French Words Borrowed from English and Vice Versa

The relationship between the French and English languages is a fascinating tale of mutual influence and borrowing. Over centuries, political, social, and cultural exchanges have led to a significant number of words migrating between these two languages. This article delves into the history, reasons, and examples of French words borrowed from English and vice versa, highlighting the rich tapestry of linguistic exchange.

Historical Context

The historical interactions between French and English speakers have been complex and varied, resulting in a profound impact on both languages.

  1. Norman Conquest (1066): When William the Conqueror of Normandy defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings, French became the language of the English court, law, and aristocracy for several centuries. This period saw a massive influx of French vocabulary into English.
  2. Renaissance and Enlightenment: The Renaissance brought a renewed interest in art, science, and literature, with many French terms entering English, especially in the realms of philosophy, fashion, and cuisine. The Enlightenment further bolstered this exchange as intellectuals from both countries communicated and shared ideas.
  3. Colonialism and Globalization: The colonial expansions of both England and France around the world further facilitated linguistic exchanges. The 19th and 20th centuries, with the rise of global trade and later globalization, continued to see significant borrowing of words, especially in technology, culture, and business.

Reasons for Borrowing Words

  1. Cultural Influence: As countries dominate in certain cultural aspects (e.g., French cuisine or English literature), their language often provides the terms for these domains.
  2. Technological Advancements: The nation leading in technological innovation often sees its terminology adopted internationally. English, being predominant in tech, has contributed many terms to French.
  3. Gaps in Vocabulary: Sometimes, one language may not have a word for a specific concept or object, leading to borrowing from another language that does.
  4. Prestige and Fashion: Certain words are borrowed due to the prestige associated with the other language. For example, French has often been seen as the language of elegance and refinement, leading English speakers to adopt French terms in fashion and art.

French Words Borrowed from English

  1. Le weekend: In French, the word “weekend” is used to refer to the end of the week, a direct borrowing from English.
  2. Le brainstorming: This term, used in both languages to describe a creative problem-solving session, was adopted from English.
  3. Le jogging: The French word for the activity of running for exercise, taken directly from English.
  4. Le business: While French has its own words for commerce, “business” is often used, especially in contexts involving international trade or modern industries.
  5. Le selfie: The word for a self-taken photograph, reflecting the global influence of English in the digital age.

English Words Borrowed from French

  1. Café: This word, meaning a small restaurant serving coffee and light meals, comes directly from the French “café”.
  2. Ballet: The English term for this classical dance form comes from the French word “ballet”.
  3. Fiancé/Fiancée: These words for an engaged man or woman are borrowed from French, retaining their original meanings.
  4. Cuisine: In English, this term refers to a style or method of cooking, borrowed from the French “cuisine”.
  5. Entrepreneur: This word, meaning a person who starts a business, comes from the French “entrepreneur”.

Detailed Examples and Analysis

  1. Le Weekend:
    • Origin: The term originated in English to describe the period from Saturday to Sunday.
    • Adoption: French borrowed this term to fill a gap, as there was no succinct way to describe this period in French.
    • Usage: “Je pars en weekend” (I’m going away for the weekend).
  2. Ballet:
    • Origin: The term comes from the French word “ballet”, which itself has origins in Italian “balletto”.
    • Adoption: English adopted this term due to the influence of French culture in the arts.
    • Usage: “She has been practicing ballet for years.”
  3. Le Selfie:
    • Origin: The term “selfie” originated in English to describe self-taken photographs.
    • Adoption: The digital age and social media led to the widespread adoption of this term in many languages, including French.
    • Usage: “Je prends un selfie avec mes amis” (I’m taking a selfie with my friends).
  4. Cuisine:
    • Origin: The French word “cuisine” means both “kitchen” and “style of cooking”.
    • Adoption: English borrowed this term to describe a particular style of cooking, reflecting French culinary influence.
    • Usage: “Italian cuisine is known for its rich flavors.”
  5. Entrepreneur:
    • Origin: The French word “entrepreneur” means someone who undertakes or manages.
    • Adoption: English adopted this term during the Industrial Revolution, a period of significant economic and business development.
    • Usage: “He is a successful entrepreneur with several businesses.”


The exchange of words between French and English is a testament to the rich history of interaction between these two languages. Understanding these borrowed words not only enhances your vocabulary but also provides insight into the cultural and historical contexts that shaped their adoption. As both languages continue to evolve, this linguistic exchange remains a vibrant and dynamic part of their development. Embracing these words can enrich your language learning journey, making it more engaging and reflective of our interconnected world. Want to learn either of the languages? Book a lesson with Albert Learning.