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French Faux Pas


There are many mistakes English speakers make when first learning French.

We've enlisted the help of the folk at Voulez Vouloz, Australia's favourite French school, to share some of the common mistakes when learning French.  

If you'd like to learn French, just contact the friendly folk at Voulez Vouloz. They will come to you for private lessons in many locations around Australia.  They also conduct lessons over Skype, so no matter where you are, you won't miss out.   

By the way .. we'll be adding to these French language mistakes every month, so remember to check back to discover more. 


Il contient beaucoup de préservatifs…

An elderly lady stops you in the local supermarket, her English is a little broken and you detect a strong French accent. Fab! Here’s your chance to show off what you’ve learnt in the last year.
She’s trying to read the label on a can of imported tinned beans (her favourite she says - cassoulet!). She wants to know if it's free of unnecessary additives.
Lo and behold, it’s stuffed to the gills with preservatives, so you exclaim your disdain by saying “Désolé(e) madame, mais il contient beaucoup de préservatifs. Voulez-vous que je vous en trouve un autre?”
You think you said: “Sorry madam, but this one is full of preservatives. Shall I find you another one?”

But no!  You actually said: “Sorry madam, but this one is full of condoms. Shall I find you another one?”

Woops … 

 French language hints

Je ne peux pas attendre de te voir.

Someone you met in France and haven't seen for ages is coming to Oz. You're excited and can't wait to show off how much French you've learnt. So there you are composing an amazing letter.

You've made sure you haven't mixed all your past and present tenses around.
You've made sure you sounded nice and casual and not overly formal.
You've made sure you've thrown in a few groovy adjectives.
But wait .. there you go spoiling it all by writing; "Je ne peux pas attendre de te voir"(Literally; I cannot wait to see you).  This is exactly the opposite of what you meant to say.  To French ears, it sounds like you're giving up and simply NOT going to wait for them.  A better turn of phrase would be:
"J'ai hate de te revoir"               I'm hasty to see you again.
"Je me réjouis de te revoir"      I'm rejoicing in seeing you again.
 French Faux Pas

Je voudrais visiter ma mère demain.

Visiting your mother tomorrow is a lovely thing to do, but the way you have expressed it is not correct.  

Visiter’ is used when you're visiting a town, museum, or other attraction. If you're visiting a person, you need to use a different verb.  Aller voir is a casual way of saying this - it literally means "to go to see," and is used only when visiting people. A more formal verb used to indicate that you're visiting people is rendre visite à.

So, you could say:

                    Je vais voir ma mère.               I'm going to see my mother.

                    Elle va voir ses parents.           She's going to see her parents.

                    Je rends visite à Anne.             I am visiting Anne.


Ma amie est arrive à 8 heures. 

You want to say, “My friend arrived at 8am.” It looks grammatically correct, doesn’t it?  We can tell it’s a female friend because you used “amie” rather than “ami”.  So far, so good.  And of course, with a feminine noun, your French teacher is always telling you that the possessive adjective has to match the noun, so you want to use the feminine “Ma”. 

But we all know the French love their exceptions .. is this one of them?  

Yes!  When a feminine noun begins with a vowel, the masculine possessive adjective is used, therefore we have to say ‘’MON amie’’, even though this friend is female.


Demain, je vais rencontrer mon amie Carole.

You're planning a busy weekend and you're looking forward to a catch-up with your friend.  Of course, you want to say, ‘’Tomorrow, I will meet with my friend Carole’’.

While your French friends will know what you mean, this is not really correct.  

"Rencontrer"’ literally means, "to meet again" and is used to refer to meeting someone accidentally or running into someone while "retrouver"’ is the verb to use if you meet someone for an appointment or a date. So, you should say: ‘’Demain je vais retrouver mon amie Carole’’.

 French Affair

Je suis dans la toilette.

A bunch of you are at the cinema to check out a fun movie. This French film has received great reviews. All kinds of adjectives are being thrown around:

"formidable" (astounding)          "époustouflant" (mind-blowing)
"hallucinant" (incredible)            "merveilleux" (wonderful)
It's all so exciting but you have to sneak off to the loo before the movie starts. While you're away, one of your friends sends you are panicky text: "Tu es où? Le film commence bientot!" (Where are you? The film starts soon!)
Your reply: "Je suis dans la toilette, j'arrive!"  And you wonder why they're all laughing at you when you return!
Be careful when you're talking about toilets.  They are ALWAYS in the plural.  Je suis aux toilettes.  Using the singular of "dans la toilette" implies you are inside the bowl itself.  Probably not what you intended to say .. 
 Lovers in Paris


Tu es bon(ne)

Everyone loves a compliment.  It brightens up your day and puts a spring in your step, non?  Our fabulous French tutors at VoulezVouloz have given us a few you can safely use:

T'assures! (You've hit the spot!)
T'es trop canon aujourd'hui! (You're drop dead gorgeous today!)
Quelle beauté! (What a beauty)
T'as la pêche! J'adore!  (You're full of beans! I love it!)

What about "Tu es bon." (Talking to a guy) or "Tu es bonne." (To a girl)?

Non, non, non .. Unless you want to sound sleazy, steer well clear of this.  This is one instance where you should avoid "bon(ne)" which usually just means "good".
But in this case, it suggests you're saying that the person you're talking to is good in bed!!!!  Big oops .. unless, of course, that is precisely what you meant to say.  :)

J’ai attendu un concert formidable.
You're enjoying a catchup with a french friend over a coffee and a croissant. The chat (not the feline variety, but the wordy one) has been "so far so good", your French is just awesome, but a very very very (did we say very?) common error is coming up
Your friend:  "J'ai passé un weekend calme pour une fois... Il était temps, ca m'a fait du bien!!! Et toi?" 
(I spent a chilled out weekend for once... It was about time, it did me good!!! How about you?)
You:  "Moi? J'ai ATTENDU un concert formidable en plein air."
(Me? I WAITED a fab outdoor concert)???
So you thought that TO ATTEND equals ATTENDRE, right? Not quite.  When you talk about "attending something" best steer clear of "attendre".  

‘’Attendre’’ is a false friend and means to “to wait” but not ‘’to attend’’! 
’Assister à’’ is the right verb to use when talking about "attending something"
Voila voila! All sorted!



You receive an email in French asking if you will be attending a very special evening and there are a series of questions you need to answer:
Avez-vous une tenue bleue pour la soirée?  "Do you have a blue outfit for the evening?"  Your answer - Oui, oui!

Amenez-vous quelqu'un avec vous?  "Are you bringing someone along?" Your answer (getting confident) - Oui, absolument!

Etes-vous dispo ce soir a partir de 20h?  "Will you be free from 8pm onward?" Your answer (really showing your excitement now) - Oui, définitivement!

Woops, stop right there, DEFINITIVEMENT is the "prince of false friends". It looks like it may mean definitely, but it doesn't at all.  The true meaning of this word is closer to "for good".

An example of its usage would be "That bakery on the corner is closing for good next week." - CETTE PATISSERIE AU COIN FERME DEFINITIVEMENT LA SEMAINE PROCHAINE. 

Closest equivalents to "definitely" would be: SANS AUCUN DOUTE, CERTAINEMENT ou TOUT A FAIT   


J'ai besoin de change.

So there you are traipsing around the streets of Paris, with too many "large" banknotes in your pocket. You walk into a patisserie or cafe, but the person behind the counter is not impressed when you try giving them a 500 euro note for "just one item" of food or drink. What to do? What to do?

You walk into a bank to ask for change and say: "J'ai besoin de change".

Oh dear - wrong! This will confuse Francophone ears. They'll think you're random stranger who wants to shuffle things around in their life to relieve the boredom!!! Not their concern if they've only just met you ;-)

Try "J'ai besoin de monnaie" instead. 


Il est fameux, non?

Imagine the scene. You're trying out a new restaurant which came highly recommended, with a French friend. You've ordered from the mouthwatering menu and already have a wine in hand. So far so good!

Someone you think is famous walks in. You gasp. Your friend wants to know what happened, do you know him? " Qu'est ce qui se passe? Tu le connais?" and you answer: "Il est fameux, non?"

Careful now!!! FAMEUX is NOT "FAMOUS". This word actually means "TASTY". So you can talk about your dishes in this fashion, but not about a person - unless you're a cannibal ;-)

The correct word for "FAMOUS" is CELEBRE



Tu me manque

If you want to profess "I miss you", you naturally want to say "Je te manque" .. and you would be wrong!

The correct way to say this is "Tu me manque". This is a tricky one for English speakers to get their head around as the order of the words seems completely backwards. The literal translation is "You are missing to me." Or "You are being missed by me." Which is kind of nice, don't you think?

Remember this word order pattern and you're set. Put WHO or WHAT is being missed first. This is a challenging one to sink in, so let's try a few more.

Monique misses the cats: THE CATS are being missed by Monique: Les chats manquent à Monique.
She doesn't miss me: I am not being missed by her: Je ne lui manque pas.
He misses me: I am missed by him: Je lui manque.
I miss him: HE is being missed by me: Il me manque.

If you want the technical grammar jargon, the French make the object the subject, and the subject becomes an indirect object. If you use an object pronoun, remember it goes just before the verb. And it's going to be one of these: me, te, lui (both him and her), nous, vous or leur - not le, la or les. 


Actuellement, je comprend ..

In the early stages of learning French, students are often encouraged to take English words that end with LY and simply add MENT to create the French version. These words are called adverbs because we add them to "describe the verbs".

Ecouter calmeMENT – Listening calmLY

Conduire rapideMENT – Driving rapidLY

Travailler silencieuseMENT – Working silentLY

So it's easy to conclude that actuelleMENT would mean actualLY.

Wrong! This is what is known as a false friend - a word that appears to replicate the English version, but the meaning is completely different.

Actuellement .. actually .. means "right now" or at "this very moment". 



Je suis plein/e.

This is tricky as there are three kinds of "full" in French. And if you get it wrong, it could be very embarrassing, particularly at the dinner table.

There are three kinds of full in French:

COMPLET/E: L'hotel est complet - The hotel is full.

REMPLI/E: Le verre est toujours rempli – The glass is always full.

PLEIN/E: Il est plein de contradictions – He is full of contradictions.

Unfortunately, which one to use is a bit of a lottery, but most can cross-over so it's not usually an issue.

Beware though, never use plein/e when you've eaten too much and want to say you're full. If you say, Je suis plein/e this implies you're either engaging in sexual conduct or pregnant .. as in "full of baby"!!! Simply say J'ai bien mangé and avoid this embarrassing French faux pas. 


C'est d'acccord.

English speakers are accustomed to saying things like "It's okay." or "That's okay." so logically this should exist in French, no? Not at all in fact!

"D'accord" is often translated as "Okay" but it ALWAYS has to be linked to a person. The meaning of "d'accord" is closer to "in agreement".

Je suis d'accord (avec toi). I am in agreement / I agree (with you).

Madeleine n'est pas (vraiment) d'accord. Madeleine is not in agreement / doesn't agree (really).

The closest equivalents to "It's okay" in French would therefore be;
* Nickel! * C'est bon. * Ca le fait. * Ca marche. *