10 French Expressions Used in English

Every single time I hear an English-speaker use a French word in his speech, I smile. I cannot help it.

Borrowing foreign words, whether it be to look cool, sophisticated, or to name a concept that does not really have any equivalent in our own language, is a common occurrence. Though here I focus on French and English, each language borrows from other languages.

Who knew the words “candy”, “alfalfa”, “kohl”, “safari”, and “talc” are of Arabic origin? Or that “emu”, “breeze”, “caste” and “fetish” are of Portuguese origin?

So here we go:

  1. raison d’être

    Meaning: reason or justification for existence.

    Example: It was the nuclear waste disposal plant which had constituted the raison d’être for the tunnel in the first place.
    Aird, Catherine, A Dead Liberty (British English)

  2. nuance

    Meaning: a slight or delicate variation in tone, color, meaning, etc.; shade of difference.

    Example: He knew she was listening to each word as if to catch any small nuance of hope.
    Meek, M R D, A Worm of Doubt

  3. je ne sais quoi

    As a noun, this expression is a compound word (je-ne-sais-quoi) in French.

    Meaning: an indefinable quality, especially of personality.

    Example:  Half shutters on the back door added the requisite je ne sais quoi for the desired French country aesthetic.
    Globe and Mail (2003)

  4. haute couture 

    Meaning: high fashion.

    Example: Midway between the high street and haute couture , these labels present a look that is almost a pastiche version of the Gallic aesthetic.
    Times, Sunday Times (2001)

  5. carte blanche

    Meaning: complete discretion or authority.

    Example: `I’ll take that as carte blanche , then,’ she laughs, before ringing off.
    Alex George LOVE YOU MADLY (2002)

  6. cul-de-sac

    Meaning: a dead end or an inescapable position.

    Example: Silence from those endless gnawing questions that all ended in a cul-de-sac of self-recrimination.
    Stewart, Michael, Grace

  7. fait accompli

    Meaning: something already done and beyond alteration.

    Example:  After he received the acceptance, the idea was presented to me as a fait accompli.
    Kiam, Victor Going For It!: How to Succeed As an Entrepreneur

  8. coup de grâce

    Meaning: a mortal or finishing blow, especially one as an act of mercy to a sufferer; a final or decisive stroke.

    Example:  The earthquake of 1812, which badly damaged a large part of the town, came as something of a coup de grâce. Jepson, Tim Umbria – the green heart of Italy

  9. pied-à-terre

    Meaning: a flat, house, or other lodging for secondary or occasional use,

    Example: Out-of-town clients are welcome to use the firm’s offices as a pied-à-terre when visiting London.
    Corporate Research Foundation TOP MARKETING AND MEDIA COMPANIES IN THE UK (2002)

  10. tête-à-tête

    Meaning: a private conversation between two people.

    Example:  Just before they were readying to head back to New York, Sullivan had asked Ed to join him for a drink and a tête-à-tête at the bar.

Source: www.collinsdictionary.com

How many of them can you use in one sentence?

Write your sentences in a comment.

3 thoughts on “10 French Expressions Used in English”

  1. What about this. I almost got all of them: I had a tête-à-tête about haute couture with a friend, but he gave me a coup de grace when he criticized my worn-out jeans. I tried to convince her that it was the latest fashion in Paris, that it gave me a je ne sais quoi feeling that many envied, that it was my raison d’être in this consumerist society that we lived in. But she didn’t catch my nuance and our conversation came to a cul-de-sac.

      1. I meant to change he for she, as I changed my mind on the gender half way. LOL I wanted to edit my reply but couldn’t find a way to do it. Also because I wanted to log in with my Twitter account 🙂

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