Language mistakes: 5 things to avoid saying in French

Translating literally from English to French is always dangerous.  Many French words change their meaning depending on how they are used or which verbs they are used with.  Also, hundreds of English and French words look similar but mean different things.  They are known as faux-amis, or false cognates (more of those another time). 

 Here are some common faux pas.

 1.     Je suis plein(e)

Don’t use this phrase at the end of a meal to indicate that you’ve had enough to eat.  I once said this, but was quickly put right.  Plein(e) means full, but it also means drunk or, if you are a woman, pregnant.  You will get some funny looks.  If offered unwanted second helpings, the polite formula is: “C’était délicieux, mais j’ai assez mangé/je n’ai plus faim” (It was delicious but I’ve had enough to eat/I’m not hungry any more).  

 2.     J’en ai assez

This does mean, “I’ve had enough”, but in the sense of, “I can’t take any more!”  So if you don’t want a waiter/host to put any more on your plate, say “Ça suffit, merci” (don’t say “Ça suffit comme ça!”, which means “Enough of this!”).

 3.     Je suis fini

Still on the eating theme, this doesn’t mean, “I have finished”, it means, “I am finished”, i.e. about to expire.  So if a waiter asks if he/she can take your plate the correct expression is “Oui, merci, j’ai terminé”. 

 4.     Je suis chaud(e)

Used with the verb être, this does not mean, “I feel warm”.  It means, “I feel randy”.  An English friend once asked a female visitor to his house “Vous êtes chaude?” She left hurriedly.  The correct expression is “J’ai chaud”.

 5.     Je l’ai baisée

Un baiser is a kiss, but these days the verb baiser means to make love (although it’s not quite as polite as that).  Better to play safe and avoid the word altogether.  Faire la bise à quelqu’un or embrasser quelqu’un both mean to kiss someone.

Copyright © 2010 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved.

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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5 Responses to Language mistakes: 5 things to avoid saying in French

  1. set me up says:

    The best one I ever did: during breakfast asking for the Jam, I forgot the word and asked for un preservatif — I learned quickly that is not Jam. The laughter was deafening.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Yes, the preservatif one keeps cropping up. It just goes to show that words that look the same often mean different things There is no solution: it provides amusement, which is very important. One should never take oneself too seriously.

      Like

  2. Pingback: A Taste of Garlic » A Writer’s lot in France

  3. Jennifer says:

    As a French teacher I hear this kind of thing a lot from my students! It’s really funny when you think about it. I once told my French mother-in-law that there were no “préservatifs” in some cake I had bought at the grocery store! lol … Another time, one of my students told me he was at his French exchange family’s house and the grand parents were over and all for dinner. They were asking him how his first French party had gone the night before. He said it was great, and he even said, “J’ai baisé une jolie fille”!!!

    Like

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