Skip To Content

    13 French Words I Bet You're Probably Using Or Pronouncing Wrong

    "À la mode" has nothing to do with ice cream.

    Hey there! I'm Marie. I'm French, but I lived in the US for many years.

    During my time there, I noticed that Americans use many French words, but they often have a different meaning or a very different pronunciation in English — which led to a few misunderstandings. Here are several!

    1. In French, "à la mode" has nothing to do with pies and ice cream.

    tasty.co

    In French, it just means "fashionable" — and the adjective dates back to the mid–17th century. The origin of the term's use to describe a slice of pie served with ice cream is up for debate: Some say it was born at a hotel in Cambridge, New York, in the late 19th century, while others claim it comes from Duluth, Minnesota, where pie à la mode was apparently first served by a French-speaking Swiss hotel owner.

    2. "Croissant" isn't pronounced "cruss-AUNT" or "cruh-sent" but "krwa-san."

    A tray of croissants
    Charles Platiau / Reuters

    To be fair, even I ended up saying "cruh-sent" when I was living in the US 'cause I was afraid to be seen as a snob for using the proper pronunciation. Here's everything you need to know about how to pronounce the word correctly.

    3. "Maître d'" doesn't actually mean anything in French.

    Fox / giphy.com

    While "maître d'" means "headwaiter" in English, the original French term is "maître d'hôtel" — and if you take out "hôtel," you're just left with "master of," which doesn't make much sense. I'm guessing someone got lazy and didn't want to say the whole thing (I don't blame them), so it was shortened to "maître d'" in English.

    4. In France, an "entrée" is actually an appetizer.

    Fox / giphy.com

    "Entrer" means "to come in," so an entrée is the first dish of the meal. In French, the main course is called "plat principal."

    5. "Connoisseur" is not actually a word in French.

    Bravo TV / primogif.com

    The correct word is "connaisseur," from the verb "connaître," and it also means "an expert."

    6. "Champagne" isn't pronounced "sham-payn" but "shon-pahn-ye."

    A bottle of champagne
    Yves Herman / Reuters

    This one is pretty tricky, but the "am" in "cham-" is not open like "sham" but closed, almost like "hon." As for "-pagne," "gn" is actually the same sound you find in "lasagna," only without the "a" at the end.

    7. The luxury brand Louis Vuitton isn't pronounced "Luis Vewi-tuhn" but "Lwee Vwitoh."

    Photo of Louis Vuitton store
    Getty Images

    The French "on" sound doesn't really exist in English, which makes it hard to translate. There is a whole WikiHow page dedicated to the pronunciation of "Louis Vuitton," if you want to know more.

    8. "Risqué" usually has no sexual connotation in French.

    AP / giphy.com

    It just means "risky" and is used to describe something dangerous or a bit daring, but not something sexually suggestive or indecent like in English.

    9. Only major snobs and tourists yell "Garçon!" at cafés.

    ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks / giphy.com

    Although it's a popular shtick in movies and TV shows and it used to be a common thing to say in France, it's now very outdated and sounds pretty condescending. Waiters might take it the wrong way if you use it to get their attention at a French café.

    10. We don't use the word "passé" to say that something is outdated.

    Universal

    "Le passé" is literally "the past," which explains its use in English. You could say that something is "passé de mode" in French, meaning it's out of fashion, but if you just say "passé," people won't get what you mean.

    11. "Adieu" isn't pronounced "uh-dyoo" but "ah-dee-uh."

    HBO / giphy.com

    Which unfortunately kind of kills the rhyme in "I bid you adieu."

    12. "Corsage" doesn't have the same meaning in French.

    Jaime Miller / Getty Images

    "Corsage" in French means the bodice of a dress. The English use of the term, as a way to describe the small bouquet worn around the wrist at formals, apparently comes from the fact that women used to wear flowers tied to their bodice, and these flowers were called "bouquet de corsage."

    13. We don't use the word "encore" to describe the extra song at the end of a concert.

    tenor.com

    "Encore" means "again" in French, so it makes sense that it would be used to ask for another song at the end of a show. But we actually don't use it that way. In France, when asking for an "encore," people will just say "une autre" ("another one"), and the extra song itself is called a "rappel."