Faux Amis: Attendre

“Waiting for the train.” © 2011 Jocelyn Dale. Used with permission.

French and English have a lot of cognates, or words that look the same and have the same meaning in both languages. That’s largely because many French words were assimilated into the English language after the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century.

However, there also a lot of false cognates—words that look the same but have different meanings. The French sometimes refer to them as faux amis, or false friends. Faux amis make things difficult for language learners, but occasionally lead to some funny stories.

There’s one faux ami that is particularly persistent, however.: attendre does not mean “to attend.”

Attendre actually means “to wait for.” The word for “to attend” is assister, which also means “to assist.” I hear people use attendre*—or worse, attender, which doesn’t exist in French—to mean “to attend” all the time, and I have to confess, it drives me nuts.

I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, since everyone makes mistakes. I suspect this one bugs me, though, because it seems like almost everyone makes this particular mistake.

It seems confusing, but the two concepts are also related—perhaps even more confusingly—in English. A lady-in-waiting is a noblewoman’s attendant, and an attendant is someone who assists you.

*Note, as well, that attendree is an -re verb, so the past participle is attendu and not attendé (which also doesn’t exist in French).

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