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).

Vendredi de Vocabulaire: Le Gecko et Les Manchots

This week’s post is all about animals and was inspired by an episode of Vos Animaux from over the summer.

It turns out that the word for gecko in French is un gecko, but it’s pronounced with a soft g rather than a hard g as in English.

You may also recall that there was a movie called Mr. Popper’s Penguins out earlier this year. The title in French is M. Popper et ses pingouins. However, it turns out that the birds in the movie are not les pingouins (masc.) but rather les manchots (masc.). So what’s the difference?

Readers who’ve been following this blog for a while may recall that I’ve discussed les pingouins et les manchots before, but I’ve learned a bit more since then. Apparently les pingouins are what in English are called auks. Auks live in the northern hemisphere and can fly. Penguins are les manchots, and they live almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere and cannot fly (though various movies seem to suggest they can dance).

And just because it was mentioned in the same episode, a swallow is une hirondelle in French.