English words of French origin

3566334French was the language used by the ruling classes in the UK for over 300 years, almost half of the words in modern English come in one way or another from French.

We could write a book about all the words of French origin in English, but we’re just going to write about some of the most common ones and some expressions.

The higher classes used French and the lower classes used English, so in many cases there are two words to express similar things (liberty and freedom, enter and come in…). In general the more formal (enter) or more abstract (liberty) words come from French.


Politics, economics, military and law

These were the main topics discussed by the French rulers so it makes sense that many French words were kept in English. Some are words that most people wouldn’t recognise as coming from French: government, morale, soldierbailiff, council, marine, tax, dame, money, squad, judge, jury… Some others are more obviously French, such as liege, rendezvous, marquis, reconnaissance, coup d’etat, communique



French food is very popular, and most trained chefs have French food knowledge. Many words used in cooking come directly from French, such as: marmalade, caramel, fondant, casserole, mayonnaise, cream, fondue, pastry, salad

Most names of meat also come from French. It’s common for meat in English to receive two names, one for the animal and one for the meat that is eaten. This is because the British peasants who raised the animals used English, and the French aristocrats who ate the meat used French. That way English ended up with pairs such as: mutton/sheep, pork/pig, beef/ox, and veal/calf.



The third big area where we can find words of French origin is art. Again, this has to do with the higher classes using French instead of English.

The names of many branches of art come straight from French: music, architecture, theatre, dance, art… As well as art movements: art nouveau, surrealism, cubism… And many parts of buildings: terrace, arcade, facade, vault, pavilion

Even the names of some colours come from French, and many have very similar spellings and pronunciations to the original words: blue, lilac, beige, orange, maroon


French expressions

Not only words were taken from French by English, many expressions were borrowed. Some of them are: femme fatale, bric-a-brac, raison d’être, de rigueur, Grand Prixau contraire, enfant terrible, joie de vivre, bon appetit, nouveau riche, a la carte, plat du jour, je ne sais quoisavoir-faire, carte blanche, hors d’œuvre, comme ci comme ça, laissez-fairebon voyage au naturel, c’est la vie… and many many more!

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