heard the term “click and collect”. Is that perhaps a British term? I’ve used “I placed an online order for pick-up”. Maybe I’m learning something new today!
    Merci for all of the interesting terms and the pronunciations.

    • Thank you! I think you’re right about “click and collect” being a British term. This term has actually entered the French vocabulary as well during Covid and some French stores do use it.
      I’ll update the article with the American version.
      Thank you for your comment Dori!

  2. I love these lists but have 2 comments (I apologize for sounding pedantic): 1) For “un walking”, the English term is “walk-in closet”, not “walking closet” – they sound similar but the latter is not a term we use. 2) I was taught that “shampooing” had 2 “o”s in French not just 1.

    I’m sure both of these could be due to how the article was transcribed (voice to text could easily do the “walking” one & a simple writing omission could explain the “shampooing”)…I just wanted to comment since the purpose was to show how the French have used angicisms, I wanted to make sure they were clear.

    Keep up the good work! These are very helpful to know.

    • Hi Lisa,
      Thank you so much for your helpful remarks! You are totally right about walk-in closet and I updated the article with your correction.
      Regarding shampoing or shampooing, it turns out that the two spellings are valid in French and I added the one with two ‘o’s.
      I don’t think you sound pedantic at all and I welcome all feedback 🙂
      Thanks again Lisa!

  3. Fascinating! Like all of your previous posts, this one is both interesting and informative. Mille mercis from a retiree living in a small “village perchĂ©” in the Var.

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