Five Common False Cognates in French

There are a lot of false cognates in French that are easy for English speakers to mistake. These are French words that look very much like English words, but actually do not mean the same thing. In this post we’ll look at five common false cognates in French, words that show up a lot, and that you may be misunderstanding or misusing. I know from experience teaching that they can give English speaking students of French a hard time. But, if it makes you feel any better, they also give French speaking students of English a hard time!

actually/actuellement

This looks like actually, but it’s actually not actually! If you want to say actually, use en fait, en réalité or vraiment.

  • En fait, je suis en France maintenant.
    Actually, I’m in France now.

Actuellement means currently or at this time.

  • Je suis actuellement en France.
    I’m currently in France.

Related to actuellement are les actualités. This means things that are happening currently or at this time, in other words, the news.

eventually/éventuellement

Eventually can be translated as finalement or un jour (as in one day.)

  • J’irai là un jour.
    I’ll go there eventually/one day.

Éventuellement means possibly or potentially.

  • Tu peux éventuellement venir demain.
    You can potentially come tomorrow.
location/location (f.)

One of the all-time classic mistakes. Location means rental, related to the verb louer (to rent).

  • Il y a un magasin de location de vélos.
    There is a bike rental shop.

If you want to say location, you should use endroit (m.)

  • Je ne connais pas l’endroit.
    I don’t know the location. 
library/librairie (f.)

This looks like library, but a library is une bibliothèque.

  • La bibliothèque est ouverte le dimanche.
    The library is open on Sundays. 

Une librairie is a bookstore:

  • La librairie vend seulement des livres neufs.
    The bookstore only sells new books.
place/place (f.)

Again, if you’re talking about a place or a location, use endroit.

  • L’endroit est assez intéressant.
    The place is rather interesting
    .

The French word place has a few meanings depending on context. For instance:

  • Il y a de la place.
    There’s space here.
  • La place du centre ville est très animée.
    The city center square is very lively.
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