The French connection: French words used in English

Made in France: French wordsHaving just spent a week in France – which required me to once again summon up my rusty French – it struck me that there are numerous French words and phrases we use in everyday English.

As a linguist I thought it would make an interesting topic for this week’s blog post…

Food and drink

Knowing how much French people enjoy eating and drinking, it’s not surprising that we use a lot of French words related to food and drink. These include:

à la carte = ordering individual dishes from the menu rather than a fixed-price meal

aperitif/digestif = drink before/after a meal

au gratin = anything that’s grated onto a food dish, usually cheese

bistro, brasserie, café, crêperie, restaurant (about the only one they’ve ‘borrowed’ from us is le pub) 

cordon bleu = person who excels in cooking; cookery school teaching French cuisine

prix fixe = set price menu showing multi-course meals with only a few options


The French are also renowned for their distinctive style (even young children tend to be dressed to impress), so it’s little wonder that the world of fashion also uses several French words:

à la mode = trendy; fashionable

boutique = clothing store, usually selling designer/one-off pieces

chic = stylish

couture = fashion

haute couture = custom-fitted clothing

prêt-à-porter = ready-to-wear clothing

Collection of ‘C’ words

A lot of French words and phrases that English speakers use start with the letter ‘c’, including:

c’est la vie! = that’s life!

chauffeur = driver, usually of a limousine

cliché = stereotype

clique = small exclusive group of friends

comme ci, comme ça = so-so, neither good nor bad

concierge = receptionist at a hotel or apartment block

contretemps = awkward clash

crèche = place providing short-term supervised childcare

critique = critical analysis or evaluation of a work

cul-de-sac = dead-end street

Miscellaneous French words and phrases

au fait = being conversant in/with something

au pair = young foreigner who does domestic chores in exchange for room & board

avant garde = cutting-edge movements in art, music and literature

blasé = unimpressed with something because of overfamiliarity

bon voyage = used to wish someone a good trip

bouquet = bunch of flowers

bric-à-brac = small ornamental objects, less valuable than antiques

décor = layout and furnishing of a room

déja vu = impression of having seen/experienced something before

en route = on the way

entrepreneur = person who undertakes a new enterprise or venture

excusez-moi! = excuse me!

fait accompli = something that’s already happened; a done deal

fiancé(e) = man (or woman) engaged to be married

faux pas = violation of accepted, although unwritten, social rules

genre = type or class (usually referring to books or films)

je ne sais quoi = indescribable ‘something’

liaison = close relationship; affair

mot juste = right word at the right time

raison d’être = justification or purpose of existence

rapport = being in synch with someone

RSVP = please reply

savoir-faire = to know what to do in a given situation

silhouette = outline of a person, object or scene

soirée = evening party

tête-à-tête = private conversation between two people

triage = system used to prioritise medical treatment

venue = location of an event

voilà! = there it is!

Over to you

This is, in fact, just a small selection of French words commonly used in English. Have I missed out your favourite? If so, please let me know in the comments below. Merci!

(image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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3 comments on “The French connection: French words used in English
  1. Tania Grechanyk says:

    Thank you for your reply, Geraldine, now I make no doubt about the matter.

  2. I don’t think there really is an English equivalent, which is why we ‘borrow’ the French phrase (if we Brits say anything at all at the start of a meal)! Thanks for posing the question though…

  3. Tania Grechanyk says:

    And “Bon appetit!”, certainly 🙂 Can we substitute this French expression for any English one? I’m thinking of “Enjoy your meal” or something like that, but it does not sound quite accurate to me.

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