15 French Words that English Speakers have Adopted


Don’t speak French? We have to disagree. Americans use more French words in their everyday vocabulary than they realize. Let’s take a look at fifteen French words that are as common to American English as French fries (which aren’t French, by the way).

1. Déjà vu

This word has an additional meaning in French that isn’t used in the English translation. In French it means “already seen,” as in expressing having “re-seen” a person, place or thing, not in another time or dimension, but in an actual encounter that could have occurred that same day. When the French use this word to describe the same otherworldly phenomena that English speakers use it for, they write it in the hyphenated form: déjà-vu.

2. Chauffeur

While not all of us have the means to afford our own personal driver, we nonetheless borrowed this word from the French.

3. Critique

It has the same meaning of critical analysis in both languages.

4. Brunette

Literally: “Brown-haired girl.” The French also have the term brunet for the male counterpart. However, both of these words are rarely used nowadays in French with the exception of being read in old literature.

5. Cliché

English speakers stole this French phrase here to describe phrases and styles that lose their value through overuse or stereotypes. Perhaps stealing French phrases is becoming cliché.

6. À la carte

The literal French translation of this word is “on the menu.” It’s used the same in English, as in French, to refer to ordering individual side dishes rather than complete fixed-meals.

7. Depot

Big-box depot stores are a thing in America, and we’ve stolen this French word to refer to storehouses, transportation hubs (train or bus depot), as well as, a deposit or depository (banking, geology).

8. Souvenir

You could say these French words we use in English have become souvenirs of their language.

9. Potpourri

Written in French as pot-pourri, it has the same meaning in French and English, but the literal French translation is: “Rotten pot.”

10. Chic

A synonym for stylish that has become an English staple.

11. Boutique

This word has been so thoroughly adopted by English speakers that there’s nearly a boutiquein every town that features shops for women.

12. Résumé

This comes from the French word résumé,meaning “summary.”

13. Entrepreneur

This word is thrown around constantly in English, describing not only people who take new ventures or enterprises, but those who operate as risk-taking mavericks, and there’s even a magazine of the same name.

14. Silhouette

This has become a go-to English word to describe figures, outlines or solid contours.

15. Carte Blanche

In both English and France, the meaning is to give someone the opportunity to do whatever they want to do. The literal French translation is: “White card.” It derives from the days when armies passed a white card to surrendering forces to write their terms of surrender on.