French Phrases for Dummies


An easy-to-tote communications road map-French to go!

France is the world's #1 tourist destination, with 2.2 million American visitors in 2002, and French the second most popular foreign language among U.S. high school and college students. This handy little phrasebook fits easily into pocket, purse, or bag-and helps tourists and students make themselves understood right away.

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An easy-to-tote communications road map-French to go!

France is the world's #1 tourist destination, with 2.2 million American visitors in 2002, and French the second most popular foreign language among U.S. high school and college students. This handy little phrasebook fits easily into pocket, purse, or bag-and helps tourists and students make themselves understood right away.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780764572029
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 7/28/2004
  • Series: For Dummies Series
  • Edition description: Bilingual
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 424,546
  • Product dimensions: 4.32 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Dodi-Katrin Schmidt has been a writer, a translator, and an editor for almost ten years. Aside from translating German, French, and English text of various kinds, including linguistic handbooks, film reviews, travel guides, and children’s books, she has also been involved in developing language textbooks, language courses, teachers’ handbooks, and grammar companions for video language courses. Dodi has been teaching for more than two decades at high school, adult education, and college levels in Europe as well as the United States. She also writes test items for various national language tests and recorded textbook and test material. Together with her husband, she travels a great deal, and they continually house and entertain foreign students and former students in their home in Princeton, NJ.

Michelle Williams is an editor at a major educational publisher. A former French teacher, she has taught students ranging from two years old to adults, in both the public and private sectors. She is currently a private French tutor to a young Olympic-hopeful figure skater. She is a firm believer in making language fun and accessible to all who want to learn. Her most rewarding experience, however, is in watching and listening to her son, Nathaniel, learn to speak and sing in French.

Dominique Wenzel has been a freelance teacher of French and translator for 15 years. Born and raised in France, she received a Master’s degree from the University of Paris-Sorbonne and studied at the University of Chicago on a postgraduate Fulbright scholarship. Her students include business professionals, children, and adults of all levels and interests. She travels regularly to France. Dominique raised two bicultural, bilingual children who are both active in the international field.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1: I Say It How? Speaking French.

Chapter 2: Grammar on a Diet: Just the Basics.

Chapter 3: Numerical Gumbo: Counting of All Kinds.

Chapter 4: Making New Friends and Enjoying Small Talk.

Chapter 5: Enjoying a Drink and a Snack (or Meal!).

Chapter 6: Shop ’Til You Drop!

Chapter 7: Making Leisure a Top Priority.

Chapter 9: I Get Around: Transportation.

Chapter 10: Laying Down Your Weary Head: House or Hotel.

Chapter 11: Dealing with Emergencies.

Chapter 12: Ten Favorite Expressions.

Chapter 13: Ten Phrases That Make You Sound French.


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First Chapter

French Phrases For Dummies

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-7202-4

Chapter One

I Say It How? Speaking French

In This Chapter

* Recognizing the French you already know

* Figuring out basic pronunciation

* Using popular expressions

This chapter lets you get your feet wet. Well, actually, we kind of throw you right into the pond. We start by showing you how French and English are similar; then we present some French expressions that you probably already know and understand; and then we talk about pronunciation.

The French You Know

People tend to forget that French was the English court language for a very long time. Today, about 45 percent of English vocabulary is of French origin. That being the case, you already know an impressive amount of French, whether you realize it or not. That's what you are going to find out in this chapter. The only pitfall you have to watch for is that sometimes these English words have different meanings from their French counterparts, and they almost certainly have different pronunciations.

Friendly allies - bons alliés (bohN-zah-lyay)

The following list shows words that are spelled the same - and have the same meaning - in French and English. The only thing that may be different is the pronunciation.

  •   art (ahr)
  •   brave (brahv)
  •   bureau (bew-ro)
  •   client (klee-yahN)
  •   concert (kohN-sehr)
  •   condition (kohN-dee-syohN)
  •   content (cohN-tahN)
  •   courage (koo-razh)
  •   cousin (koo-zaN)
  •   culture (kewl-tewr)
  •   différent (dee-fay-rahN)
  •   excellent (ayk-say-lahN)
  •   garage (gah-razh)
  •   guide (geed)
  •   important (aN-pohr-tahN)
  •   journal (zhoor-nahl)
  •   machine (mah-sheen)
  •   moment (moh-mahN)
  •   nation (nah-syohN)
  •   orange (oh-rahNzh)
  •   parent (pah-rahN)
  •   possible (poh-seebl)
  •   principal (praN-see-pahl)
  •   probable (pro-bahbl)
  •   question (kehs-tyohN)
  •   radio (rah-dyo)
  •   répétition (ray-pay-tee-syohN)
  •   restaurant (rehs-to-rahN)
  •   rose (roz)
  •   rouge (roozh)
  •   route (root)
  •   science (syahNs)
  •   secret (suh-kreh)
  •   service (sehr-vees)
  •   signal (see-nyahl)
  •   silence (see-lahNs)
  •   solitude (soh-lee-tewd)
  •   sport (spohr)
  •   station (stah-syohN)
  •   statue (stah-tew)
  •   suggestion (sewg-zhehs-syohN)
  •   surprise (sewr-preez)
  •   table (tahbl)
  •   taxi (tahk-see)
  •   tennis (tay-nees)
  •   train (traN)
  •   urgent (ewr-zhahN)
  •   violet (vyo-leh)
  •   voyage (vwah-yahzh)

Kissing cousins

Table 1-1 shows words that are spelled almost the same in French and English and have similar meanings.

False friends - faux amis

The words that follow look similar to English words, but they don't have the same meanings:

  •   actuellement (ak-tew-ehl-mahN): This word means "now," not "actually." The French word for "actually" is en fait (ahN feht).
  •   assister (ah-sees-tay): This word means "to attend," not "to assist." The French word for "to assist" is aider (ay-day).
  •   attendre (ah-tahNdr): This word means "to wait for," not "to attend." The French word for "to attend" is assister à (ah-sees-tay ah).
  •   bague (bahg): This word means "ring," not "bag." The French word for "bag" is sac (sahk).
  •   librairie (lee-breh-ree): This word means "bookstore," not "library." The French word for "library" is bibliothèque (bee-blee-oh-tehk).
  •   place (plahs): This word means "square or seat at the theater or on the bus," not "place." The French word for "place" is lieu or endroit.
  •   rester (rehs-tay): This word means "to stay or remain," not "to rest." The French word for "to rest" is se reposer (suh-ruh-po-zay).

Lenders and borrowers

Quite a few English words have been borrowed from French, thus retaining their French meanings with different pronunciations.

However, French has also borrowed many words from English and continues to do so in spite of the loud protests by purists who condemn this trend as a sign of cultural contamination and name it franglais (frahN-gleh):

  •   cool
  •   le budget
  •   le business
  •   le fast food
  •   le jet set
  •   le job (la job in Québec)
  •   le manager
  •   le marketing
  •   le parking
  •   le rock
  •   le shopping
  •   le steak
  •   le tunnel
  •   le weekend

Mouthing Off: Basic Pronunciation

The hardest part of pronunciation is overcoming your fear of not sounding French when you speak the language. You're probably afraid that you'll never be able to reproduce the sounds that you hear in French songs or movies. Remember, though, that any time anyone hears any foreign language spoken or sung at a normal speed, the words - which don't make sense to begin with - create a muddle of sounds impossible to reproduce. After you overcome your fear of sounding funny, everything else is fun and easy. Hopefully, our reassurance helps reduce your fear.


Before you can enjoy watching or playing a game, you have to understand its basic rules. Acquiring another language is no different. After you master these pronunciation rules, you need to practice whenever you have a moment to do so, just as you had to practice the piano as a child. (Aim for short but frequent practice sessions.) Your best bet is simply to repeat over and over again, no matter how boring that sounds.

The French alphabet

The French alphabet has the same number of letters as the English alphabet - 26. As you already know, many of the letters are pronounced differently. Table 1-2 lists the letters and their pronunciations, which you may find useful to refer to, if, for instance, you have to spell your name on the phone or write down an address. Whenever possible, the table refers to sound-alike English words so that you can have a pretty good idea of the way the letters are pronounced. Such helpful hints aren't always possible, of course, because even though many sounds are roughly the same in French and in English, some French sounds don't exist in the English language. The fact that these sounds are unfamiliar doesn't mean that you can't pronounce them. Just read the next few sections for some help and tips.

Vowel sounds

Vowel sounds are the most difficult to pronounce in French. They're shorter than in English and usually end syllables. Almost all of them have an equivalent in English. Take a look at Table 1-3.

The accent

The accent over a vowel in French doesn't indicate that a syllable is stressed. It only affects the letter on which it stands and doesn't even change the pronunciation of that letter unless it's an e (see Table 1-3).

The mute e

At the end of a word or between two consonants, the e isn't usually pronounced; it's called mute. For example, you don't pronounce the e at the end of grande (grahNd) (tall) or in the middle of samedi (sahm-dee) (Saturday). (See also the section "The elision" later in this chapter for more about final e.)

The nasal sounds

The nasal sound is very common in French and doesn't exist in English. It's also fairly easy to pronounce. Imagine that you have a cold and pronounce the sounds ah, ee, oh through your nose. They come out nasalized. Be sure not to pronounce the consonant n afterward.

Table 1-4 lists the nasal sounds.


French consonants are pronounced almost like in English, except that you don't linger on them; let them explode and move on to the vowel that follows. You can't pronounce French with a lazy mouth. Remember to articulate.

Another few words of caution: In French, the consonants at the end of a word are not usually pronounced, except for c, f, r, and l (the consonants in the word careful).

Table 1-5 lists French consonant sounds that may puzzle you either because they come in different spellings or because you think they don't exist in English.

Two extra consonants to mention:

  •   The letter h is always silent in French. Just ignore it.
  •   The French r often scares foreigners. Don't be afraid. You have to pronounce it with your throat, but make it as soft and gentle as you can, and you're in business.

The liaison

Have you ever thought, when listening to a French conversation, that it sounded like a great big, long word? Probably. That is because of a French phenomenon called the liaison. Faire la liaison (fehr lah lyay-zohN) (to make a liaison) means that the last consonant of a word is linked with the vowel that begins the following word. Check out these examples:

  •   C'est_un petit_appartement. (seh-tahN puh-tee-tah-pahr-tuh-mahN) (It's a small apartment.)
  •   Vous_êtes mon_ami depuis six_ans. (voo-zeht-moh-nah-mee duh-pwee see-zahN) (You have been my friend for six years.)

But the French language being full of exceptions, you have to be careful each time that you learn a new grouping of words: The liaison isn't systematic. One important exception is for words following the word et (ay), which means "and."

un livre et // un crayon (aN leev-ray // aN kray-yohN) (a book and a pencil)

The elision

When a word ending with an e or an a (usually an article or a pronoun) is followed by a word starting with a vowel, the first e or a disappears and is replaced by an apostrophe. This rule, like the liaison, contributes to the easy flow of the French language. Here are some examples:

  •   la + école -> l'école (lay-kohl) (the school)
  •   je + aime -> j'aime (jehm) (I like)
  •   le + enfant -> l'enfant (lahN-fahN) (the child)


Don't stress! In French, every syllable is of equal importance in volume and stress. The emphasis in French words of two or more syllables is on the last syllable - but that stress is moderate. For instance, the stress - very slight - in the French word photographie (fo-to-grah-fee) (photography) is on the last syllable of the word.

Remembering to unstress the syllable that you're used to pronouncing in those words that have similar spellings in French and in English may take quite a bit of practice. It's like ironing the pleat out of a pair of trousers over and over again.

Idioms and Popular Expressions

French, like English, has many idioms (unusual ways of expressing feelings and ideas). You may find the meanings of these expressions puzzling if you try to translate them word for word.

These fixed forms of expression - you should recognize and use them as such - belong specifically to the language in question. If you walked up to a French man and said, "Il pleut des chats et des chiens" (eel plew day shah ay day shy-aN) (It's raining cats and dogs), he'd question your sanity. You may find yourself wondering what a Frenchman means when using one of his language's idioms, such as "Il tombe des cordes" (eel tohNb day kohrd), literally "ropes are falling," the French expression corresponding to "it's raining cats and dogs."

Apart from those idioms, which take a long time to recognize and belong specifically to a culture, you find many expressions and phrases that you can't translate word for word but which you can easily learn and use.


Excerpted from French Phrases For Dummies Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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