Here are some examples of French words and phrases used by English speakers.
There are many words of French origin in English, such as croissant, baguette, déjà vu, naïve, police, role (or rôle), routine, machine, and hors d'œuvres, but this article covers only words and phrases that remain identifiably French. That said, the phrases are given as used in English, and may seem more French to English speakers than they do to French speakers. The general rule is that if the word or phrase looks better in italics, it has retained its French identity, but if it doesn't need italics, it has probably passed over into English.
Words and phrases
Note that these phrases are pronounced using the French rules, and not the English ones. Thus, the stress most often falls on the final syllable, the final letter is silent (unless it's "r" or "à" or "é"), consequent words are pronounced without a pause between them, unaccented "e" is usually pronounced as [ @ ], and final "n" is nasalized as /~/ (see SAMPA for a guide to phonetic symbols).
- À bientôt! – see you later!
- Adieu! – good bye!
- À la – in the manner of.
- À la carte – each item separately available.
- À la mode – fashionable (or, in North America, "with ice cream").
- Agent provocateur – a police spy who causes a crime to secure a conviction.
- Au revoir! – see you again! good bye!
- Avant‐garde – lit. "before the guard", applied to cutting‐edge or radically innovative movements in art and literature.
- Bête noire – lit. "black beast", someone or something which is detested or avoided.
- Bon appétit! – have a good meal!
- Bonjour! – Hello! lit. "good day!"
- Bonne chance! – good luck!
- Bon voyage! – have a good trip!
- Carte blanche – unlimited authority (lit. "blank card").
- C'est la vie! – that's life!
- C'est magnifique! – that's great!
- Comment allez‐vous? – how are you?
- Coup d'état – lit. "blow of state", a sudden change in governments through force.
- La crème de la crème – the best of the best.
- Cul‐de‐sac – lit. "bottom of the sack", dead end.
- D'accord – agreed, okay.
- Déjà vu – lit. "already seen". The impression or illusion of having seen or experienced something before.
- De rigueur – required, necessary.
- Derrière – lit. "behind", buttocks.
- Douceur de vivre – sweetness of life.
- Escargots – snails, a delicacy
- Esprit de corps – lit. "spirit of the body", a feeling of solidarity among members of a group, morale.
- L'esprit de l'escalier – thinking of the right comeback too late (lit. "staircase wit"), originally a witticism of Diderot, the French encyclopedist, in his Paradoxe sur le Comédien.
- Fait accompli – something which happened and is unlikely to be reversed.
- Faux amis – false friends (used to refer to similar words in French and English that have different meanings).
- Faux pas – social misstep.
- Fin de siècle – comparable to (but not exactly the same as) turn‐of‐the‐century but with a "decadence" connotation.
- Je‐ne‐sais‐quoi – An indefinable (usually compelling) quality (lit. "I don't know what").
- Joie de vivre – joy of living.
- Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (motto of the French Republic).
- Ménage à trois – lit. "household for three", a sexual arrangement between three people.
- Merci beaucoup! – thank you very much!
- Mirepoix – a cooking mixture of two parts onions and one part each of celery and carrots (see mirepoix (http://www.foodreference.com/html/fmirepoix.html) at foodreference.com (http://www.foodreference.com/)).
- Moi – me, often used in English as an ironic reply to an accusation: "what, me?". Can sound pretentious if over‐used in English, hence the joke "pretentious? moi?".
- Né (or) née – born (past participle of naître – to be born), often used to give someone's former or maiden name.
- N'est‐ce pas? – isn't it? Used after a statement, as in "right?".
- Non – no.
- Nom de plume – pen name.
- Oui – yes.
- Par excellence – lit. "by excellence", quintessential.
- Plat de résistance – lit. "dish of resistance", the main dish of a meal.
- Quelle horreur! – lit. "what horror!", usually sarcastic meaning "what a horrible thing"
- Qu'est-ce que c'est? – lit. "what is this?"
- Raison d'être – lit. "reason for being", justification for one's existence.
- Répondez s'il vous plaît (R.S.V.P.) – please reply.
- Rendezvous – meeting or appointment (written rendez-vous in French).
- Le roi est mort. Vive le roi! – The king is dead. Long live the king!
- Sacre bleu! – General exclamation of horror and shock; literally "Royal blue!" or "King's blue!".
- Savoir‐faire – know‐how.
- S'il vous plaît (S.V.P.) – please. Lit. "if it pleases you", "if you please".
- Soupe du jour – the soup of the day.
- Tête‐à‐tête – lit. "head to head", a private meeting.
- Tour de force – a masterly or brilliant stroke, creation, effect, or accomplishment (lit. "feat of skill" or "strength").
- Vis‐à‐vis – lit. "face to face", in comparison with or in relation to.
- Vive la différence – long live the difference.
- Vive la France – long live France (often said with tongue‐in‐cheek sarcasm).
- Voilà! or Et voilà! – there you go!
- Zut alors! – "Shock!" or "Horror!"; a general exclamation
Seemingly French phrases used in English, but not in French
- Auteur -- in French it just means "author", but in English it means "film director who controls everything about the film, or other controller of an artistic situation". (Actually, the English connotation derives from French, or rather French film theory. Popularized in the journal Cahiers du cinéma, auteur theory maintains that directors like Hitchcock exert a level of creative control equivalent to the author of a literary work.)
- Cause célèbre -- an issue arousing widespread controversy or heated public debate.
- Double entendre (pronounced dubble ontondr' or dooble ontond)-- double meaning, for which the French say double sens. Interesting to note that, in French, entendre (= hear) first meant understand, a meaning now seldom found in usual practice.
- Nom de plume or nom de guerre to mean pen name or pseudonym; the French say pseudonyme.
- Encore -- extra song(s) played at the end of a gig, literally means "again" (French would say bis).
- Le mot juste -- the right word. (means the same literal thing in French, but isn't used in the particular context English-speakers use it).
- Succès de scandale -- success by scandal.
- Venue -- location of an event, from venir, literally means "came".
French phrases in international air-sea rescue
International authorities have adopted a number of words and phrases from French for use by speakers of all languages in voice communications during air-sea rescues. Note that the "phonetic" versions are presented as shown and not in SAMPA.
- SECURATE (securité, "safety") -- the following is a safety message or warning, the lowest level of danger.
- PAN PAN (panne, "breakdown") -- the following is a message concerning a danger to a person or ship, the next level of danger.
- MAYDAY (m'aidez, "help me") -- the following is a message of extreme urgency, the highest level of danger. MAYDAY replaced SOS in this function.
- SEELONCE (silence, "silence") -- keep this channel clear for air-sea rescue communications.
- SEELONCE FEE NEE (silence fini, "silence is over") -- this channel is now available again.
- PRU DONCE (prudence, "prudence") -- silence partially lifted, channel may be used again for urgent non-distress communication.
- MAY DEE CAL (médical, "medical") -- medical assistance needed.
It is a serious breach in most countries, and in international zones, to use any of these phrases without justification.
See Mayday for a more detailed explication.
- Communications Instructions, Distress and Rescue Procedures Combined Communications-Electronics Board (http://www.dtic.mil/jcs/j6/cceb/acps/Acp135e.pdf) of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States. PDF document.