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Improve Your French Vocabulary with Vrais Amis (True Cognates)

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Can you spot the vrai amis??

 

Like many French language schools in Paris, our teachers often hear students fretting about the difficulty and complexity of French language. And we won’t deny it: learning French can be tough. The good news is that if you’re an English speaker, you do get a bit of a break when it comes to French vocabulary.

Thanks to William the Conqueror (or as we call him: Guillaume le Conquérant) and his invasion of England nearly a millennia ago, French and English share tens of thousands of similar words. Some are identical in spelling and meaning (e.g., impossible); some have the same meaning and slightly different spelling (e.g., adresse/address) and some have slightly different spelling and a partially different meaning (e.g., porc/pork).

VRAIS AMIS

Such words are true cognates or “vrai amis” (true friends) and they make your French-speaking life a little bit easier. Familiarize yourself these cognates – even with just a fraction of the thousands that exist – and you’ll soon find yourself packing a fairly substantial French vocabulary.

That said, learning French-English cognates still requires work, practice and, sometimes, a good dictionary. Before you start slinging French cognates around, here are four essential things you must remember:

1.  The French pronunciation is different. True French-English cognates may look temptingly identical, but they always sound different. If you simply say the word as you would in English, you are not speaking French – you’re speaking English! And you risk not being understood. So, remember to use the proper French pronunciation for each word.

2. The French usage may differ. Even though true cognates are spelled the same and have the same meaning, sometime the words have a different connotation in one or both of the languages. For example, take the cognate “carafe.” In a restaurant in France, you might ask: “Puis-je avoir une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plaît?” (May I have a carafe/bottle of water, please?) By saying this, it is implied that you want tap water, not commercially bottled water. To communicate the same thing in English, you would need to say: “May I have a bottle of tap water, please? The difference in usage is something you will have to learn through exposure to native French speakers.

3.  Some true cognates are actually “semi-true” cognates. A semi-true cognate is one where the French and English word are spelled the same and part of the meaning is the same, but part is different. For example, the French word “porc” shares a definition with “pork” in English in that it refers to the flesh of a pig. But porc also refers to the animal itself, whereas in English you’d have to say “pig.”

4. Be wary of false cognates. False cognate (or “faux amis”) are French words that look identical or extremely similar to English – but have an entirely different meaning (e.g. coin: in English: a form of currency; in French, a corner). We’re going to discuss false cognates in depth in an upcoming blog post. For now, just understand that not every French word spelled like an English one necessarily has the same meaning.

Now we’ve thrown all these exception and qualifications at you, you might be concerned that learning true cognates isn’t as easy as you’d thought. But seriously? Don’t worry. Just take a look at the 130 of the most common true cognates listed below. We think you’ll feel reassured.  For a look at the full list of identical French-English words, click here!

Have questions about French-English cognates or other French language concern? Ask us below!

130 COMMON TRUE COGNATES

[tab]
[tab_item title=”ADJECTIVES“]

adorable
absent
accessible

brave
bizarre
brutal

certain
central
capable

distinct
diligent
direct

extravagant
excellent
exorbitant

final
flexible

grotesque
habitable
horrible
horizontal

irritable
invisible
inverse
long
lamentable

minuscule
macabre
normal
notable

optimal
plural
plausible
perceptible

racial
radiant
respectable
rural

simple
sociable
transparent
unique
urgent

vertical
visible
violent

[/tab_item]
[tab_item title=”NOUNS“]

abdomen (m.)
absence (f.)
accent (m.)

base (f.)
brochure (f.)
budget (m.)

cage (f.)
carafe (f.)
client (m.)

danger (m)
date (f.)
destination (f.)

effort (m.)
expert (m.)
existence (f.)

festival (m.)
fiasco (m.)

garage (f.)
glucose (f.)

horizon (m.)
hyperbole (f.)
hypocrite (m.)

illustration (f.)
identification (f.)
immersion (f.)
impression (f.)

logo (m.)
lactation (f.)

machine (f.)
menace (f.)
massage (m.)

nature (f.)
novice (m/f.)

parachute (m.)
parasite (m.)
passage (m.)
patience (f.)

qualification (f.)
quadrant (m.)
question (f.)

radio (f.)
rat (m.)
rectangle (m.)
regret (m.)

sanction (f.)
satisfaction (f.)
science (f.)

taxi (m.)
tennis (m.)

ultimatum (m.)
unification (f.)

vibration (f.)
vestige (m.)
village (m.)
zone (f.)
zoo (m.)

[/tab_item]

[tab_item title=”VERBS“]

Many French and English verbs share the same origin despite the different spelling. But be careful!  Even though the verb may have the same meaning, the usage in French may vary slightly. (For example, in French “arriver” means “to arrive” However, arriver may also be used to express that arrival is imminent: J’arrive means “I’m on my way” or “I’m coming!” In English, you wouldn’t say: “I’m arriving!”)

admirer (to admire)

accompagner (to accompany)

accomplir  (to accomplish)

accepter (to accept)

arriver (to arriver)

blâmer (to blamer)

bloquer (to block)

changer (to change)

collecter (to collect)

compléter (to complete)

commencer (to commence/begin)

décider (to decide)

défendre (to defend)

dîner (to dine)

examiner (to examine)

finir (to finish)

garantir (to guarantee)

indiquer (to indicate)

influencer (to influence)

insister (to insist)

inviter (to invite)

joindre (to join)

negliger (to neglect)

obéir (to obey)

occuper (t0 occupy)

organiser (to organize)

pardonner (to pardon, excuse)

passer (to pass)

payer  (to pay)

préparer (to prepare)

protéger (to protect)

rectifier (to rectify)

refuser (to refuse)

répondre (to respond)

repéter (to repeat)

séparer (to separate)

vérifier (to verify)

[/tab_item]

[/tab]