from pp. 14-21
enfant child. enfance childhood. Cognate with infant, infancy. These words are easy but note that English infancy is limited to early childhood but French enfance covers a wider range of age. Also note enfant can be of either gender depending on the child’s biological gender, but the abstract noun enfance is feminine.
moins less, fewer; minus (cognate); (preceded by definite article) the least. This word is generally easy, e.g., il est moins grand que moi (“he’s shorter than me”, literally “he’s less big than me”); il y a moins de voitures dans la rue (“there’re fewer cars on the road”; note de). But note two phrases: au moins (“at least”) is almost the opposite of à moins de (“within”; “short of”), e.g. au moins un an (“at least a year”); à moins d’un an / de 100 mètres (“within one year / 100 meters”); à moins d’un miracle (“short of a miracle”). If you want to analyze them to remember the difference, note au is short for à le where le makes moins mean “least” not “less”, and de in à moins de adds the sense of “of” so the phrase literally means “at less of” i.e. “at the lower / smaller side of”.
arriver to arrive; to happen; (followed by à + verb) to manage (to do something). English arrive is from Old French, which, like this French word, is from Latin ad ripa, literally “to the bank (of a river etc.)”. This word looks easy but note the second and third meanings, which may be easier to remember if you imagine the scene of finally reaching land after floating in water for a long time. Example, un accident est arrivé (“an accident happened”; as a mnemonic, equate “an accident happened” to “an accident arrived”); je n’y arrive pas (“I can’t do it”, literally “I don’t manage to do it” or more literally “I don’t arrive at it / arrive there”).
attendre to wait (for); (reflexive) to expect, to foresee. attente waiting; expectation. Cognate with attend. In spite of the cognation, this word does not mean “to attend”, which would be assister in French. The sense development is that the Latin source means “to attend to or listen to” (which has passed into English attend) but its French derivation changed to “to wait to hear instruction” and then to “to wait” in general. Note that in the sense of “to expect” when used reflexively, it does not mean “to look forward to”, but “to foresee” or “to estimate” instead. Example, j’attends le bus (“I’m waiting / I wait for the bus”); on s’attend au pire / à mieux (“we’re expecting the worse / better”); le chef d’Interpol s’attend à une hausse de la criminalité (“INTERPOL chief expects / foresees an increase in crime”).
vieux old. vieil old. Cognate with veteran. Vieil is used before a masculine noun that starts with a vowel sound, e.g. un vieil homme (“an old man”), and -il is pronounced like y in English yes.
beau beautiful, handsome. English beautiful is from an Old French word, which was derived from the same Latin word which French beau came from. Note when modifying a noun, this adjective precedes the noun. Also note that the feminine of this word is belle, and that for masculine, if the noun begins with a vowel sound, the form is bel. Examples, il fait beau (“it’s nice weather”); musée des beaux-arts (“museum of fine arts”); une belle maison (“a beautiful house”), un bel homme (“a handsome man”).
depuis since, from; for (period of time). From de- + puis, where puis is cognate with English post (used as a prefix e.g. post-Industrial). Examples, je suis à Paris depuis 1990 / depuis 30 ans (“I’ve been in Paris since 1990 / for 30 years”); depuis quand es-tu à Paris? (“how long have you been in Paris?”, literally “since when are you in Paris?”).
sortir to go out, to exit; exit (n.), end. English sortie (“an attack made by troops coming out from a position of defense”) is from this French word. Cognate with the root of resort. Think of a resort as a place that people go out to for relaxation. Example, tout le monde est sorti dans la rue (“everyone went out to the street”).
connaître to know. Cognate with cognize, cognizance, with the root of recognize. English know can mean either “to know a person, place, etc.”, which is connaître in French, or “to know a fact”, which is savoir. (Knowing a fact increases your knowledge, which a sage has plenty of; savoir and sage are cognates; note Latin sapiens as in Home sapiens.) But sometimes both words are acceptable. Examples, je connais Jean, on se connaît (“I know Jean, we know each others”); je ne sais / connais pas grand-chose à ce sujet (“I don’t know much about this subject”).
jeune young; young person. jeunesse youth. Cognate with juvenile. From Latin iuvenis, where the middle syllable was omitted by French. If traced to Proto-Indo-European, cognate with young. Note the noun jeune can be both masculine or feminine. Examples, un jeune homme / une jeune femme (“a young man / woman”; note jeune precedes the noun); dans ma jeunesse (“in my youth”, “when I was young”).
comprendre to understand, to comprehend (cognate); to comprise, to include. From Latin comprehendere (“to grasp”), in which h became silent and was dropped. English comprise is from the past participle of this French word, compris. Example, je vous comprends mal (“I misunderstand you”, literally “I understand you wrong”).
noir black. From Latin niger (“black”). (Latin i in front of a guttural such as g often changes to French oi, and the following unstressed syllable is dropped.) It may be easier to learn this word by realizing that the famous French wine Pinot Noir is brewed from black grapes.
fille girl; daughter. fils son. Cognate with English filial (“pertaining to a son or daughter”, as in filial piety, filial affection). Note that while fille can mean “girl”, fils rarely means “boy” (without a family relation), which would be garçon. Also note that fils should not be confused with fil (“thread”), cognate with filament. To avoid the confusion, imagine -s in fils is for son. Another point to remember is that s in fils is not silent, but l is; the word is pronounced /fis/.
maison house. Cognate with mansion. Example, je rentre à la maison / je rentre chez moi (“I’m going home”).
soir evening. Etymology doesn’t help. Bonsoir (“Good evening”) may be understood by many English speaking people; but don’t forget to pronounce the uvula r trill. English soirée or soiree (“evening party”) comes from French. Examples, hier / demain soir (“last / tomorrow evening”); à ce soir! (“see you tonight!”).
personne person (cognate); nobody (used with ne); anybody. Note the meaning of “nobody” and its usage. Examples, les personnes âgées (“the elderly”); personne ne sait (“nobody knows”).
blanc white; blank (cognate). The feminine form is blanche. Note the ending c of blanc is silent, just like other words ending with -anc (and most with -onc). Examples, papier blanc (“white paper”); une feuille blanche (“a blank sheet (of paper)”).
maintenant now. From main (“hand”) + tenant (“holding”). Apparently the French make an analogy between holding in hand and the current time, which can be compared to English at hand (“close by in time or space”). Whatever the interpretation, this word doesn’t mean “maintenance” in spite of cognation; consider them false friends. Example, il est maintenant cinq heures (“it’s 5 o’clock now”; note if maintenant is not at the beginning of the sentence, it occurs more often before than after the time).
ouvrir to open (window, mouth, store, etc.), to turn on (gas, faucet, etc.). ouvert open (adj.), opened (adj. and past participle of ouvrir). Cognate with overt (“open”, “not secret”), aperture, which is closer to their common Latin origin. The change of Latin p to French v is common, but a to ou is unusual. Not to be confused with ouvrier (“worker”), which ends with -er.
bras arm. Cognate with brace, brachium (“upper arm”), with the root of embrace, and even with pretzel (a pretzel looks like folded arms). With an s- ending, the plural of this word is also bras. Note this word and English bra are false friends; the latter in French would be soutien-gorge. Examples, mon bras fait mal (“my arm hurts”); se croiser les bras (“to fold the arms”); bras dessus bras dessous (“arm in arm”, literally “arm on top arm underneath”).
pied foot. There are multiple English words sharing the same Latin source, e.g., pedal, pedestrian. Examples, aller à pied (“to go on foot”, “to walk”); donner un coup de pied (“to kick”, literally “to give a blow of foot”); au pied de la montagne (“at the foot of the mountain”).
sourire smile (n.); to smile. rire laugh (n.); to laugh. Rire, cognate with English ridicule, means “laugh” in their Latin source. Sou- comes from sub- meaning “below”. A smile is like a low-grade or suppressed laugh. Note laughing at a person has a different meaning and uses a different word, e.g. ils se moquent de lui (“they laugh at him”, literally “they mock him”). Examples, elle me sourit / sourit à Pierre (“she smiles at me / at Pierre”); je ris de la blague (“I laugh at the joke”; note the conjugation forms of rire, and so sourire, vary greatly).
nouveau new. nouvelle news (information); short story. Cognate with novel, novelty. The adjective nouveau precedes the noun it modifies, and changes to nouvel if followed by a vowel sound, e.g. un nouvel ordinateur (“a new computer”). Both de nouveau and à nouveau mean “again”. The noun nouvelle in sense of “news” is countable (just like une information), unlike in English, e.g. une nouvelle (“a piece of news”).
vivre to live. Cognate with the root of revive. Examples, où vis-tu? (“where do you live?”; the same as où habites-tu?; note the irregular vis); ils vivent ensemble (“they live together”); il a vécu une vie merveilleuse (“he has lived a wonderful life”; note the irregular past participle vécu).
vrai true. Cognate with verify, verity, veracious. The first syllable vowel e may have become unstressed in Latin or Old French and thus was omitted in French. Examples, une histoire vraie (“a true story”); c’est un vrai problème (“this is a real problem”; note problème is masc. and is after vrai); à vrai dire (“in fact”, “to tell the truth”, literally “to say truly”).
presque almost, nearly. près near, close (to a time or place). auprès near (prep.); nearby (adv.). Presque is from près + que, auprès from au + près, where près is cognate with press. Pressing on things makes them close to each other. Although the first e in presque is not written as è, it’s pronounced as such (slightly more open than a plain e). Examples, près de / auprès de la maison (“near the house”); j’habite tout près (“I live nearby”); j’ai presque fini (“I’m almost done”); il ne reste presque plus de lait (“there’s hardly any milk left”).
appeler to call. rappeler (reflexive) to remember, to recall; to remind; to call again, to call back, to recall. appel call (n.). Appeler or appel is cognate with appeal, appellation (“name”, especially one indicating the geographic origin of wine). Rappeler is from re- + appeler. Note its meaning of “to recall (in the sense of remember)” and “to remind”, which may not be easy to think of. Examples, je m’appelle Louis (“My name is Louis”, literally “I call me/myself Louis”; note double l’s in certain conjugated forms); un appel téléphonique (“a phone call”); la scène me rappelle la France (“the scene reminds me of France”, note: no preposition needed for rappeler as English remind does).
loin far. lointain faraway, distant (adj.).If traced to Proto-Indo-European, cognate with long. In any case, long serves as a good mnemonic if you think of a long way (away) as far away. The second syllable of lointain is not a separate word. You may use a mnemonic such as “a long mountain” to aid memory. Example, L’université est trop loin. C’est dans un quartier lointain de la ville. (“The university is too far away. It’s in a faraway part/district/quarter of the town.”)
chercher to look for, to search (cognate), to look up (in a dictionary); to fetch (especially in aller chercher, “to go fetch”); (followed by à) to try to. Examples, je cherche la télécommande (“I’m looking for the remote control”); je vais chercher une bière (“I’ll go get a beer”). See also rechercher (“to look for”, “to search”, “to research”).
paraître to seem, to appear; to be published. disparaître to disappear. apparaître to appear (literally). apparition appearance; apparition (“ghost”). Paraître is cognate with the root of appear, i.e. without the prefix. From Latin parere. Note the second vowel becomes u in the past participle, paru, disparu, as well as in a few other conjugated forms. Examples, il me parait étrange (“it seems strange to me”); le livre a paru l’année dernière (“the book was published last year”).
tomber to fall. If traced to Proto-Germanic, cognate with tumble, which can be used as a good mnemonic. An alternative mnemonic is to think of the euphemistic usage of fall for “death” and associate it with tomb. Example, j’ai fait tomber mon portefeuille dans la voiture (“I dropped my wallet in the car”, literally “I have made my wallet fall in the car”); le soldat est tombé au champ d’honneur (“the soldier fell on the field of honor”). See also tombe (“tomb”).
plein full, plenty (cognate). Also cognate with plenary (“fully attended”, as in plenary session of a conference). Examples, une boîte pleine (“a full box”); en plein air (“outdoors”, “in the open air”); en plein match / concert / champ (“in the middle of the game / concert / field”; it may imply heated activity as in en plein match).
asseoir (reflexive) to sit down, to take a seat; to make sit down. The root is cognate with sedentary, sediment, and if traced to Proto-Indo-European, with sit, seat. Prefix a- just means “toward”, “at”, “about”. Letter d between two vowels (medial) in Latin tends to disappear, and the stressed e changes to oi in French. Examples, Asseyez-vous! (“Sit down!”). This word can be conjugated in either of two ways thanks to the 1990 spelling reform which dropped e from the word (because the syllable is pronounced /swaʁ/), though only one form is slightly more popular for a specific person-and-number combination, e.g. je m'assois, tu t'assois, il s'assoit, ils s'assoient, asseyez-tu (imperative), but nous asseyons, vous asseyez. See also assiette (“dish”), assis (“seated”, “sitting”).
mourir to die. Cognate with morbid, moribund (“dying”). Example, il est mort en mai (“he died in May”), where mort is the past participle, not adjective, and the auxiliary verb must be être, not avoir. Although il est mort alone can also mean “he is dead”, it can only mean “he died” with a point of past time in the sentence; it’s much more common than saying il mourait.
gros big, thick, fat; coarse. Cognate with gross. This word precedes the noun it modifies, e.g. un gros problème (“a big problem”), and does not have the sense of “disgusting” as English gross, which would be dégoûtant in French.
tirer to pull, to drag; to shoot. Cognate with the root of retire (literally, “to draw back”, “to withdraw”), with tirage (“drawing wine from barrel”; “drawing in lottery”), tear (if traced to Proto-Germanic). The sense of “shoot” is implied from pulling the trigger of a firearm. Examples, il tire la corde (“he pulls the rope”); la police tire sur le dealer de drogue (“the police shoots at the drug dealer”).
perdre to lose. perte loss; waste (of time). Cognate with perdition (“loss of the soul”, “eternal damnation”). But if this word doesn’t ring a bell, use a mnemonic such as “Purdue University is small; you won’t lose yourself on campus”, or “Perdón, I got lost.” (perdón is Spanish meaning “excuse me”.) Examples, j’ai perdu mon portefeuille (“I lost my wallet”); c’est une perte de temps (“it’s a waste of time”).
fort strong; loud; highly, very much; fort (n.). Cognate with force. Note that there’s no word specifically for “loud” in French; use fort instead. Fort of course can also mean “fort” (defensive structure). Examples, parlez plus fort! (“speak louder!”); fort bon (“very good”, très bon).
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