Influence of French on English

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The influence of French upon the English language not only pertains to its syntax and grammar, but also to its lexicon, orthography, and pronunciation. Most French vocabulary entered English after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, when French became the language of the new Anglo-Norman court, the government, and of the elites for several centuries. This period lasted until the aftermath of the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453). From then onwards, English has continuously been impacted by the French language. According to Laura K. Lawless, more than a third of modern English vocabulary is of French origin.[1] According to linguist Henriette Walter [fr], words of French origin represent more than two thirds of English vocabulary.[citation needed] Linguist Anthony Lacoudre estimated that over 40,000 English words come directly from French and may be understood without orthographical change by French speakers.[2]

History of the French language in England[edit]

Before 1066[edit]

At the beginning of the 11th century, the Old English language did not have a well-defined status. The inhabitants of Great Britain did not have a common language. Instead, there were many different Germanic dialects in use under diverse dialect continuums.

Various Celtic languages had coexisted since the 4th century B.C. The island was partially under Roman occupation in the 1st century A.D., and for four more centuries after that. From 450 A.D. onwards, Saxons, Angles, and Jutes settled in the south and in the east. Germanic dialects prevailed in these regions, supplanting Celtic dialects, which survived only in the west and the north of the island (Wales, Cornwall, Scotland) and in Ireland. In the 8th century, Vikings from Scandinavia settled on the island. Their languages, also Germanic, in turn influenced the languages already present on the island. At the dawn of 11th century, the country was made up of peoples with significantly different languages, mostly Germanic, but with multiple influences.

Norman conquest of England and its consequences[edit]

It was, therefore, a linguistically disunited people that the Normans confronted in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings. William II of Normandy landed at Hastings (in Sussex) on September 29, 1066. He deployed his men around the city while waiting for King Harold II's troops. On October 14, exhausted by the long journey to Hastings, Harold II's troops lost the battle after only one day. Following the defeat of the English, Duke William II of Normandy claimed his throne as King of England on December 25, 1066; he was crowned Guillaume 1er d'Angleterre (William I of England), known as William the Conqueror (Guillaume le Conquérant in French). This date marked the beginning ties between the peoples and languages of France and England.

In reality, these links existed even before then. That Normandy faced the English Channel encouraged commercial contact with England. Such ties further tightened at the beginning of the eleventh century, when Emma, daughter of Duke Richard II of Normandy, married King Æthelred II of England. After the Norman conquest of 1066 proto-English was influenced by Old French. English did not make any large contribution to French until the 18th century.

The new ruling class of Anglo-Normans imposed their language into the upper echelons of society; Anglo-Saxon dialects were supplanted by Norman in the royal court and aristocratic circles, the justice system, and the Church. Influential Norman settlers continued to use their native language in daily life, while more modest, rural, and urban areas of society continued to speak varieties of Old English.

Norman is a particular variety of the Gallo-Roman language spoken in Normandy. It is one of the Oïl languages spoken in northern France alongside, among others, Picard and Walloon. The Norman language changed when it came into contact with Old English; it integrated words and phrases from Old English to give birth to the dialect of Anglo-Norman, still spoken in the Anglo-Norman isles. Anglo-Norman can be described as a vernacular language, spoken on English soil in the 11th century, in the field of literature, culture, court and among the clergy. The French language's influenced English thus through this Anglo-Norman dialect.

During the 12th century, continental French had a greater influence on Old English. It acquired great prestige within the aristocracy and the clergy and became the language of law and justice. Noble families, most of them of Norman origin, taught their children French or sent them to study in France. Royal marriages also encouraged the expansion of the French language in England. From Henry II Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine at the beginning of the 12th century, to Henri VI and Marguerite in the 15th century, many English kings married French princesses. These marriages kept French as the language of the English court for several centuries and strengthened the use of French in England. This period (12th-15th century) is characterized by a massive influx of French words into Old English vocabulary.[3]

In 1204, Philippe Auguste of France annexed Normandy to France, politically isolating England from mainland Europe. Normans who chose to stay in England moved further away from France and, therefore, from the French language. Keeping its status as the language of justice and the language of power, England saw the first teaching manuals for teaching French to English. These manuals were intended for English nobles who wished to perfect their knowledge of French and teach it to their children. During the thirteenth century the Anglo-Norman dialect was the aristocrats' mother tongue, and a more prestigious type of French their second language. "Parisian" French was a mark of social distinction. French supplanted Latin from the twelfth century onward as the language of diplomacy and worldly relations throughout Europe. The mass and influence of French literature reinforced its reputation and appeal.

The developing use of French[edit]

The 16th century, that of the Renaissance, was a decisive century for French since king François I of France, through the Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts (1539), made French the official language of administration in the whole kingdom; the Duchy of Savoy had established French as its administrative language a few decades earlier.[4] Although troubled by the European wars of religion and the Italian Wars, the language was marked by intellectual, technical and scientific effervescence.

The 17th century, the apogee of France's Old Regime, was characterized by the political, literary and artistic prestige of France and the French language. Peace restored and unity ensured in the country, the economy grew considerably. King Henri IV, the Cardinal of Richelieu or Louis XIV, The Sun King helped seed and enhance the French language in Europe, the Americas, India and Oceania.

The Académie française by Richelieu in 1635, under Louis XIII led to the standardization of French in continental Europe and abroad, including England. French was then the second language of all the elites in Europe, from Turkey to Ireland and from Moscow to Lisbon. The greatest scholars and intellectuals, writers and scientists, expressed themselves and corresponded in this new standardized French. French was considered a perfect language, of beauty and elegance determined by scientific logic, aided by dictionaries. Scholars and intellectuals, writers and scientists, expressed themselves and taught in French.[5]

Since the 16th century[edit]

The geographical use of French has continuously and greatly diversified in the last five hundred years, with countries and states like New-Brunswick, Quebec, Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo, Guinea, Cameroon, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Mauritius, Chad, Djibouti, Senegal, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Aosta Valley, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu adopting it as their official language. This geographical diversity has led to many different contacts with vernacular dialects, regional and international languages, from which French has often been enriched locally. In a number of countries and regions where French shares co-officiality with English (Cameroon, Canada, Jersey, Mauritius,[6] Rwanda, Vanuatu), particular lexical regionalisms are observed where French and English terms are used interchangeably.[7]

Contribution of the French lexicon to English[edit]

  • Sometimes, the form of English words has kept traces of Old French, written or oral, such as certain consonants (forest/forest) or certain vowels or diphthongs (veil/voil; leisure/leisure). The current French word sometimes deviates more from its old form than the English. For example, the Old French ante became "tante" in modern French and "aunt" in modern English.
  • Many English nouns, verbs and adjectives borrowed from Old French have not kept the meaning they had in Old French, but have developed a different meaning. These words, as well as those which kept their Old French meaning in English but acquired a different one in modern French, are known as false friends. For example, egre, meaning 'sour', became aigre in French while mutating into 'eager' in English.
  • Other English words are composed of words of both French and Germanic origins (handkerchief: hand is from the proto-Germanic khanduz and kerchief is a mutation on the old French core chief)
  • Some Old French words do not survive in modern French, while they still exist in English (soulace, conceler, estriver, gone).
  • It is not uncommon either for an English concept to have two or even three words to describe it, one of French origin, one from proto-Germanic and another of Latin origin (royal, kingly, and regal all mean the same thing).
  • Some pairs of words with similar meanings were successively adopted from Norman French in the Middle Ages and Modern French in more recent times, such as warranty and guaranty, or ward and guard.
  • Most English words ending in -ous, -ty (on the model of -té), -tion, -ture, -ture, -ent are of French origin.
  • Uses in social and intellectual life, and also domestic and food uses, demonstrate the omnipresence of French in English society. For example, the names of meat: "beef" comes from the French[clarification needed] buef (beef), "mutton" from moton (sheep), "pork" from porc, "veal" from veel (calf).
  • Some words borrowed in the 19th and 20th centuries (such as chic) still considered foreign words, French words, are generally used by educated English people or by the press and other media and are seen as part of a distinguished language.
  • Some Anglicisms were borrowed by English from French, which more recently borrowed them back from English (bacon).

The following French glossary in English is in no way exhaustive. These examples illustrate the French words in the English language.[citation needed]

In this section, examples of French-to-English lexical contributions are classified by field and in chronological order. The periods during which these words were used in the English language are specified as much as possible. It is not always possible to state with certainty the precise period in which a word was borrowed or integrated.

The English word is on the left, with its current French equivalent in brackets, then its Old French origin in bold and the century of its introduction on the right.

Law and society[edit]

  • Crown (couronne): couronne, 12th c.[8]
  • Custom (coutume): custume, 12-13th c.
  • Squire (propriétaire terrien): from escuier, the bearer of the écu, bouclier, 12-13th c.
  • Assizes (assises): from assises, 13th c.
  • Franchise (franchise): from franchise, 13th c.
  • Joust (joute): from joust, 13th c.
  • Marriage (mariage): from marriage, spouses' belongings, 13th c.[clarification needed]
  • Parliament (parlement): from parlement, conversation, 13th c.
  • Heir (héritier): from heir, 13th c.
  • Summon (convoquer): from semondre, invite someone to do something, 13th c.
  • Nice (bon, gentil): from nice, idiot/stupid, 13th-14th c.[9]
  • Bourgeois, from bourgeois, 19th c.
  • Fiancé, from fiancé, 19th c.
  • Chef/chief, from chef, 19th c.
  • Flirt, from conter fleurette, flower storytelling.


  • Caterer (approvisionneur): from Old Norman acatour, buyer, 11th c.
  • Pay (payer): from paier, appease, 12th c.
  • Ticket (ticket): from estiquet, small sign, 12th c.[10]
  • Purchase (acheter): from prochacier, "to try obtain (something)", 12th c.
  • Rental (loyer): from rental, subject to an annual fee, 12th c.
  • Debt (dette): from det, 12th c.
  • Affair (affaire; liaison amoureuse): from à faire, 13th c.
  • Bargain (marchander): from bargaignier, hesitate, 14th c.
  • Budget: from bougette, small fabric pocket for coins and bills of exchange.[11]


  • Champion (champion): from champion, end 12th c.
  • Sport (sport): from desport, entertainment, 12th c.[10]
  • Challenge (challenge): from chalenge, 12th c.
  • Record (record): from record, 12th-13th c.
  • To record (enregistrer): from recorder, 12th-13th c.
  • Court (cour): from court/curt/cort, 13th c.
  • Tennis (tennis): from tenez, hold, 14th c.
  • Hockey (hockey): from hocquet, hooked stick, date unknown.[10]

Domestic life[edit]

  • Aunt (tante): from ante, 12th c.
  • Butler (majordome, maître d’hôtel): from bouteleur (12th c.), or bouteiller (14th c.), sommelier.
  • Chamber (chambre): from chambre, 13th c.
  • Curtain (rideau): from cortine, bed curtain, 13th c.
  • Blanket (couverture): from blanquette, white sheet cover, 13th c.
  • Towel (serviette): from toailler, 13th c.
  • Chair (chaise): from chaiere, 13th c.
  • Pantry (garde-manger): from paneterie, bread storage place, 13th c.
  • Cushion (coussin): from coissin, 14th c.
  • Closet (placard ou cabinet): from closet, small enclosure, 14th c.


  • Cabbage (choux): from caboche, "head" in Norman-Picard language, 11th c.
  • Bacon (bacon): from bacon, pork meat, "Salted bacon arrow", beginning of the 12th c.
  • Custard (crème épaisse): from crouste, crust, 12th-13th c.
  • Toast (tartine grillée): from the verb toster, to grill, 12th-13th c.
  • Cauldron (chaudron): from Anglo-Norman caudron, 12th-13th c.[12]
  • Cattle (bétail): from Anglo-Normand catel, property, 12th-13th c.
  • Mustard (moutarde): from moustarde, condiment made from seeds mixed with grape must, 13th c.
  • Grape (raisin): from grape, bunch of grapes, 13th c.
  • Mutton (viande de mouton): from moton, sheep, end 13th c.[13]
  • Beef (viande de bœuf): from buef, beef, circa 1300.[14]
  • Pork (viande de porc): from porc, circa 1300.[15]
  • Poultry (viande de volaille): from pouletrie, poultry (the animal), circa end 14th c.[16]
  • Claret (clairet, rouge de Bordeaux): from claret, red wine, 14th c.
  • Mince (couper fin, émincer): from mincier, to cut in small pieces, 14th c.
  • Stew (ragoût): from estuver, to "soak in a hot bath", 14th c.
  • Veal (viande de veau): from vel, calf, en XIVth c.[17]
  • Banquet (banquet): from banquet, 15th c.
  • Carrot (carotte): 16th c.
  • Aperitif (apéritif): 16th c.
  • Hors d’œuvre: end 17th c.
  • Douceur (petit cadeau, pourboire): end 17th.
  • Casserole (plat mijoté): end 17th c.
  • Menu: end 17th c.
  • Gratin: end 17th c.
  • Terrine: 18th c.
  • Croissant: 19th c.
  • Foie gras: 19th c.
  • Mayonnaise: 19th c.
  • Buffet: 19th c.
  • Restaurant: 19th c.
  • Bouillon: 20th c.
  • Velouté: 20th c.
  • Confit: 20th c.
  • À la carte: 20th c.

Art of living and fashion[edit]

  • Gown (robe): from gone, pantyhose[clarification needed], 12th century
  • Attire (tenue, vêtement): from atir, "what is used for clothing", 12th century
  • Petticoat (jupon): from petti ("of little value") and cotte ("long tunic"), 13th century
  • Poney (poney): from poulenet or poleney,[10] foal, date unknown.
  • Toilette: 17th century
  • Lingerie (peignoir): end 17th century
  • Blouse: end 17th century
  • Rouge (rouge à lèvres): from rouge à lèvres, lipstick, end 17th century
  • Salon: end 17th century
  • Couturier: 19th century
  • Luxe: 19th century
  • Eau de Cologne/Cologne: 19th century
  • Massage: 19th century
  • Renaissance: 19th century
  • Chic: 20th century
  • Boutique: 20th century
  • Prêt à porter: 20th century
  • Libertine (libertin): 20th century
  • Parfum/perfume: from parfum 20th century
  • Déjà vu: 20th century

Other domains[edit]

  • Canvas (toile): from Norman-Picard canevas, 11th century
  • Catch (attraper): from Old Norman cachier, to hunt, 11th-12th century
  • Proud (fier): from prud, valiant, beginning 12th century
  • Causeway (chaussée): from Anglo-Norman calciata, 12th century
  • Kennel (chenil): from Anglo-Norman kenil, dog, 12th-13th century
  • Guile (fourberie, ruse): from guile, fraud/deceitfulness, 12th-13th century
  • Foreign (étranger): from forain, "the stranger", 12th-13th century
  • Grief (chagrin): from grief, 12th-13th century
  • Solace (consolation): from soulace, "the rejoicing", 12th-13th century
  • Scorn (mépris): from escorner, to insult, 12th-13th century
  • Square (carré): from esquarre, 12th-13th century
  • Conceal (cacher): from conceler, to hide, 12th-13th century
  • Strive (s’efforcer): from estriver, to make efforts, 12th-13th century
  • Very (très): from veray, true, 12th-13th century
  • Faint (faible): from feint, soft/unenthusiastic, 12th-13th century
  • Eager (désireux de): from egre, sour, 12th-13th century
  • Challenge (défi): from chalenge, 13th century
  • Change (changer): from the verb changier, to change, 13th century
  • Chapel (chapelle): from chapele, 13th century
  • Choice (choix): from chois, 13th century
  • Mischief (malice, méchanceté): from meschef, misfortune, 13th century
  • Achieve (achever): from achever, come to an end/accomplish (a task), 13th century
  • Bizarre: 17th century
  • Rendez-vous: 17th century


  • Chirol Laure, Les « mots français » et le mythe de la France en anglais contemporain, Paris, Klincksieck (coll. « Études linguistiques », 17), 1973, 215 p.
  • Duchet Jean-Louis, « Éléments pour une histoire de l'accentuation lexicale en anglais », Études Anglaises : Grande-Bretagne, États-Unis, vol. 47, 1994, pp. 161–170.
  • Kristol Andres Max, « Le début du rayonnement parisien et l'unité du français au Moyen âge : le témoignage des manuels d'enseignement du français écrits en Angleterre entre le XIIIe et le début du XVe siècle », Revue de Linguistique Romane, vol. 53, (1989), pp. 335–367.
  • Lusignan Serge, La langue des rois au Moyen Âge. Le français en France et en Angleterre, Paris, PUF (coll. « Le nœud gordien »), 2004, 296 p.
  • Mossé Fernand, Esquisse d'une histoire de la langue anglaise, 1ère édition, Lyon, IAC, 1947, 268 p.
  • Rothwell William, « À quelle époque a-t-on cessé de parler français en Angleterre ? », Mélanges de philologie romane offerts à Charles Camproux, 1978, pp. 1075–1089.
  • Walter Henriette, Honni soit qui mal y pense : l'incroyable histoire d'amour entre le français et l'anglais, Paris, Robert Laffont, 2001, 364 p.


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See also[edit]