11 English words with French origins

11 English words with French origins

by Andrea Byaruhanga

Updated November 9, 2022

English is from the Germanic language family, and French is a romance language. So they don’t have much in common, right? 

Well, actually, although the two languages have different backgrounds, English is full of words derived from French vocabulary. Just take budget, camouflage, chic, entrepreneur and sport—they all have French roots! 

Why, you ask? Long story (very) short: Starting in the 11th century, French speakers occupied England. For 200 years, French noblemen were in positions of power, and the language of the ruling class was French. This contributed to the formation of the mixed-up language of Middle English, and things continued to evolve from there!

Fascinating, isn’t it?

Below, we cover 11 words with French origins, including their original forms and examples of how to use them. 

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1. Advice

What it means: A recommendation about what to do in a particular situation

French background: “Advice” stems from the French avis, meaning “opinion, idea, view, or judgment.” The word avis evolved from the French phrase Ce m’est à vis, which translates to “It seems to me.”

How to use it: I’m trying to decide on a career; I would really love your advice on what I should do!

2. Beige

What it means: A pale yellowish-brown color

French background: This one comes from the Old French word bege, translating to “the natural color of wool and cotton; not dyed.”

How to use it: Every house in this neighborhood is beige! When I have a house, I’m going to paint it bright purple.

3. Budget

What it means: A plan that shows how much money a person makes, spends and saves

French background: It’s said that the word “budget” comes from bougette, which evolved from the French word bouge, describing a leather purse or pouch.

How to use it: If you want to go on your dream vacation, you’re going to need a strict budget to start saving money. 

4. Camouflage

What it means: A way of hiding something by painting it or covering it with leaves, branches, fabrics, etc. to match its surroundings. 

French background: The English word “camouflage” is derived from the French verb camoufler—to disguise.

How to use it: I have a big pimple on my nose! If I use the right makeup, I think I’ll be able to camouflage it.

5. Chic

What it means: Stylish and fashionable

French background: This word in its current form is actually the same in French and in English. It comes from the French chic, meaning “stylishness.” Some say chic comes from the word chicanerie, or “trickery,” though the connection to fashion isn’t totally clear. 

How to use it: Wow! Is that a new dress? You look so chic!

6. Denim

What it means: A thick, strong cotton material typically used to make jeans.

French background: This is an interesting one: The word “denim” stems from the French term serge de Nimesserge is a strong fabric, de means “from” or “of” and Nîmes is the place it came from.  So “denim” = de + Nîmes.

How to use it: An outfit consisting of a denim jacket and a pair of jeans is jokingly called a Canadian tuxedo. 

7. Entrepreneur

What it means: Someone who starts their own business based on an idea or product they have developed.

French background: This word comes directly from the French entreprendre—“to undertake.” So, an entrepreneur is someone who undertakes a new business venture.

How to use it: I never want to work in a company where I’m making money for someone else. I want to be an entrepreneur, so I can work for my own success!

8. Honesty

What it means: The quality of being truthful

French background: The word “honesty” comes from the modern French word honnêteté, which derives from the Old French term honesté, translating to “virtuous, respectable or honorable.”

How to use it: I think telling the truth is very important, no matter what. Honesty is the number-one quality I look for in a person.

9. Money

What it means: Coins and banknotes; currency

French background: The English word “money” is derived from the French monnaie, which itself comes from the Latin word moneta. Sounds pretty similar, doesn’t it?

How to use it: I’d love to go out to dinner with you tomorrow night but I have no money right now.

10. Mortgage

What it means: A loan used to purchase a home

French background: This is a descendant of the Old French morgage, which is a combination of two words: mort, meaning “dead,” and gage, meaning “pledge.” This actually has nothing to do with the death of a person. Rather, it means a deal (“pledge”) is complete (“dead”) when the loan is paid off or when the loan recipient fails to pay.

How to use it: We just bought a house! We got a 30-year mortgage, so we’ll have to pay back the loan by 2047.

11. Sport

Meaning: A type of physical activity that’s done for exercise or fun, often in the form of a competition.

French background: The word “sport” is a shortening of disport, which was borrowed from the Old French word desporter, which meant “to take pleasure.”

How to use it: Taking up a sport like soccer or volleyball is a great way to stay in shape, improve your mood and meet new friends!

English words with French origins are everywhere

The words we’ve mentioned above are just a small sample of French-derived words in English. Take the time to learn some French vocabulary or dig a little deeper into English etymology and you’ll be surprised what you find!  

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Andrea is a Canadian freelance writer and editor specializing in English, e-learning, EdTech, and SaaS. She has a background as an ESL teacher in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. In her free time, Andrea loves hanging out with her husband and children, creating recipes in the kitchen, and reading fiction. She also loves camping and jumping into lakes whenever possible. Learn more about Andrea on LinkedIn or check out her website.

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