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Discovering the Top French Phrases Used in English

Discovering the Top French Phrases Used in English

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It is the world’s most commonly spoken language, but did you know that nearly 30% of all the words in the English language originate from France?

That’s right, if you opened up a modern English dictionary, you’d find thousands of words that come from across the Channel, first spoken by the French, before being adopted by English speakers later on.

But why is this the case, and how did it happen? We take a closer look at the history behind it, and analysis of some of the most frequently used French phrases uttered by English speakers, so you can become completely au fait with the subject.

French Influence in the English Language – A Brief History

There is no better place to start than the 11th century, in which the roots of the French influence in the English language can be largely found.
In 1066, French speakers invaded and occupied England as part of the Norman Conquest, led by William the Conqueror, who was later crowned William I.
The successful conquest led to the newly-installed monarch placing French noblemen in positions of authority throughout the country, with French becoming the language of the ruling class, and the official language of England between 1066 and 1362.
Crazily enough, almost 200 years would pass before a descendant of William could manage enough English to properly address Parliament, without getting lost in translation.
As a result of this French influence, the language of the country became an amalgam of the older English (largely Germanic in nature) and the French of the new rulers.
Subsequently, the two languages existed side by side and various terms from both vernaculars came into modern English, which acted as a sort of middle ground between the classes, enabling the English-speaking peasantry to communicate with the landed gentry, who had mostly conversed in French.
So gradually the French nobles became English, and the English inherited a large chunk of French, which filtered into their own language. All this has left the English language with a whole host of French words and phrases – some of which we will focus on below.

Top French Phrases Used in English

● À la carte

Literal meaning: ‘By the card’ or ‘according to the menu’.

Definition: Refers to the practice of ordering individual dishes – separately – from a menu in a restaurant, rather than part of a set meal.

● Bon appétit!

Literal meaning: ‘Good appetite’.

Definition: Is a polite way of telling someone to enjoy what they are about to eat.

● Bon voyage!

Literal meaning: ‘Good journey’.

Definition: Is another polite phrase, used as a way of saying goodbye to a person or group of people, and wishing them good luck on their journey.

● C’est la vie!

Literal meaning: ‘This is the life’.

Definition: A phrase that is used in situations where something happens in life that a person cannot do anything about.

● Crème de la crème

Literal meaning: ‘Cream of the cream’.

Definition: Is a superlative phrase, meaning the very best of something, also referred to as ‘the best of the best’.

● Déjà vu

Literal meaning: ‘Already seen’.

Definition: Refers to the feeling of having felt, seen, or experienced the present situation before, even if this is occurring for the first time.

● En route

Literal meaning: On the way’ or ‘on road’.

Definition: Means that a person is on the way to somewhere, during the course of a journey to a destination.

● Fait accompli

Literal meaning: ‘Accomplished fact’.

Definition: Refers to something that has happened but cannot be changed, meaning that it is irreversible and has to be accepted.

● Faux pas

Literal meaning: ‘False step’.

Definition: Refers to an embarrassing moment, in the form of a mistaken remark or action, within a social setting.

● Grand prix

Literal meaning: ‘Great prize’.

Definition: Refers to an important sporting event with a very large prize. It is most commonly used in motor racing.

● Je ne sais quoi

Literal meaning: ‘I know not what’.

Definition: Refers to something that has a certain indescribable, inexpressible or irresistible quality about it.

● Par excellence

Literal meaning: ‘By excellence’.

Definition: Is a way of saying that something is the best of its kind, or simply better than all the rest.

● Pièce de résistance

Literal meaning: ‘Piece of resistance’.

Definition: Refers to the showpiece or main exhibit in a collection, or the most important dish of a meal.

● Répondez s’il vous plaît (RSVP)

Literal meaning: ‘Reply if it pleases you’.

Definition: Is used on invitations to ask the invited guests to indicate whether they will be able to attend the event or not.

● Tête-à-tête

Literal meaning: ‘Head-to-head’.

Definition: Refers to a private conversation between two individuals, usually in an intimate setting or environment.

● Vis-à-vis

Literal meaning: ‘Face-to-face’.

Definition: Can refer to either a face-to-face meeting, or mean ‘with regard to’, ‘in relation’, or ‘regarding’.

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