Sur le bout de la langue: French language ins and outs from the Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute (OLBI)

Posted on Wednesday, March 17, 2021

To mark the Mois de la Francophonie, OLBI is launching a new column on the French language. This special edition explores four types of subtleties of the French language: faux-amis, Anglicisms of meaning, Franco-Ontarian regional expressions, and the feminine and masculine. We’ve saved a little quiz for the end.


1. Faux-amis: assurément or définitivement?

Faux-amis are words in different languages that appear to be the same but have different meanings, levels of language or grammatical purposes, and are not actually equivalent. For example, while the words definitely and définitivement appear similar on the surface, they don’t have the same meaning.

In English, definitely serves to emphasize a point, often to show one’s agreement or disagreement. Its French equivalents would include certainement, assurément, absolument, bien sûr and sans aucun doute, to name a few. However, the French adverb définitivement indicates time and finality, in the sense of “for good” or “after all is said and done.”

Another example in French is éventuellement, which is similar to words that express  possibility, like le cas échéant, s’il y a lieu, si l’occasion se présente, probablement, possiblement and peut-être. You’d be best to avoid using it to express a certainty, say, an event you have no doubt will occur or when you mean finalement, because that would be an Anglicism.

Incorrect use

Il est éventuellement allé chercher son enfant au service de garde.

Correct use

Il est finalement allé chercher son enfant au service de garde.

In English, eventually refers to some unspecified time in the future, or ultimately. In French, you can use other terms to express that idea of time, like par la suite, plus tard or à un moment donné. There are many transition words to emphasize finality, including en définitive, finalement, tôt ou tard, à terme, finir par or en venir à


2. Those tricky Anglicisms

Anglicisms are borrowings from English that are still not accepted in French. Did you know?  There are eight types of Anglicisms, having to do with spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary, meaning, expressions, syntax, morphology and format/style.


Anglicisms of meaning

These are words that exist in French but used with their English meaning. For example, the verbs questionner and to question don’t refer to the same concepts in their respective languages. In French, questionner means asking questions to someone. In English, to question has various other meanings, like to interrogate, to doubt, to examine and more. Many French verbs can similarly show disagreement: contester quelque chose, s’interroger sur, mettre ou remettre en question une décision, mettre en doute and douter.

Incorrect use

Je questionne la nécessité d’une telle intervention.

Correct use

Je m’interroge sur la nécessité d’une telle intervention.


3. Franco-Ontarian regional expressions: de quoi tu parles de?

Regional expressions are words, expressions or turns of phrase unique to a certain region. They diverge from standard French. Additionally, a Canadianism is a word or phrase unique to Canadian French. See the borrowings from English in the examples below.

According to Éliane Cayen, a Franco-Ontarian from Embrun, in Eastern Ontario: “I think that the most Franco-Ontarian thing is that we take English verbs and use them all the time in our French sentences. We’ll even conjugate our verbs in French, like On drivait sur le highway l’autre jour.” These practices remind one of “translanguaging,” when multilingual speakers use two or more of their languages spontaneously and comfortably.

Examples of expressions

1 On ne l’use pas. On ne l’utilise pas.
2 Aller faire les groceries. Aller faire l’épicerie.
3 Ontarois Franco-Ontariens
4 Faire sûr S’assurer de
5 Une plume Un stylo
6 De quoi tu parles de? De quoi parles-tu?
7 Marcher mon chien. Promener mon chien.


4. Feminine or masculine? Why not both?

We know that in French, determiners, pronouns, nouns, adjectives and past participles agree in gender and number. In linguistics, the feminine gender, which represents terms associated with women, is distinct from the masculine gender, which designates words associated with men. However, with the trend towards inclusive writing, favouring the use of neutral nouns, particularly collective nouns and gender-neutral nouns, is recommended. The latter, which are both masculine and feminine, are used to further gender equality and representation. For example, the terms le personnel and les personnes include both women and men. So, do you know the gender of these nouns? Test your knowledge with this quiz!



Guess whether these nouns are feminine, masculine or both:

  1. Vidéo 
  2. Granule 
  3. Après-midi 
  4. Voile (of a boat) 
  5. Atmosphère
  6. Spore
  7. Pore (of skin) 
  8. Impasse 
  9. Hécatombe 
  10. Pétale (of a rose) 



1) Both 2) Both 3) Both 4) Feminine 5) Feminine 6) Feminine 7) Masculine 8) Feminine 9) Feminine 10) Masculine


Read more:

Centre collégial de développement de matériel didactique – Amélioration du français

Banque de dépannage linguistique – Emprunts sémantiques

Ça parle ontarois! Petit dictionnaire d’expressions franco-ontariennes

Alloprof – Le féminin des noms

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