Same Word, Different Meaning (English/French)

In many Latin languages, one can find a great number of false cognates. They are basically words that look similar but have a different meaning in the two given languages, although they might have a common historical linguistic origin. This could give the language student a hard time, but with practice and experience, they become quite familiar with such words and learn their different meanings.

There are also words that are called semi-false cognates. These words look similar and but have the same meaning sometimes only. In such cases, they have the same meaning plus other meanings in the second given language, depending on the context and connotation.

It is noteworthy that false cognates are not the same as false friends (or what we call in French “faux amis”). The latter are words or phrases in two languages (or letters in two alphabets) that look similar but have different meanings.

The list below is for a few English/French false cognates.

Actuel (F) Vs. Actual (E):

In French, the word “actuel” refers to something “at present” or “in the present time”. The English word “actual” means “real”.

Addition (F) Vs. Addition (E):

“L’addition” in French means the sum or the bill at a restaurant, while its English false cognate “addition” means just that: addition (in math for example).

Office (F) Vs. Office (E):

“Office” in French does not mean office. It actually means a task, a duty or a charge. The equivalent of office in French is bureau. In the US, the word “bureau” refers to a government department, which is completely different from the French meaning of the word!

 Répliquer (F) Vs. (Replicate)

The French word “répliquer” means to reply, to answer. It is completely different from the English word “replicate”, which in French means reproduire (to reproduce) or replier (to fold back).

Report (F) Vs. Report (E):

Report in French means the postponement. The French equivalent of the English word “report” is rapport.

Assister (F) Vs. Assist (E):

“Assister à” means to attend (i.e. a meeting, a conference, etc.), while “to assist” means to help.

Attendre (F) Vs. Attend (E):

The English meaning of “attendre” is not to attend.  In fact, “attendre” means to wait.

Avertissement (F) Vs. Advertisement (E):

The French word “avertissement” means a warning. The equivalent of “advertisement” in French is actually publicité. Therefore, “avertir” is not to advertise; it is to warn.

Blesser (F) Vs. Bless (E):

To bless is “bénir” in French. As for “blesser”, it means to wound.

Chair (F) Vs. Chair (E):

The French “chair” means flesh in English. The English “chair” means chaise in French.

Coin (F) Vs. Coin (E):

“Un coin” is a corner. “A coin” is “une pièce de monnaie”.

Agenda (F) Vs. Agenda (E):

The French word “agenda” means a diary. Its English false cognate translates into ordre du jour.

Rester (F) Vs. Rest (E):

Rester in French is to stay in English. To rest means se reposer in French.

The list goes on and on and I’ll probably write a second part about this subject. Please feel free to send your contributions in this regard on and I’ll be glad to publish them as a guest post!

12 thoughts on “Same Word, Different Meaning (English/French)

  1. We use the word “to attend to someone” in English too…as in “to attend to a sick person”…. a similar parallel can be drawn in French where “assister” means to attend though contextually they are used differently…

    1. Dear Preeti,

      Then they are semi-false cognates 🙂 I did mention that such words may have the same origin. It all depends on the context.

    1. English is not a latin language this is true, however its vocabulary has a lot of latin roots, like French and many other latin and non latin languages. Therefore stating it ‘borrows’ vocabulary from French is inaccurate, it ‘borrows’ (to quote your word) from latin.

    1. Thank you for your comment!

      Actually, I am planning to do another part where I will feature the contributions of my readers.

      Therefore, please feel free to send us an email with the false cognates you know, if any, whatever the language pair. I would gladly post them!

  2. Yet, with respect to the office/bureau example…
    they do say : Office de la langue francaise.
    Semi-false cognate, I guess.

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