baiser kiss (n.); (vulgar) to fuck (v.). Cognate with an outdated English word buss (“kiss”). Use a mnemonic such as “He gave his girlfriend Beth a kiss.” Be very careful with the meaning of baiser used as a verb followed by a person (not part of the body such as the hand). It used to mean “to kiss”, which nowadays is embrasser in French. You can use the word as a noun (in spite of the -er ending) without such concern. Not to be confused with baisser (“to lower”).
sable sand. Cognate with sabulous (“sandy”, “gritty”). Alternatively, use a mnemonic such as “A saber is made from iron sand, a source of iron ore”, which has some truth in it, especially in Japanese swordsmithing. Or a wordplay “Why does taking out t from stable make it unstable? Because sable means ‘sand’.”
proche close (to a time or place) (adj.). Cognate with proximal, proximity. There’s no direct relationship between ch in proche and x in proximal, but if you happen to know how x in México is pronounced in Spanish, use that as a mnemonic to make a connection.
retirer to remove, to withdraw; (reflexive) to retire. From re- (“back”) + tirer (“to pull”). Note the first meaning, which is literal and does not exist in English retire. See also tirer.
davantage more, further (adv.). From de- + avantage (“advantage”). French avantage or English advantage literally or originally means “front”, “forward” (French avant). Moving forward is making more or further progress.
promener to walk. English promenade (“to walk”; “walkway”) is from French promenade, from promener. Not to be confused with promettre (“to promise”) or promesse (“promise”, n.).
tromper to deceive; to cheat. Cognate with trumpet. According to A. Brachet, an etymologist, this word means “properly to play the horn, alluding to quacks and mountebanks, who attracted the public by blowing a horn, and then cheated them into buying; thence to cheat”.
juger to judge (cognate).
merde shit (both literally and figuratively). This word has entered English vocabulary, along with Spanish mierda (“shit”). If you don’t know it and don’t know any other Romance language, you may use mud as a mnemonic and think of both as something dirty and unpleasant. English has an obsolete word merd (“dung”) and its adjective merdurinous, which are cognates.
étage floor; stage (cognate). Change é- to s- to see the cognation; see §7 of the Notes of this book.
avouer to avow (cognate), to confess.
merci thank you (interj.); mercy (cognate), pity, grace (fem. n.); thank-you, thanks (masc. n.). To remember which gender has which meaning, maybe associate mercy as a more feminine characteristic. Or consider “grace” to be more abstract than “thanks” and see §3 of the Notes of this book.
déjeuner to have lunch (in France); to have breakfast; lunch (in France) (n.); breakfast (n.). The root in Latin, ieiunus (“fasting”), is cognate with jejune (“simplistic”, “uninteresting”; “not nutritious”). With the prefix dé-, the word literally means “ending the fast”. Unfortunately, this word means “lunch” in France, while petit déjeuner means “breakfast”. The French people are known to eat slow, a habit that may lead to a gradual, two-stage, ending of the fasting. Fact or not, use that as a memory aid.
faute fault (cognate), error.
casser to break. Cognate with quash. From Latin quassare. One major development of Latin qu- is to French c-.
hier yesterday. If traced to Proto-Indo-European, cognate with yester-. Note this word is not related to English here (which would be ici in French).
juif Jewish (cognate); Jew (cognate). From Latin iudaeus, which lost part of its second syllable when inherited by Old French, from which English Jew is derived. The Latin word sounds closer to Judah, the founder of the Israelite and the Kingdom of Judah, the land of Judea and the Jews. Sometimes Latin final d changed to f in French; think of d and f in the second syllables of English feudal and fief.
écarter to separate, to remove. écart gap. From ex- (“to remove”) + carte. It originally meant “putting the cards aside” in card-playing.
appartenir to belong (to). Cognate with appertain (“to belong to”). The root is cognate with pertinent. Unrelated to partenaire (“partner”, from English partner), which nevertheless serves as a good mnemonic.
oeuvre, œuvre work (n.), especially work of art. Cognate with opera. From Latin opera (“work”). English opera as a music term is from Italian opera, which can be either “music work” or “opera”, or “work” in general. Latin p sometimes changed to French v (by way of b). Not to be confused with ouvrir (“to open”).
formidable fantastic, great. Cognate with formidable (“fearsome”). In spite of the cognation, this word does not mean “formidable” and is one of the most popular false friends. Although it could mean “formidable” as late as a century ago, the sense of “fantastic” or “extraordinary” started to take over even in Balzac’s time. English formidable may be translated into French as redoutable.