100+ French Cognates: Expand Your Vocabulary Fast

French vocabulary certainly comes with its own challenges, which can be intimidating for English… French vocabulary certainly comes with its own challenges, which can be intimidating for English speakers due to its distinct spelling norms. Like with any language, learning vocab is an essential part of the path to fluency. As we set about this path, it’s good to find something familiar to latch onto, such as words that resemble those of our own language.  Lucky for us French learners, there are no shortage of familiar words. These words are what the French refer to as les vrais amis, literally, “true friends.” Les vrais amis or “cognates” as they’re called in English, are words that are similar to, or exactly the same in meaning and pronunciation, as those of another language. The shared history and proximity of English and French have furnished us with quite a few of these helpful friends to make learning easier!  Whether you’ve purchased a guide for your upcoming vacances (vacation) to Paris, read about a good aventure (adventure) in your latest French novel, or read an article about what the riche (rich) among us are up to, French cognates are invaluable to our progress in the language.  Eager to skip right to the good stuff? Rosetta Stone’s unique Dynamic Immersion approach can help you master French cognates and beyond with bite-sized lessons, speech recognition technology, and more. Keep reading for more info, or start your first lesson today!  What is a cognate in French? To begin, let’s identify exactly what a cognate is. A cognate is a word that is similar in spelling and meaning to that of another language.  Languages that are a part of the same “family”, such as French and Spanish, share many cognates. Languages that are not a part of the same language family, but nonetheless have had significant contact with one another, can also share several words in common. This is the case with French and English.  Though belonging to different language families (English to the Germanic family and French to the Romance one), the two languages have had an interwoven history going back at least to the 11th century. French might not be the easiest language for English speakers to learn, but this shared history does put it as a close second! Common French cognate words include examples like table and piano that are spelled exactly the same in both French and English. However, there are others that have slight differences in spelling, like guitare (guitar), musique (music), télévision (television), and supermarché (supermarket). All of the French-English cognates are broken down into the two categories of perfect cognates and near-perfect cognates. In this article, we will include vocabulary lists to acquaint learners with both of these categories.  In discussing cognates though, we would be remiss if we didn’t also clarify the difference between a cognate and a loanword. Plus, we’ll share more about false cognates so you can avoid committing common language faux-pas!    Common French cognates Below is a table of what are called perfect cognates. These are cognates whose spelling is exactly or almost the same as the English equivalent. With the exception of the -E added to the end of adjectives describing feminine nouns, perfect cognates are all spelled the same. Perfect cognates FrenchEnglishun accidentan accidentadmirableadmirableune associationan associationbrilliant (e)brilliantun câblea cableun canyona canyonun concerta concertun dragona dragonfragilefragilefruitfruitguideguideignorant(e)ignorantl’informationthe informationl’intelligencethe intelligenceun liona lionune machinea machineune occasiona occasionune radioa radioun secreta secretune versiona version This list of perfect French-English cognates could fill up several more pages, but the table above should give you a glimpse of all the various shortcuts and “true friends” there are. Learning the cognates listed above will help you expand your French vocabulary quickly.  Near-perfect cognates As mentioned in the introduction, there is another category of cognates called near-perfect cognates. These are cognates whose spelling is different from their English equivalents. Sometimes the spelling difference is only a matter of a single letter, such as between aventure (adventure) or banane and (banana). In other cases, the difference is marked by just a single accent, such as océan (ocean) and décisive (decisive). However, sometimes the connection is even less obvious, as is the case with heure (hour). Consult the tables above and below to be sure of which ones to look out for. FrenchEnglishune aventurean adventureune bananea bananaune biographiea biographyun criminela criminaldécisivedecisiveefectiveeffectiveune heurean hourl’histoirethe historyintéressant(e)interestingintroduireto introducejustifierto justifynormalementnormallyl’océanthe oceanparfaitperfectune planètea planetricherichsolidesolidun téléphonea telephonevoterto vote Though not as simple as perfect cognates due to the spelling differences, near perfect cognates still make vocabulary expansion much faster, as English speakers are already familiar with the framework of each word.  Another benefit for English speakers learning French is that many adverbs in French also exist in English. Words like complètement (completely), considérablement (considerably), and normalement (normally) all greatly resemble their English equivalents, placing a “-ment” ending on the end to qualify it as an adverb in French (“-ment” is the ending for adverbs and the equivalent of the English “-ly”). Watch out though, as there are indeed exceptions. For instance, as we’ll see in the section over false cognates, actuellement does not necessarily mean “actually”, but rather “currently” or “right now”. Why is it helpful to learn French-English cognates? Cognates should be a friend to any language learner, as they accelerate progress toward understanding more words. Adding several cognates to your “Word of The Day” increases your vocabulary in a non-labor intensive way. Because we already understand the word and its meaning, there’s no need to build any new connections. They’re already there! After that, it’s just a matter of nailing the pronunciation. Cognates help us in other ways as well, like our ability to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words. If you’re reading a book in your own language and stumble across a word you don’t know, you’d probably try to infer what it means before consulting a dictionary. We often do this by analyzing the words surrounding the unknown one. The more words we know, the easier this inference is. Cognates, with their ability to help us quickly acquire vocabulary, offer more words and thus more tools for understanding new, unknown ones. Learning a language isn’t a race though, and optimizing the speed at which we learn one isn’t an end in itself. Foreign language learning benefits our knowledge of our own language as well, and gives us a glimpse at the common roots it shares with other ones. As mentioned at the beginning, English and French aren’t a part of the same language family, but they obviously share many words with common origins, hence the various French-English cognates. Being good at our own language also makes us better at standardized tests, job applications, public speaking, and other situations. How does a French cognate differ from a loanword? While cognates are words that survived in both languages and evolved to retain more or less the same meaning and similar spelling, loanwords are words that are literally “loaned” from one language to another. This is usually because the word originated in the source language and has no equivalent in the receiving one.  For example, words like “wi-fi” or “chewing gum” were adopted by French because they describe things coming from or having significant popularity within an English-speaking country. Rather than invent new words, French speakers might decide to just make do with the English one. English loanwords used by French speakers: FrenchEnglishle blogthe blogl’e-mailthe e-maille footballthe football (European)le hashtagthe hashtagle parkingthe parkingle sandwichthe sandwichle selfiethe selfiele shampooingthe shampoole weekendthe weekendle wifithe wifi Loanwords not only help us in all the ways cognates do, but they also often apply to contemporary topics of conversation such as movies, films, and music, thus giving us tools to converse about everyday things. This makes it easier to have a conversation and make friends with native speakers. Take a look at the dialogue below and see if you can use loanwords to decipher the topic:. Bonjour. Est-ce que tu veux aller voir « Super Mario » au cinéma ? Oui ! Après, on peut aller à la discothèque pour danser ! Il y a un groupe de hip-hop  qui joue ce soir ! Un groupe de hip-hop ? Moi je préfère le rock n’roll, mais j’aime aussi danser! Even with no previous vocabulary or grammar knowledge, it should be clear that the two individuals are talking about cinema, the “Super Mario” movie, hip-hop, and rock n’ roll. With a basic knowledge of cognates, you could fill in the details a bit more to understand that they are talking about dancing, and watching something as well. With just a bit more vocabulary, the following conversation should translate to: Hello. Do you want to go to the cinema to see “Super Mario Bros.”? Yes! Afterward we can go to the club to dance! There is a hip-hop group performing tonight. A hip-hop group? I prefer rock n’ roll, but I also love dancing! An added benefit of loanwords from English is that the gender is always masculine, so not only is the word already known, but it’s also easy to use correctly. What is a false cognate?  Beware! There are several traps laid for us to step into if we get too used to the idea that a word that looks similar to another shares the same meaning. These false cognates, or, as they’re referred to in French, les faux amis (false friends) are words that are similar in spelling to words in another language, but not similar in meaning. In fact, the difference in meanings between similarly spelled words can mean the difference between saying you’re having a chat or having a cat with someone!  As language learners, we always prefer to have an easy time building those new connections via cognates. However, if we don’t know the difference between cognates and false cognates, we might spend too much time unlearning incorrect information. Let’s take a look at some examples of false French cognates in the table below. Common false French cognates FrenchEnglishactuellementnow, at presentassisterto attendattendreto waitblesserto wound or injureun brasan armune cavea cellarla chairthe fleshun chata catun collègea middle schoolle conducteurthe driverdemanderto askune lecturea readingune librairiea bookshopun magasina shople painthe breadune prunea plumun raisina graperesterto stayune vestea jacket Learn more French cognates with Rosetta Stone In short, learning cognates is an easy exercise in expanding your vocabulary and progressing to the next level in your French learning. You’ll get a confidence boost to keep you motivated to reach the next milestone, and you’ll even learn more about the English language in the process!  To expand your vocabulary with words you’ll actually use, we recommend Rosetta Stone. Each bite-sized lesson uses techniques that help learners build new pathways and learn language naturally. Plus, each lesson uses TruAccent to help you refine your pronunciation and nail your accent every time.  With 25 languages to choose from, you can learn French—or Mandarin, Arabic, and Gaelic—at the pace that works for you. Start learning today! Written by Micah McCauley Micah McCauley is a current freelance contributor to ISL Learning with years of experience teaching French to non-native speakers. His career spans the U.S., France, and China. He is currently a student and Associate Instructor of French and Francophone Studies at Indiana University of Bloomington. He enjoys composing music, traveling, and learning Spanish in his free time.

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