French Vocabulary

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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.

Vocabulary List

French Vocabulary
Word English Mnemonics Additional Info
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

Words Needed
French English
affolement (m.) panic
ardoise (f.) slate; slate roof
buisson (m.) bush, shrub
carie (f.) decay
carié decayed
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

See Also