The English language borrows many words from other languages. You, as a foreign language speaker, may come across several and wonder why so many words are recognizable to you. The reason is historical, because England as we know it today, was deeply influenced by the Romans speaking Latin, and Vikings- the Normans speaking a dialect of French and the Saxons speaking an ancestor language close to Old High German. Thus, it incorporated many of those languages in its formation. This is a very simplified account of a long history of many invading nations or tribes conquering the land and throwing out languages with the result being, English today derives most of its words from other European languages.

Later on, many English writers and scholars used Latin in their work as Latin was the language of philosophers and the educated. Many French words are still in circulation because French was the language of diplomacy around the 17th and 18th Centuries until 1919.

Here we will take a look at some of the most commonly found foreign words used in English formally and colloquially that you can add to your speaking and writing. 

1. Entrepreneur (pronounced on·truh·pruh·nuh)

Entrepreneur means a person with their own business/businesses or who takes financial risks for profits. 

When you say the word “entrepreneur” Elon Musk springs to mind. He is one of the most famous entrepreneurs of our time with multiple businesses and business interests. 

Today most companies want their employees to have an “entrepreneurial mindset” meaning, to think of ways of generating more revenue without relying on ideas from someone else. 

2. Faux Pas (pronounced foh pah)

The French translated it as “false step” which means a social blunder or mistake in a social situation. 

When speaking you can say “A certain celebrity made a faux pas by wearing black to a floral-themed event” or “I made a faux pas by ordering pineapple on my Pizza in Italy.” It is something that usually means an incorrect judgment was made in a social situation determined by social customs or traditions.

3. Genre (pronounced zhon·ruh)

Based on the Latin word “Genos”, the French took this word in the 1700s to describe a certain style of art, literature, or film.

Today we speak about genres of film, music, literature, and art. For example in film main genres include thriller, comedy, drama, and horror, and in music rock, pop, blues, and jazz.

What is your favorite genre in film and music?

4. Renaissance (pronounced ruh·nay·sons)

It is a French word translated as “rebirth”. It is used to describe a period in European civilization that saw a revival in Classical art and literature and a fervent change in politics and economics following the Middle Ages.

The Renaissance period started in Florence, Italy in the 14th Century. Some of the most recognized artists, writers, intellectuals, and creators include Leonardo Di Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo, and William Shakespeare. 

5. Rendezvous (pronounced ron·day·voo)

Also from the French meaning “meeting” or “date”. Interestingly, in the 1590s military used “rendezvous” as an expression of a “place for assembling troops”. Even today military tacticians may use the term rendezvous point, as you may have heard in some war films. 

Next time you could ask your English friends, “What time shall we rendezvous?” It is seen as a cute and charming expression. 

6. Gesundheit (pronounced guh·zuund·hyt)

“Gesundheit” has been borrowed from German and literally means “good health”. It is usually said after someone sneezes. The English equivalent means bless you and can be used as it means the same. 

7. Caveat (ka·vee·at)

A caveat is a word taken directly from Latin and means a limitation or warning in an agreement. It is usually used in legal jargon however it has been brought into colloquial language as well. 

For example, you could say; “ The owner of our beach house gave an important caveat, we should keep the doors locked at all times.” Or “The offer is fantastic except for one caveat; having to work on weekends.”. 

8. Ergo (pronounced uh·gow)

Ergo means, therefore. It comes directly from the Latin conjunction meaning consequently, accordingly, and therefore. It is used mainly in writing and rhetoric and is considered a fancy way to say “therefore” usually used in academic or formal writing. 

An example of ergo would be “You saw the robbery, ergo you will be called as a witness”. Or “The Summer is coming and many people are going on holiday, ergo the city will be empty.”  

9. Status quo (pronounced stay·tuhs·kwoh)

The Latin means the “state in which” and was used to describe “the existing state” and is used to mean “the current state or situation”.   

Status quo is often found in news reports and would be used in the following way, “The management is reluctant to hire more women so that it does not affect the status quo”. “She will not move - she wants to maintain the status quo”.

Status Quo is also a British rock band popular in the late 1970s and 80s.


10. Vice versa (pronounced vise vuh·suh)

Vice versa comes from the Latin “vicis” meaning a change or alteration but also a place or a position. Versa comes from versus which means to turn. When combined the phrase means when the position turns or in English it is said to mean “the other way around” or “in reverse”. 

It is an adverbial phrase used to express that something is true even in the opposite order, for example, “My boss dislikes me and vice versa”. Or “We need to be respectful of our neighbors and vice versa”. 

Hopefully, you learned a few new words and phrases that will deepen your understanding of English or add some spice to your writing. How would you use these in a sentence? Comment below.