160+ French Cognates and How to Recognize Even More of Them
You already use French words every day—and not just obvious ones like cliché and à la carte.
There are plenty of essential English vocab words that you can basically pick up and plop right down in your French language studies.
It’s all thanks to cognates.
Cognates are words that have the same linguistic origin. Generally speaking, they look similar and have the same or similar meanings.
It’s no secret that languages often exchange words, but French and English take this to a new level with the sheer number of words they share.
So here are 160+ French cognates, tips for recognizing dozens more and some common false cognates to watch out for.
- French Cognates: Nouns
- French Cognates: Adjectives
- French Cognates: Verbs
- How to Recognize More French Cognates
- Common False Cognates in French
- Why Do French and English Share So Many Cognates?
- And one more thing...
French Cognates: Nouns
Many cognates are nouns, because names don’t depend on grammar, meaning languages can exchange these words easily. Take a look:
French Cognates: Adjectives
French and English also share many adjective cognates. Below is a list of some examples in their masculine forms:
French Cognates: Verbs
And here are some French verbs shared with English:
|To zoom in
How to Recognize More French Cognates
Words in English that have certain endings are likely to have similar forms in French.
Here’s a list of common English word endings and a small sample of cognates for each. You can play the audio for the French and see the English word in parentheses.
|English Word Ending
|adorable (adorable), recyclable (recyclable)
|animal (animal), international (international)
|ambulance (ambulance), importance (importance)
|éléphant (elephant), restaurant (restaurant)
|dictionnaire (dictionary), salaire (salary)
|insecte (insect), respect (respect)
|indépendance (independence), science (science)
|adolescent (adolescent), paiement (payment)
|visible (visible), possible (possible)
|critique (critical), éthique (ethical)
|prononciation (pronunciation), région (region)
|artiste (artist), sexiste (sexist)
|immédiatement (immediately), normalement (normally)
Common False Cognates in French
Be careful—not all familiar words are cognates!
Faux amis (false cognates or literally “false friends”) look the same as words in another language, but aren’t.
While I’ve given you some good tips for recognizing other French-English cognates above, you’ll want to be aware of faux amis and get into the habit of checking a dictionary when you see a familiar-looking word that you don’t know.
Not doing this and accidentally using a false friend will lead to a slight chuckle in most cases, but sometimes it can lead to very embarrassing situations!
I recommend memorizing the most common false cognates to get started:
|Presently (not actually)
|To like (not to aim)
|To wait (not to attend)
|To hurt (not to bless)
|Arm (not bra)
|Flesh (not chair)
|Corner (not coin)
|Disappointment (not deception)
|Shower (not the medical device or an obnoxious person)
|Possibly (not eventually)
|Article of clothing (not habit)
|Day (not journey)
|Bookstore (not library)
|Rent (not location)
|Bread (not pain)
|Condom (not preserves or preservatives)
The best way to get comfortable with these “unfriendly” words is to incorporate authentic French materials into your language studies.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Why Do French and English Share So Many Cognates?
French and English share an amazing number of words. But why is this?
Here are the main reasons:
- Both are Indo-European languages. To get even more technical, French and English both trace their origins to an extinct proto-language spoken from roughly 4,500 to 2,500 BCE. And that’s exactly what cognates are—words in different languages with the same linguistic origin.
- French speakers invaded and dominated England for centuries. After the Norman invasion of 1066, French invaders replaced the English nobility and a plethora of words. For centuries, English-speaking servants served French-speaking masters. This is why many English words that predate 1066 have a French-derived synonym.
- England and France are neighbors. France is the closest mainland European country to England, separated only by a narrow channel. It’s no surprise that, even after the English nobility stopped speaking French, the two languages have continued influencing each other to the present day.
Today, English is the world’s lingua franca, and so many English words have been added to the French lexicon, including week-end, shopping, jogging, marketing and fast-food.
Although these words are considered franglais (a combination of French and English), they also meet the definition of cognates!
Cognates are tools that can help you learn French. But like any tool, you have to know how to use it properly.
Fortunately, thanks to cognates, the similarity of English and French vocabulary is one of the reasons why French is very accessible to English speakers.
So be wary of those faux amis and learn on!
And one more thing...
If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native French videos with reach. With interactive captions, you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with learn mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning, and play the mini-games found in our dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
All throughout, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a totally personalized experience. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)