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  • Writer's pictureDaisy Hardy

Five embarrassing mistakes not to make in French

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

We've all been there. Trying out our new language skills, thinking we're making a great impression, and then realising we've made a big mistake.

So here are some of the most awkward and yet easy-to-make mistakes in French, that might make you wish the ground would just swallow you up...

1. Je suis chaud

When you want to say that you are hot, it's understandable that you might think of a literal translation: 'Je suis chaud(e)'. But by saying this you may get some funny looks, as this can have some rather sexual connotations (wink wink)... To be hot in french works in the same way as hunger. Whereas in english you ARE hot and you ARE hungry, in French you HAVE heat and you HAVE hunger.

So the correct sentence would be: 'J'ai chaud'.

*On a similar topic, the word 'excité' in French (for excited) would have a similar meaning to 'je suis chaud', so if you're trying to say you're excited about something (non sexual), opt for a safer adjective such as 'impatient' ou 'enthousiaste'. *

2. Quand/Con

This is a pronunciation difficulty. Imagine you've just been invited to some kind of social event, a dinner with some friends perhaps. You want to ask 'when?' and so you just say 'quand?'. However, it can be very easy to mess up the pronunciation and say 'con'. This could be translated as 'idiot' or 'moron' and so you may not be so welcome at the dinner after all! To avoid this, make sure you work on your pronunciation of 'quand' - there are lots of videos on Youtube - but also, you could avoid confusion by using 'quand' in a full sentence or full question, for example: 'Quand est-ce qu'on se retrouve?' (When shall we meet?).

3. Tu es bonne

If you are trying to tell someone that they are good at something, avoid using the word 'bon'. If you say to someone 'tu es bon(ne)', you are in fact telling them either that you find them sexually attractive, or that you think they are good in bed. Both of which are probably not the message you were hoping to get across... So if you're trying to congratulate your friend on something they do or have done well, you could say instead 'tu es doué(e)' (you are talented/gifted).

4. Je suis pleine

This is one that I've definitely experienced myself many times. You get to the end of a meal, you are asked if you would like some more, and you would like to politely say no thank you, you've eaten far too much good food already! It's natural if you're English to think along the lines of 'Non merci, je suis....plein(e)' in the hopes of translating the phrase 'I am full'. However this doesn't work in French and sounds quite strange. 'Je suis plein(e)' could be understood as 'I am full (of some unspecified substance)', 'I am pregnant' (but the way a farmer would talk about his sheep), or possibly 'I am drunk'.

Some alternatives that would go down a lot better at the dinner table could be: 'J'ai trop mangé' - I've eaten too much

'J'ai vraiment bien dîné' - I've eaten really well

5. La chatte

This last one is once again an easy mistake to make. Let's take my own personal example.

I have a cat. Therefore I might tell someone in French 'J'ai un chat.'

This makes sense because the word cat in French is masculine. However my cat is a girl. So I might be tempted to change it and say 'J'ai une chatte' as this is the feminine version of 'le chat'.

However this could be met with giggles, as the word 'chatte' carries sexual connotations, meaning more 'pussy' than 'cat'.

As you can see, 'J'aime ta chatte' could be misinterpreted in a very bad way...

So if like me, you have a feminine cat, what to do? I've found that one good way to safely get around it is to use the standard masculine noun 'le chat' but then use a feminine pronoun as soon as possible, for example: 'J'ai un chat. Elle s'appelle Mimi.' (I have a cat. Her name is Mimi.) The pronunciation of the word is also important, as the letter T is only pronounced in the feminine version 'chatte' but not in 'chat' (pronounced *sha*).


I hope this list of awkward mistakes in French brings some amusement and also some useful tips! Let me know what your embarrassing moments have been when speaking a new language!


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