French Grammar Guide for non-francophones


In this section: Description, Questions, Exercises


An Overview of Anglicisms to Avoid

It is perfectly natural for learners of French to rely sometimes on their first language when mastering the new grammatical system. As a student progresses, however, French rules and forms should be used at all times. Some of the most common anglicisms to avoid are presented below.


Avoir NOT être

Some expressions that use the verb "be" in English require the verb "have" (avoir) in French. For example, English uses expressions like:

  • I am hungry, I am thirsty and I am afraid (all with the verb be),

However, these use the verb avoir in French, e.g.:

  • J'ai faim, j'ai soif and j'ai peur (NOT je suis faim, je suis soif or je suis peur).

We find this same pattern when indicating a person's age. For example, in English you would write:

  • I am 14 years old.

However, in French this would be expressed as:

  • J'ai 14 ans (and NOT je suis 14 ans).

Passive Structures

Another important verbal difference concerns passive sentences (where the agent of the action is not explicit), e.g.:

  • I was given a book.

French uses a different structure than English:

  • On m'a donné un livre (and NOT J'étais donné un livre.)

Here we see that on is the subject and the person receiving is represented with an object pronoun.

Let's Play!

The verb jouer is not followed by a preposition in English, but one is required in French. If the following word is a sport or a game, use au or à la, e.g.:

  • J'aime jouer au baseball (and NOT J'aime jouer le baseball).

If the following word is a musical instrument, use du or de la, e.g.:

  • Ma soeur joue de la guitare (and NOT Ma soeur joue la guitare).

  • To mean "look like", use the expression avoir l'air or ressembler (do not write regarder comme).
  • To mean "it's working", write cela marche or cela fonctionne (do not write ça travaille).
  • To mean "take a course", write suivre un cours (do NOT write prendre un cours).
  • To mean "make a decision", write prendre une décision (do NOT write faire une décision).


One important difference between pronouns in English and French is that object pronouns precede the verb in French, but follow it in English, e.g.:

  • French: Il m'a donné le livre.
  • English: He gave me the book.

Be careful not to use the English order in French, i.e.: do not write:

  • Il a donné moi le livre.


English places all adjectives before nouns, e.g.:

  • I bought some blue shoes.

However, the vast majority of French adjectives must follow the noun, e.g.:

  • J'ai acheté des chaussures bleues (and NOT j'ai acheté des bleues chaussures).


The French preposition sur is used primarily with the literal meaning "on" or "on top of". As such, it cannot be used everywhere English uses "on". For example,

  • on TV = à la télé (NOT sur la télé, unless you mean "on top of the TV")
  • on Mondays = le lundi (NOT sur les lundis)

There are also many instances where a verb is followed by a preposition in English, but not French, e.g.:

  • to look for a book = chercher un livre (NOT chercher pour un livre)
  • to look at my dog = regarder mon chien (NOT regarder à mon chien)

False Friends

False friends are words that look the same in English and French, but have different meanings. When writing, be sure to choose the correct French equivalent for the meaning you wish to express. In the following tables, we've indicated the most common problems:

False Friends with Verbs

French English mistake French meaning Correct translation
assister to assist to attend aider
crier to cry to yell pleurer
délivrer to deliver to set free livrer
demander to demand to ask exiger
déranger to derange to bother rendre fou
être plein to be full to be pregnant avoir bien mangé
être fini to be finished to be dead avoir fini
experimenter to experiment to experience faire une expérience
introduire to introduce to insert présenter
passer un examen to pass an exam to take an exam réussir à un examen
prétendre to pretend to claim faire semblant
quitter to quit to leave laisser, démissioner
rater to rate to fail, to miss évaluer
réaliser to realize to fulfill, to make se rendre compte de
replacer to replace to adjust remplacer
reporter to report to postpone rapporter
rester to rest to stay se reposer
supporter to support to tolerate appuyer, subvenir aux besoins de
user to use to wear down utiliser, employer

False Friends with Nouns

French English mistake French meaning Correct translation
batterie battery drum set une pile
balance balance scales l'équilibre
caractère character personality un personnage
caution caution deposit la prudence
comédien comedian actor un comique
course course race un cours
crayon crayon pencil un crayon gras
date romantic outing calendar date un rendez-vous
envie envy desire la jalousie
essai essay try une dissertation
fabrique fabric factory un tissu, toile
formation formation training la création
front front forehead le devant, la façade
déception deception disappointment une tromperie
grade grade rank une année
graduation graduation increase la remise de diplômes
habit habit clothing habitude
hasard hazard chance une danger, un risque
isolation isolation insulation l'isolement
langage language way of speaking une langue
lecture lecture reading une conférence
librairie library bookstore la bilbliothèque
liqueur liquor soft drink l'alcool
location location rental la position
match match game une allumette, bonne paire
médecin medicine doctor un médicament
messe mess mass un désordre
monnaie money small change de l'argent
office office public rank un bureau
opportunité opportunity opportuneness une occasion, une possibilité
photographe photograph photographer une photo
pièce piece theatrical production un morceau
place place public square un endroit, un lieu
raisin raisin grape un raisin sec
relatives relatives in relation to de la parenté

False Friends with Adverbs and Adjectives

French English mistake French meaning Correct translation
éventuel eventual possible ultime, final
large large wide grand, gros
sensible sensible sensitive logique, raisonnable
actuellement actually presently en fait
éventuellement eventually possibly finalement

Tags: anglicism avoir être peur
In this section: Description, Questions, Exercises

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