5 ways French has influenced the English language

The movement of people all throughout history has influenced the development of the languages we speak today, and English is no exception. Although English is the largest language in the world, if you count the number of native and non-native speakers, the language hasn’t always been this way and has changed a lot through the centuries.

Today, English is an amalgamation (a mixture) of different languages, such as Greek, German, Arabic, Latin, etc. and has also been influenced by many cultures around the world. However, one of the largest influences on modern English is French; it has affected not only its vocabulary but also its grammar, pronunciation and writing.

  1. Vocabulary

Over 30% of modern English vocabulary, and even some phrases, is directly borrowed from French. For example, words like ‘prince’, ‘beef’, ‘duvet’ and ‘crème’ are among the thousands of words used in English that are directly borrowed from French. Amazingly, it is currently estimated that English speakers who have never studied French can still recognise about 15,000 words in French. Below is a list of just a fraction of the French words used in English:

  • The development of English grammar

French grammar plays a major role in seniority and titles. For example, titles like “consul general” and “agent-general” kept the original French grammar rules of nouns followed by adjectives. In the military, similar titles like “lieutenant general” and “brigadier general” are also used.

  • English pronunciation

French generally has very different pronunciation rules than English, but most people don’t know that English also borrows some pronunciation rules from French. Some French sounds that have contributed to English include the “g” sound in “mirage,” the “v” in “vacation,” and the “z” in “zigzag.” French’s influences on English pronunciation have added an additional layer of beauty in English.

  • Writing in English

French spelling helped transform Old English into the modern English we speak today. According to Simon Ager’s in article, “The Influence of French on the English Language,” English words like “queen,” “ship,” and “should” used to be spelled “cwen,” “scip,” and “scolde.” before French influenced them.

The acute (é), grave (è), and circumflex (â) accents aren’t generally used in the English language, but some words borrowed directly from French still maintain these accents when used in English, for example “café,” “décor,” and “crème brûlée.”

You can also observe the influence of French on British English more so than on American English in words such as ‘programme’ in British English vs ‘program’ in American English, ‘cheque’ in British English vs ‘check’ in American English and ‘theatre in British English vs ‘theater in American English.

  • The suffix ‘-ise’ vs ‘-ize’

The suffix «-ize» originally came from Greek, but was also used in Latin and French, during which process it became «-ise» and British English adopted this way of spelling. American English was not influenced by French in this way, hence their use of –ize’ instead. There are no differences in the way these suffixes are pronounced, just the way they are spelt. The «-ize» is actually officially acceptable in British English too, but it is rarely used. Here is a list of some examples words, although there are a LOT more:

Bibi Hughes, Studio 3 intern from the UK