Lots of French words resemble (or look like) English words. Such words
are called cognates.
Many cognates are written exactly the same in both languages (though
they are always pronounced differently). Others show minor differences
in spelling. These shouldn’t interfere with comprehension. How many
of the French words in the following list can you understand?
Le, la, les and l', which accompany the nouns in the first
column above, mean the. They are one sort of Determiner, which
we'll study in more detail later. They are very often used in French where
English doesn't need them (we say Rivers are dangerous, but in French
you have to say Les rivières sont dangereuses).
Now look at some Noun + Adjective combinations involving Cognates.
Nouns are the words we use as labels for people and abstract and concrete
things (child, energy, chair, technique, volume, university, magazine).
We look more closely at Nouns
in a later lesson.
Determiner + Noun + Adjective
une chaise confortable
la technique fondamentale
un volume intéressant
une université brésilienne
des magazines féminins
As noted above, Nouns in French are almost always preceded by a Determiner,
which can be an article such as the or a, or a word like his
or this, even when this is not necessary in English.
You may have noticed that adjectives come after nouns in the
examples above. This is usually the case in French, unlike English.
In French it's l'énergie nucléaire, une chaise énorme.
We'd say nuclear energy, an enormous chair.
If you speak Spanish or Italian, you will find even more cognates in
French because these two languages are more closely related to French than
Words with certain endings are easy to recognize. French words ending
in -ion, -ie, -ique have very often mean the same as corresponding
words in English ending in -ion, -y and -ic (or -ics,
Beware of false friends
Cognates are valuable, but they may betray you. Many no longer mean the
same in both languages. The word actuellement in French doesn't
mean actually, but at the present time. And une société
usually means a company in business contexts. When words in different
languages look the same but have different meanings, at least some of the
time, they are called False Friends (faux amis in French).
Faux amis will be dealt with in French 335 and 337. You will
not be tested on them in French 235 aor 237, but you will encounter quite
a few and it is good to begin to be aware of the problem they pose.
about False Friends in a .
Some Background on Cognates
English, for historical reasons, is heavily Frenchified. After the Norman
conquest of England in 1066, French was the official working language of
government, of parliament and the courts in England for three centuries.
In the courts, French continued to be used as the "official" language
of England right up to the seventeenth century. By that time, it was a
debased sort of Frenglish. In 1631, a famous legal report on an incident
in which a prisoner attacked a judge reads in part: "he jecte un graund
brickbat que narrowly mist".
During these centuries, thousands of French words came into English
and stayed. For a great many concepts, English now has two words, one of
English (i.e. originally Germanic) origin, and another of French (i.e.
originally Latin) origin.
Although we tend to use the Germanic words more commonly, the French
words are familiar to us.