When French Translations Go Wrong

Ever been in an awkward position due to incorrect translations? Despite being one of the most popular languages, French is among the most challenging languages to translate. For instance, a word such as preservatif might sound similar to the English noun ‘preservative.’ In a real sense, however, the two words have a completely different meaning, at least in a French context.

Want to know more about French translations? Below are seven examples of how French translations could go wrong.

1. Preservatif for Preservative

Let’s start with our example preservatif. Most Anglos and foreigners would be tempted to use ‘preservative and preservatif interchangeably. The term preservative is often used in food-related contexts to allude to products that either contain or lack additives.

In French, however, preservatif means condom. So, you can imagine the awkwardness that would arise when you use the term preservatif when ordering your delicacy in a French restaurant.

2. Introduire for Introduce

While introduire can be easily mistaken for the English verb introduce, the two words have completely different meanings in a French context. You might be tempted to use the French term ‘introduire’ when introducing people in a social setting. In French, introduire means to enter or to insert.

Now picture the embarrassment that would arise from using the term introduire when introducing two French friends. Using introduire would sound sexual when introducing people in a French context.

3. Je Suis Chaud(e) for I am Feeling Hot

A lot of people often get confused when trying to communicate about weather conditions in French. However, in a French context, you will need to be careful about how you use your words. For instance, instead of meaning you are feeling hot due to summer weather, Je suis chaud can be mistaken for ‘you are sexually excited or feeling horny.’

So instead of using the words Je suis chaude considering saying J’ai chaud instead. J’ai chaud sounds more formal as it is often used when making remarks about the weather.

4. Tu es Bonne for you are Good

When communicating in French, you have to be extra careful when dishing out compliments. For instance, Tu es bonne might be rightly mistaken for ‘you are good.’ In a French context, however, it is usually used when referring to being good in bed. You have to be clear on what you are complimenting. 

As such, you should avoid leaving a compliment hanging when conversing in French. Instead, consider using alternatives like tu es doue(e), which means you are gifted.

5. Envie for Envy

In an English context, saying I envy you usually means you admire a person’s particular situation. In French, envie often refers to a burning sexual desire. You might end up sending the wrong vibes when all you wanted was to offer a compliment.

To tell a pal you are envious in French, consider using envieux or envieuse. These words will express the exact desire without coming off as a sexual hint.

6. Je suis Tellement Pleine for I am Full

Imagine you just had a heavy lunch and want to tell your friends how full you are. Using the term je suis tellement pleine might leave everyone staring at you in disbelief.  In American or British English, it would be okay to say my tummy is full, but in French, this wording is taken to mean you are pregnant.

To avoid making awkward, pregnancy-related comments, consider saying ‘j’ai trop mange,’ which can be translated to ‘I had too much to eat.

7. Prendre son Pied for Enjoying Something

Prendre son pied, when directly translated to English, is an idiomatic expression that means taking one’s foot or to enjoy something. For non-French natives, the words can sound completely harmless. Your French friends, however, might perceive the wordings as sexual.

In fact, the term prendre son pied often alludes to having an orgasm— be extremely cautious when using French idioms.

Despite being widely viewed as one of the most prestigious and popular languages, translating French to English can be a daunting task, especially when using Google translators. Considering just the few examples we’ve shared today, I imagine you can see why it’s best to be careful and seek quality French translations to ensure that you don’t come off the wrong way.