Even though French is a Romance language and English is a Germanic one, you will quickly discover that learning French is "easy" for an English speaker, because the two languages have many words in common. Once you've learned the French pronunciation and the typical quirks and word endings, you can transform English words into French. For example, "to deteriorate" becomes "détériorer".
Easy! But, there is a catch: "false friends" or "faux amis". Those are words that look alike but mean, at best, vaguely related things or, at worst, entirely different ones. Let me give you one example of vaguely related words using "agenda". In English, it means a list of things to do, a plan (as in, "I would like to add a point on the agenda"). In French, an "agenda" is an appointment book. For example: "Je vais demander à ma secrétaire d’apporter mon agenda" is "I’ll ask my secretary to bring my diary". The proper way to translate “agenda” from English is "l'ordre du jour" in French.
So, you see the problem? Not really? Let me give you another example: an English "tissue" is a square piece of paper one uses to blow one’s nose. In French, this refers to a piece of FABRIC (of any size!). There is a link, as tissues used to be made of fabric, but nowadays if you ask "puis-je avoir un tissus ?" don't expect to receive a tissue. The common answer would be "what kind of fabric do you need?"
I will now give you a list to use very carefully, or avoid entirely, when translating in French. They are all false friends. I've written English and French spellings when words look alike and only one word if that very spelling exists in both languages (but means something different of course!) I will assume you know the meaning of all the English words and add only the meaning of the French counterpart in parentheses.
English / French (meaning)
- achieve / achève (nearly finished)
- actually / actuellement (currently)
- advertisement / avertissement (a warning)
- agenda (a diary/appointment book)
- ancient / ancien (former)
- argument (a point in a debate)
- bail (a lease)
- but (a goal)
- cap (cape, direction)
- chandelier (candlestick holder)
- coin (a corner)
- conductor / conducteur (a driver)
- confectioner / confectionner (to craft)
- crayon (pencil)
- delayed / délayé (mixed with a liquid)
- envy / envie (a whim, a desire)
- fabric / fabrique (a factory)
- fortunate / fortuné (wealthy)
- furniture / fourniture (supplies)
- glass / glace (ice)
- habit (clothes)
- if (a kind of tree)
- injure (an insult)
- issue (exit)
- lecture (reading)
- library / librarie (a book shop)
- location ( a rental)
- piece / pièce (a room)
- part (a share)
- plume (a single feather or a pen)
- prevent / prévenir (to warn)
- proper / propre (clean)
- replace (to put something back where it was)
- sensible (sensitive)
- store (a blind on a window)
- tissue / tissus (fabric)
These were the words I could think on the top of my head. I fear there are many more, so be careful! Now, have a go at translating the following sentences full of booby traps:
1. I achieved my goal.
2. I’ve nearly finished reading this book.
3. This advertisement aimed to prevent accidents.
4. I called you because I lost my diary, actually!
5. I want a glass of coke with ice, please.
6. His clothes were made of a weird fabric.
7. It is my habit to carry a tissue in my pocket.
8. I like to eat a piece of chocolate when I watch a play.
9. You should be sensible if you have a sensitive skin.
I hope this list and translation exercises help you remember to watch out for these faux amis!