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Maciamo
31-07-08, 12:05
There are about 7 times more words in the English language than in French (500,000 against 70,000). Naturally, most people know between 15,000 and 30,000 words, and even good writers rarely know more than 50,000 (in the same language).

Languages with less different words will usually have more meanings per word though, to compensate. The drawback with words having a too broad meaning or too many completely different meanings is that the language becomes ambiguous.

Japanese is a notorious language that in which 5 or 10 words can sound the same phonetically. As the Hiragana and Katakana syllabary are phonetic, the Japanese use Chinese characters to distinguish the meanings in writing.

French language also has numerous homophones (e.g. vert, vers, ver, verre, vair) because of the silent last consonant and the different ways to write the same vowel sound. Spelling is the key to distinguishing meanings in French. However, like for Chinese characters in Japanese, this only works in writing, leaving oral language ambiguous.

Being bilingual in French and English, I have often had arguments about which of the two languages was "better". It has long been clear to me that English is richer, more flexible, more nuanced and less ambiguous than French. It goes without saying that most of the native French speakers to whom I make this claim quickly deny it, or ask me for "proofs". Therefore, I thought of making a list illustrating how English typically has several words, with a different spelling and pronunciation, when French only had one word.

For example, English has 3 words derived from the same Latin root for the French horrible : horrible, horrific, horrendous, each with a slightly different meaning and usage. You could say that "horrific" is closer to atroce in French. But then English also has "atrocious".

Another interesting example is how English has developed different adjectives depending on the connotation, so that the French terrible translates either "terrible" (negative) or" terrific" (positive). The English language has an abundance of near synonyms with different connotations, usages or levels of formality that few languages have.

I will start slowly with just a handful of examples that spring to mind. Such a list could have tens of thousands of entries.

The words in bold are in French.

- excuse : excuse, apology => French language does not make the difference between excuse and apology, so for a French speaker it would not make sense to say that someone expect an apology rather than an excuse for something (or the other way around).

- consommation : consummation, consumption => both mean the act of consummating, but the latter is used specifically for marriage (meaning "having sex", quite different from the consumption of a product).

- intimité : privacy, intimacy => "privacy" means being away from the observation of others to avoid disturbance (usually alone) ; "intimacy" means being very close to someone.

- domestiquer : domesticate, tame => you can tame a lion, but not domesticate it.

- critique : criticism (general usage, usually negative), critic (literary), critique (person who does a critic)

- judiciaire : judicial (decision, general), judiciary (system)

- jugement : judgement (general), adjudication (legal)

- annuler : cancel, annul, nullify, rescind, void, overrule...
=> French did not inherit the Latin words cancel (cancellare in Italian) and rescind (rescindere in Italian). The words nullify and void are derived from (medieval) French but don't exist in modern French.


In some cases English has so many near synonyms lacking in French that I won't try to explain all the nuances. I have removed the words from the thesaurus that had a French equivalent (e.g. to spy = épier)

- regarder : look, watch, behold, regard, view, gape, gawk, gaze, glare, glance, glimpse, goggle, peek, peep, peer, rubberneck, stare, etc.

- marcher : walk, pace, march, tramp, trek, hike, troop, stomp, tiptoe, crawl, trespass, swagger, lumber, lurch, pound, shamble, shuffle, stagger, mince, strut, etc.

- se promener : amble, stroll, saunter, promenade

- escalader : scale, escalade, climb (up), clamber (up), scramble (up)

- effacer : delete, erase, rub out, efface, clear, wipe...

- fou : crazy, mad, foolish, insane, lunatic, etc.

- faux : wrong, mistaken, false

- capacité : capacity, capability, ability, skills

- fil : string, thread, wire, yarn...

- antérieur, précédent : former, previous, anterior, preceding

- suivant : following, next, succeeding

- dernier, ultime : last, latest, late, latter, rearmost, bottom, ultimate

Words with the same root and the same original meaning have sometimes acquired a quite different modern usage, or even a completely different meaning. French usually kept a single word with a broad meaning covering all the usages, whereas English selected or developed another word from the same root, or used both the Germanic and Latin words to differentiate them.

- garder : keep ; wake, ward, guard

- arrêter : stop, quit, arrest

- politique : politics, policy (n.) // political, politic (adj.)

- antenne : aerial, antenna

- blanc : white, blank

- route : road, route

- prix : rate, price, prize

- régime : diet, regime, regimen

- testament : will, testament, legacy

- plume : feather, plume, pen

- moustache : whisker, moustache

- queue : tail, queue, cue

- essai : try, trial, probe, essay

- expérience : experience, experiment, experimentation

- trésor : treasure, treasury, trove, hoard

- voyage : travel, trip, voyage

- vue : eyesight, sight, view

- bureau : desk, office, bureau

- histoire : tale, story, history

- jeter : throw, throw away, dispose ; hurl ; cast ; jettison

- fort : strong, forcible, forceful

- informateur : informant, informer

- sensuel : sensual, sensuous, sultry

- souvenir : remembrance, souvenir

- début : beginning, début

- soirée : evening, soirée

- fête : party, fête

- conseil : advice, council, counsel

- manteau : coat, mantel

- vendre : sell, vend

- chasser : hunt, chase

- fournir : provide, supply, furnish

Some words basically mean the same, but have a different usage. You could say "give money to charity", but the proper usage is "donate". Likewise, the usage is to say that a poem is profound, but a lake is deep.


- aggraver : worsen, aggravate

- agrandir : enlarge, aggrandise

- augmenter : increase, augment

- nourrir : feed, nourish

- donner : give, donate

- réponse : answer, response, reply

- proposition : proposition, proposal

- profond : deep, profound

- cru : raw, crude

- humain (adj.) : human, humane

- enfant : child, kid, infant, toddler

- adolescent : adolescent, teenager, teen

- adulte : adult, grown-up

- mariage : wedding, marriage

- marié(e) : bride, groom

- président : chairman, president

- propriétaire : owner, proprietor, landlord/landlady, landowner, renter, householder

- frontière : border, boundary, frontier

- zero : zero, naught, nought, nil, love

- vrai, veritable : true, truthful, veritable, genuine

- fidelité : faithfulness, fidelity

- bouger : move, budge

- merveilleux : wonderful, wondrous, marvellous

- amoureux : in love, enamoured, amorous

- coeur : heart, core

- doigt : digit, finger, toe (doigt de pied)

- tristesse : sorrow, sadness

- seul : only, sole, alone, lone, lonely

- entier : whole, entire

- complet : full, complete

- faible : weak, feeble

- calme : calm, quiet

- silencieux : quiet, silent

- maison : house, home

- chambre : room, chamber

- habitation : dwelling, habitation

- logement : accommodation, housing, lodging

- habitat : housing, habitat

- précoce : early, precocious

- tardif : late, belated, tardy, tardive

- égoïste : selfish, egoistic

- égocentrique : self-centered, egocentric

Some words have the same meaning and usage, but carry a different connotation :

- caprice : whim (neutral), caprice (negative)

- tiède : lukewarm (neutral), tepid (negative)

- solitude : solitude (positive, neutral), loneliness (negative)

Other words express a nuance in size or intensity :

- chaud : warm, hot

- frais : cool, fresh

- ville : town, city


English tends to differentiate animal species more accurately than French, for example based on whether they have a tail or not, whether they are land/sea animals, or whether they are diurnal or nocturnal.

- singe : monkey, ape

- tortue : tortoise, turtle

- papillon : butterfly, moth


Sometimes the extra English word adds little or no nuance. In that case the word coming from French is just more formal (usually).

- (se) rassembler : gather, assemble

- aider : help, aid

- liberté : freedom, liberty

- dentifrice: toothpaste, dentifrice

- cravate : neck-tie, cravat

- intestin : bowel, gut, intestine

- somnolence : drowsiness, somnolence

- probable : likely, probable

- incroyable : unbelievable, incredible, amazing

- lisible : readable, legible

- potable : drinkable, drinking, potable

- comestible : eatable, edible, comestible

- sombre : dark, sombre

- morose : gloomy, morose

- sinistre : bleak, dreary, sinister

- magistral : masterly, magisterial

- menace : threat, menace

- arme : weapon, arm

- paternité : fatherhood, paternity

- maternité : motherhood, maternity

- fraternité : brotherhood, fraternity

- amitié : friendship, amity

- maladie : disease, illness, malady

- respirer : breath, respire

- transpirer : sweat, perspire

- répit : break, time-out, respite

- infatigable : tireless, untiring, indefatigable

- interminable : endless, interminable

- visage : face, visage

- embouchure : (river) mouth, embouchure

- facile : easy, facile

- céleste : heavenly, celestial

- avarice : greed, avarice

- signification : meaning, signification

- tempête : storm, tempest

- repas : meal, repast

- interdire : forbid, prohibit, interdict

English words with no single-word French equivalent

- healthy : en bonne santé

- cheap : bon marché

- shallow : peu profond

- both/either : les deux/l'un ou l'autre

- hound : chien de chasse

- to befriend : se lier d'amitié avec, prendre [qn] sous son aile

- to hug : serrer [qn] dans ses bras

Maciamo
08-03-09, 14:39
This thread is being updated frequently.

See also the analysis the other way round : French words missing in English (http://www.eupedia.com/europe/missing_words_english.shtml)

Maciamo
10-05-10, 09:35
Here is another category : Germanic nouns with Romance adjectives. One of the peculiarity of English is that these nouns can also be used as adjectives. For example the proper, formal adjective of 'dog' is 'canine', but the most common usage is to say 'dog food' or 'dog training' instead of 'canine food' or 'canine training'.

This hybrid duality between informal Germanic "noun adjectives" and formal adjectives from Latin is typical of English. I don't know any other European language that has the same wealth of adjectives. Japanese is very similar to English in this regard though, using Chinese words in a formal, scientific or academic context, but native Japanese words in more informal situations.

In some cases Latin adjectives have been converted back into nouns. Feline, originally the adjective of 'cat', is also used as a noun to describe any animal of the Felidae family (including lions, tigers, leopards, cheetah and so on). The adjective of wall, 'mural', has become so connected to the phrase "mural painting" that it has come to mean any piece of artwork painted directly on a wall.

The genius of English has been to make the best use of the synonyms it acquired from the languages that contributed to the modern vernacular by specialising each word according to its origin. When it comes to the name of animals, English actually has three, and in some cases four, words where other languages usually have only one or two. The Old French word has been used for the meat. The Latin word as the scientific or formal term. The Germanic word has kept the daily, general usage. This is how sheep take the name of "mutton" when we are talking about the meat, but "ovine" in science. Cow meat is beef, but the mad cow disease is known to scientists as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Modern English has sometimes retained more than one Germanic word for a single meaning, in addition to the variants from French and Latin. This is how a pig can also be called a hog or a swine (the word used in other Germanic languages and also related to the Latin sus and the Suinae subfamily). Likewise a dog can be called a hound (related to the Dutch hond and the German Hund).

It is easy to see how the range of vocabulary in English is far greater than in any Romance or Germanic language.

Gwyllgi
10-05-10, 11:31
I’ve noticed that in England (NOT Wales) the words / phrases “excuse me”, “please”, and “thank you” are becoming increasingly rare.

And while we’re on the subject of French, the number of single mothers in the UK would indicate that the word “Letter” is now well separated from “French”, as is the word “Cap” from the word “Dutch”.

Also judging by Shoemakers driving where Button was concerned in the case of The Spanish yesterday so is “Safe” from “Driving”. Shoey’s almost as bad as Hamilton, and that’s saying something.

(I’m having a “grouch” start to the week. At my age and with my arthritis I’m allowed to from time to time.)

AyJayAreDii
24-05-14, 12:35
Are these correct? I have yet to find a direct translation for these English verbs. Every time I demonstrate one of these actions, I am told it is a whole phrase. I am sure I found more but I can not remember what they were at the moment.

se mettre à genoux = to kneel
sauter à cloche-pied = to hop
macher à quatre pattes = to crawl
faire signe de la main = to wave (a hand)
donner un coup de pied = to kick
faire un clin d'œil = to wink
de hausser les épaules = to shrug
pousser une exclamation désapprobatrice = to tut
hocher la tête = to nod
faire la gueule = to frown

grzegorj
16-06-14, 16:57
The statement that English has 500,000 words while other languages are much more times poorer in words, is not only false but also proves a dangerous language bias, or a kind of language racism. I have no idea what the source of the data can be but this half a million of words must also include special vocabulary (used only by scholars and technicians), geographical names etc. General dictionaries of English, even those greatest ones, contain no more than 170,000 words.

I also doubt French contains only 70,000 words of general use. The Polish general vocabulary is estimated to have 120-130 thousand words, and Dutch general vocabulary is said to contain more than 200,000 words.

So, English is no way an exception, or a unique language with the most abundand vocabulary in the world! I understand you are proud of your language but just please, do not exaggerate in your statements because they can really be taken as abusive!

sparkey
16-06-14, 17:57
The statement that English has 500,000 words while other languages are much more times poorer in words, is not only false but also proves a dangerous language bias, or a kind of language racism. I have no idea what the source of the data can be but this half a million of words must also include special vocabulary (used only by scholars and technicians), geographical names etc. General dictionaries of English, even those greatest ones, contain no more than 170,000 words.

I also doubt French contains only 70,000 words of general use. The Polish general vocabulary is estimated to have 120-130 thousand words, and Dutch general vocabulary is said to contain more than 200,000 words.

So, English is no way an exception, or a unique language with the most abundand vocabulary in the world! I understand you are proud of your language but just please, do not exaggerate in your statements because they can really be taken as abusive!

I agree that there's no accurate way to count the number of words in a language, but I disagree that one language won't tend to have less ambiguity than another. I think that the history of English lends itself to being relatively unambiguous (but far from unambiguous, especially grammatically!) because of its history as a Germanic language that grafted most of Norman French onto itself. That extra vocabulary naturally led to divergence of meaning between Germanic-origin and French-origin words that began meaning the same thing. The most common form of this effect is a formal/informal distinction (see Maciamo's "Sometimes the extra English word adds little or no nuance" list above), but sometimes the distinction is more useful. Note that none of this implies that one language is better than another, as you seem to be taking this to mean. A downside to having larger numbers of synonyms in a language is that it becomes more difficult to learn the vocabulary, which is actually a reasonable argument against English as a lingua franca!

Also note that Maciamo is from Belgium, so your "I understand you are proud of your language" line doesn't make much sense.

Drac II
16-06-14, 19:13
The statement that English has 500,000 words while other languages are much more times poorer in words, is not only false but also proves a dangerous language bias, or a kind of language racism. I have no idea what the source of the data can be but this half a million of words must also include special vocabulary (used only by scholars and technicians), geographical names etc. General dictionaries of English, even those greatest ones, contain no more than 170,000 words.

I also doubt French contains only 70,000 words of general use. The Polish general vocabulary is estimated to have 120-130 thousand words, and Dutch general vocabulary is said to contain more than 200,000 words.

So, English is no way an exception, or a unique language with the most abundand vocabulary in the world! I understand you are proud of your language but just please, do not exaggerate in your statements because they can really be taken as abusive!

I have seen these claims about English supposedly having a much larger vocabulary than most other languages before. It seems that people who like making this claim inflate the number of words for English by taking into account obsolete words and/or a lot of technical terms that practically no one uses except people in specialized fields. But the same trick can be done for inflating the vocabulary of virtually any language.

Angela
16-06-14, 22:11
Maciamo is exactly correct. Let's do it the simple, low tech way: I would suggest that people go into any public library and look at standard editions of dictionaries for the major world languages. Or, take 1000 basic objects or descriptive concepts. Count how many words exist in French for each one, for example, or German, for that matter, compared to English. Case closed. And I'm not a native English speaker either, and I still love my own native language and indeed all Romance languages. I'm just objective.

Oh wait, this is the internet, and logic and linguistics don't apply: it's a big conspiracy.

MOESAN
03-07-14, 22:17
as a whole I agree with Maciamo, Sparkey and Angela:
english took advantage of its two prinicipal lexical sources - sometimes other languages give a more strict meaning to loanwords too

AgnusDei
03-07-14, 23:13
What have you been describing in this thread is called les faux-amis there are so many examples out there .
I don't agree with the OP,French is a rich language with a relatively rich vocabulary compared to English.
It is just that the structure of sentences in French is much more complex than it is in English .
I have yet to find an uninteresting language,they are all equally beautiful to me .

AgnusDei
03-07-14, 23:23
Are these correct? I have yet to find a direct translation for these English verbs. Every time I demonstrate one of these actions, I am told it is a whole phrase. I am sure I found more but I can not remember what they were at the moment.

se mettre à genoux = to kneel
sauter à cloche-pied = to hop
macher à quatre pattes = to crawl
faire signe de la main = to wave (a hand)
donner un coup de pied = to kick
faire un clin d'œil = to wink
de hausser les épaules = to shrug
pousser une exclamation désapprobatrice = to tut
hocher la tête = to nod
faire la gueule = to frown

Le verbe s’agenouiller décrit très bien l'action de se mettre à genoux,non?

Ramper=crawl

MOESAN
04-07-14, 13:56
Le verbe s’agenouiller décrit très bien l'action de se mettre à genoux,non?

Ramper=crawl

agenouiller : OK

ramper: to crawl / in fact "marcher à 4 pattes" is not translated by 'to crawl' which means too "avancer au pas" (vehicle) !!! paws or wheels ?!? fun!

all that said the most remains true concerning the 2 lexicons

AgnusDei
05-07-14, 05:24
agenouiller : OK

ramper: to crawl / in fact "marcher à 4 pattes" is not translated by 'to crawl' which means too "avancer au pas" (vehicle) !!! paws or wheels ?!? fun!

all that said the most remains true concerning the 2 lexicons

Interesting !
marcher à quattre pattes isn't exactly to crawl because French speakers make the difference between crawling animals(qui marchent à quatres pattes) and crawling humans(les bébés qui rampent) .
How would you translate the following :un bébé qui rampe ?
I think it is a bit informal to say;un bébé qui marche à quatre pattes because marcher isn't exactly crawling,at least not among humans,besides humans don't have "des pattes" .