10 French Expressions Used in English


English (and other languages) have borrowed a number of words of French origin through science, literature, or cultural influences. They are either adopted as is, or anglicized, but they always preserve a bit of their authentic French character. In conversation or text, they impart not only a certain sophistication but a genuine significance, straight from the ‘source,’ as it were. A few of them, we should note, have lost their ‘potency’ for French people, so to speak, and have been replaced by something else.

1) apropos (appropriate, relevant, well-timed, by the way); in French written à propos (ah-proh-poh). Examples in French:

“Son discours était très à propos.” (His/her speech was very relevant.)

“À propos, tu as vu Jean ?” (By the way, did you see Jean?)

2) avant-garde (ah-vah(n) gahrd) (cutting-edge, radically innovative, vanguard (military origin: lit. before/front guard)

Example: “C’est très avant-garde.” (It’s very avant-garde)

3) carte blanche (kahr-tuh blah(n)-sh(uh) (unlimited authority, full permission, free rein; lit. white card)

Example: “Je vous donne carte blanche.” (I give you unlimited authority)

4) comme ci, comme ça (kohm-see kohm sah) (so so; lit. like this, like that). In reality, most French people would typically use moyen (lit. average) instead.

Example: “Tu aimes ce livre ? Mmmh, comme ci comme ça/moyen.” (You like this book. So so)

5) cul-de-sac (m.) (kew duh sahk) (dead end; lit. ass of the bag, although not vulgar used in this expression). It can be used literally or figuratively. French also use impasse (f.) or voie sans issue (f.) (lit. way without exit).

Example: “Nous sommes tombés dans un cul-de-sac.” (We landed (lit. fell) in a dead-end)

6) déjà vu (deh-zhah-vew) (lit. already seen). It is used when one has the uncanny feeling of having seen or experienced something before, even though it seems impossible.

Example: “J’ai/j’éprouve (to feel/, experience) une étrange sensation de déjà vu.” (I’m feeling a strange sensation of déjà vu.)

7) entrepreneur (ah(n)-truh-pruh-nuhr) (businessman, business owner, innovator). From the verb entreprendre (to undertake, launch,etc.). In French, it means a businessman, a company manager (chef d’entreprise) or a contractor.

8) faux pas (foh pah) (lit. false step; as in losing one’s balance). When someone does/say something, often embarrassing, that contradicts the etiquette in a certain social setting.

Example: “Attention, il s’agit de ne pas faire de faux pas à cette soirée.” (Careful, it’s about not making any mistakes/blunders at this event/party.

9) par excellence (pahr ayk-say-lah(n)-s(uh) (the ultimate, the best (of its kind; lit. by excellence).

Example: “Il est considéré comme le poète français par excellence.” (He’s considered like the ultimate French poet)

10) la raison d’être (lay ray-soh(n) daytr(uh) (lit. the reason for being). It is used when justifying something/someone’s existence.

Example: “La musique est sa raison d’être.” (Music is his/her reason for being/living)

If you already knew these expressions, then you’re ahead of the game when it comes to learning French! Why not keep it going?


By S-8500 (S-8500 file) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.1 jp], via Wikimedia Commons