French Words in English


There are so many French words in English that you won’t even notice many of them anymore.

Does passport sound French to you? Probably not. But both pass and port come from French. Pass means go over (to the other side). And port means carry. So voila, there we are with the passport, a document that you carry to go to the other side of the border.

Lots of words in the arts are from French, including art, music (musique in French), portrait and dance. Ballet is a French word, too, as ballet is a French invention, and all the terms that are used in ballet are still in French.

Other branches that you can see lots of French words in are engineering (cars and planes), politics, science, fashion and of course food, because the French are gourmets. Yup, and that’s French too.

Here is a list of ten interesting words. After you’ve read them, you can do a quiz.


The English colour orange comes from, you guessed it, the fruit orange. It was first used as a word in Anglo-French in the 14th century, but actually it goes back to an older word, in Persian: narang.

By the way, fruit is from the French too.

Forest forest

This word is foret in modern French, and it came from the Latin forestis. This came from the word foris, which means outside. And interestingly, fores means door in Latin. (There is a Latin word, forum, which means market place.) In the old days, whenever you went outside you would find yourself in the forest. Due to deforestation (cutting of trees), today there are only a fraction of the forests that people in the Middle Ages used to know.

Legume legume

Many words that were borrowed from French got a more specialized and restricted meaning in English. This is an example of that. Legume in French means vegetable, any vegetable, but in English it means a vegetable that grows in a pod (see picture). So legumes are of the pea or bean family. They’re yummy! Examples of legumes are: peas, green beans, white beans, lentils, hummus (chickpeas), edamame.


The French word comes from Latin, and that comes from the Greek mechane which meant a means, an instrument. So you can see that the words mechanic(al) (using the power of motion) and machine are closely related. That could explain why the person who repairs your car is called mechanic, and not machinic.

By the way, have you also noted that machine is still pronounced with a French-sounding sh? Normally, in English words, ch is pronounced tsy, like in chat, or as k as in mechanic [mekanik]. But machine sounds [masheen] which is exactly like the French pronunciation.

Bay bay

The word bay has several different meanings, and amazingly all of them come from (different) words in French. Perhaps you know bay as a stretch of water that is encircled by land (see picture). This bay comes from the French word bai.

Bay can also be a department in a building or other construction. This comes from an Anglo-French word baee.

Bay can also be a red-brown colour. Horses in this colour are called bay.

And finally, bay can also mean bark (like a dog) or shout. The origin of this word is the Anglo-French  word abaien.


Authority of Law Statue

This word in English usually refers to the place and the people who are in power. In the past, that used to be the king or queen, who lived at the court. Nowadays, our judges have the last word and they rule in the court of justice. In some sports, like basketball and tennis, the game field is called the court.

The Anglo-French word court or curt is the origin of this word, and that goes back to the Latin cohort or cohors, which can mean group or a closed place. Hort or hors in Latin means outside or garden, and if you go to a university garden you will see that they are called hortus. By the way, in modern English there is a word cohort too, and it means a friend or a group of people with the same characteristics.

Mayonnaise mayo

If you can eat it and it’s yummy, it’s probably French. If it doesn’t contain enough vitamins and it makes your cholesterol go up, it’s probably French.

Wait! That’s not fair.

Some people think mayonnaise, the popular sauce made from egg yolks and oil, comes not from France, but from the Spanish town of Mahon (on the island of Menorca). It would have been introduced to the French during the seven-year French-Spanish war. The French have a few theories of their own, though; one of them is that it was first made in Bayonne, and the name of the sauce was Bayonnaise. In any case, popular though the sauce was with the French, and later Germans, it reached insane heights in America, where mayo became the preferred spread on sandwiches (in Europe, butter, margarine or some kind of animal fat is preferred).

Art Nouveau art nouveau

This is a newer French word. Literally it means new art, but it doesn’t describe modern art, but rather the kind of art that was made around the year 1900. Art nouveau uses round shapes and nature motifs. The style is still hugely popular today, in paintings, architecture and furniture. You can see some of the greatest examples of this style in different buildings in Belgium, and in Barcelona in Spain.

Parachute parachute

Para means against, and chute means fall. So parachute is the device that makes your landing soft when you fall through the air. Although Leonardo da Vinci made some sketches of parachutes, its modern use was invented by the Frenchman Louis-Sébastien Lenormand in the late 18th century. He is also responsible for coining its name.

Television tv

Another invention that was first coined in France and was then taken over by English. Tele is from the Greek for far, and visio is from the Latin for sight. So television means see far. The abbreviation TV is now used in English more commonly than the word television. The French, meanwhile, say TV too, or La Télé.



Click here to go to the online quiz.  french words


Still have questions about the subject of this post? Let other learners know in a comment.

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