“Un certain je ne sais quoi” is one of the famous French expression. Over the years, the English language has borrowed a great number of French words and expressions. Some of this vocabulary has been so completely absorbed by English that speakers might not realize its origins. Other words and expressions have retained their “Frenchness” – un certain je ne sais quoi which speakers tend to be much more aware of (although this awareness does not usually extend to actually pronouncing the word in French).
The following is a list of French words and expressions which are commonly used in English :
A la carte “on the menu” French restaurants usually offer a menu with choices for each of the several courses at a fixed price (how to read a French menu). If you want something else (a side order), you order from the carte. *Note that menu is a false cognate in French and English.
Other French expressions used in English
Avant-garde “before guard”
Innovative, especially in the arts
Bon vivant “good ‘liver'”
Someone who lives well, who knows how to enjoy life.
C’est la vie that’s life
Same meaning and usage in both languages
cherchez la femme « look for the woman »
Same problem as always
Cordon bleu “blue ribbon”
Déjà vu “already seen”
Another expression in French is Déjà vu. This is a grammatical structure in French, as in Je l’ai déjà vu=> I’ve already seen it. It can also disparage a style or technique that has already been done, as in Son style est déjà vu=> His style is not original.
In English, déjà vu refers to the scientific phenomenon of feeling like you have already seen or done something when you’re sure that you haven’t: a feeling of déjà vu = une impression de déjà vu.
Fiancé, fiancée “engaged person, betrothed”
Note that fiancé refers to a man and fiancée to a woman.
Haute couture “high sewing”
High-class, fancy (and expensive) clothing styles
Je ne sais quoi “I don’t know what”
Used to indicate a “certain something,” as in “I really like Ann. She has a certain je ne sais quoi that I find very appealing.”
Ménage à trois “household of three”
Oh là là “oh dear”
Usually misspelled and mispronounced “ooh la la” in English.
pied-à-terre “foot on ground”
A temporary or secondary place of residence.
prêt-à-porter “ready to wear”
Originally referred to clothing, now sometimes used for food.
Rendez-vous “go to”
In French, this refers to a date or an appointment (literally, it is the verb se rendre [to go] in the imperative); in English we can use it as a noun or a verb (let’s rendez-vous at 8pm).
Savoir-vivre “to know how to live”
Tête-à-tête “head to head”
A private talk or visit with another person
Voilà ! “There it is!”
Nearly every time I see this in English, it is misspelled as “voilá” or “violà.”
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