False friends are words in different languages that look similar but have different connotations or entirely different meanings. French-English false friends, or faux amis, are especially tricky because modern English contains many words of French origin. It’s only natural to assume that a French word has the same meaning as a similarly-spelled English word. Watch out for following common faux amis, and remember to always check the meaning of a familiar-looking word before using it.
Apologie and Apology: To offer an apology in English means to say that you’re sorry. The French apologie, on the other hand, means to “condone” or “justify” an action. If you’re sincere about the apology that you are making, use pardon or excusez-moi instead.
Ancien and Ancient: While ancien can mean ancient, it most often means “former.” When it precedes a noun, ancien indicates a prior state or condition of that noun is no longer the case. An ancienne voiture is a car that you once owned, not an old car. Un ancien combatant refers to a “retired solider,” not an old soldier.
Blesser and Bless: Despite their similar spellings, these two words have opposite meanings. The French verb blesser translates to “injure.” So resist the urge to say blessez-vous when someone sneezes; use à vos souhaits instead.
Bras and Bras: Sometimes identical spellings across languages are coincidental. This is one of those times. Votre bras refers to a forearm. Un soutien-gorge is the phrase you’ll need if you’re shopping for female undergarments.
Chair and Chair: This is another case of coincidental spellings between languages. The French word chair means “flesh.” Use chaise if you’re looking for a place to sit down.
Déception and Deception: The French noun déception refers to “disappointment” or “disillusionment.” It doesn’t mean “an attempt to deceive” or imply any malicious intent on a person’s part.
Excité and Excited: While the English word excited means “very enthusiastic and eager,” the French excité specifically means “aroused.” Unless you’re expressing excitement for an amorous encounter, enthusiaste is a better choice to convey your enthusiasm for a situation.
Librarie and Library: Both of these words refer to places where you can obtain books. The difference is in how you obtain a book from each. Library is where you go to borrow a book. Une librarie is where you go to buy a book. In other words, it is a book store. Go to une bibliothèque if you’re looking to check out a book for free.
Location and Location: Location means “rental” in French, not a particular place. Advertisements using location indicate that the thing or place being advertised is available to rent. They’re not expressing where that thing/place is located.
Monnaie and Money: Like librarie and library, monnaie and money have similar but not identical meanings. Monnaie specially refers to “loose change.” You could be flush with cash but still have no monnaie jingling around in your pocket.
Sensible and Sensible: Unlike its English false friend, the French word sensible actually means “sensitive.” Use sensible if you’re describing a person in touch with his or her feelings, but use raisonnable if you’re saying that someone has a good head on his or her shoulders.
Slip and Slip: Slip has a very different meaning in French than it does in English. Instead of referring to losing your footing or narrowly squeezing by, the French word translates to “men’s briefs.” Unless you want some strange looks, use the verb glisser when explaining how you slipped on the ice or tripped in the shower.