The following is a list of mnemonics for French vocabulary in alphabetic order. Vocabulary items appear on the left, followed by the English translation, then a comma-separated list of mnemonics on the right. Additional information (etymology, facts, usage, etc.) appears in the last column.
|bosquet (m.)||grove, coppice||BASKET in a grove||From same Latin as "bois": "boscum"|
|cocher (m.)||coachman, cabman||a COUCH on the front of a carriage|
|cracher||to spit||man spitting on car causes CRASH|
|dentelé||jagged, serrated||a serrated knife covered with DENTAL floss, a DENTED serrated knife|
|échelle (f.)||ladder||a conch SHELL on a ladder||Same Latin as French "escalier": scala|
|écheveau (m)||hank, skein; tangle||horses (CHEVAUX) with tails tied together|
|écureuil (m.)||squirrel||ACORN EAter||Same Greek root as "squirrel": σκιά, skía ("shadow") and οὐρά, úrá ("tail")|
|essor (m.)||[aeroplane] take-off; rapid growth||a rocket SOARing in the pattern of an S|
|exaucer||to fulfill, grant, answer||a genie popping OUT (e, ex) of a bowl of SAUCE|
|grêle||skinny, spindly||a spindly chair with an iron GRILL as legs|
|grêle (f.)||hail||GRILLs falling from the sky|
|gaspiller||to waste||SPILLING GAS into a drain|
|guet (m.)||lookout, watch||a flaming GAY man on lookout duty|
|mijoter||to simmer||MIDGET in a cauldron|
|mou/molle||soft, limp, dull||a cow on pillows, MOOing|
|moule (f.)||mussel, clam; vagina; luck||a mussel with MOLES on it||Same Lat(m.)||front steps, flight of steps||PEAR ON steps||descended from the French, "pierre"|
|pieu(x) (m.)||post, stake||dog PEEing on a post||Same Latin root as English "post": "palus"|
|pont-levis (m.)||drawbridge||a pair of LEVI jeans in a POND|
|portefeuille (m.)||wallet||Lit. "carries-leaf" or "carries-paper" (univerbation)|
|racler||to scrape, scour; clear one's throat||scraping ROCKs off a grilltop; someone caughting up ROCKs|
|rôder||to prowl||RODENT sneaking around|
|tarabiscoté||over-ornate, over-elaborate, convoluted||TARA eating BISCUTS|
|tréfonds (m.)||inner-most depth||FAWNS in a TREE|
|volée (f.)||flock||flying VOLLEYballs|
Words to add
|ardoise (f.)||slate; slate roof|
|buisson (m.)||bush, shrub|
|chicot (m. familiar)||stump, snag [tooth, tree]|
|se crisper||to clench [fingers], to tense up|
|haleter||to pant (de with); puff|
|ronce (f.)||bramble, burr|
|scélérat (m.)||vilain, evildoer|
Many English and French words share Latin origins. However, while English has closely retained the spellings and pronunciations of these words, many sounds were elided in French. The same words, with similar origins, then, can look radically different. For example, the word "école" looks very different from the English "school", although both came from the Latin, "schola". However, French orthography and pronunciation allow us to recognize the meanings of many seemingly unfamiliar words with a little careful analysis. Also, many French morphological changes make sense when seen from an etymological viewpoint.
- Latin "esp", "est", etc.
- The Latin silibant /s/ often was elided before consonants. As a result, the preceding vowel was normally lengthened. The pronunciation differences persist among many words, but the orthographic accents are the surest way to connect the French to the Latin (and thus English).
- bestia --> bête, beast
- vestio --> vêtir (to dress); vest, vestment, etc.
- Latin "sc", "sch", "st", etc.
- English has generally retained the silibant initiated consonant clusters. French, however, has generally replaced the "s" with "é". E.g.
- schola --> school, école
- studeo --> study, étudier
- stupa --> stuff, étoffe (cloth)
- Latin "llus", "lum", etc.
- Early in the history of French, whenever the sound /l/ came immediately before a silibant (/s/, /z/), it was changed to the vowel /u/. Irregular plurals make sense if we remember that "l" often changes to "u" before consonants. (The final "x" is the result of a mistake by scribes, confusing an abbreviation for "us" with the letter "x". The "x" was retained after the "u" was reinstated.)
- caballus ("horse") --> cheval, chevaux
- palus ("post") --> pieu, pieux (The "l" was dropped entirely.)
- malum ("bad") --> mal, maux
- Latin "v" and Germanic "gw"
- The germanic initial cluster, /gw/, itself a morph of the Latin /w/, underwent different changes in French and English, giving radically different pronunciations in words.
- vespa --> gwesp* --> guêpe, wasp
- willhelm --> gwillhelm* --> Guillaume, William