All English language learners (ELLs) are accustomed to making errors. English is a notoriously difficult language, and it's common for learners to struggle with elements of English that are particularly unfamiliar to them.

Often, the aspects of English that ELLs struggle with most are based on the conventions of their native language. By understanding the major differences between English and their native language, they can learn to identify patterns and target specific problems as they seek to improve their English skills.

In this article, we'll review the common English errors that tend to be made by French speakers. Because English was heavily influenced by French after the Norman conquest of Britain, English and French share certain grammatical features. However, false equivalencies between these languages can result in errors due to speakers' assumptions. Read on for French speakers' common mistakes in English, the causes of these errors, and how to fix them.

1. Tense

As mentioned, some grammatical aspects of English and French are similar, resulting in various rules overlapping. This is true especially for grammar related to verbs; both languages have participles, auxiliaries, and active/passive voices. In addition, both have past, present, and future tenses.

However, French sometimes uses different tenses from those that would be used in English to convey specific meanings. For example, to communicate that an event is still occurring, French uses the simple present tense (e.g., "I am cooking since early this morning"), which is incorrect in English. The present perfect tense would be used for this purpose in English (e.g., "I have been cooking since early this morning").

2. Parts of Speech

The parts of speech include articles, pronouns, adjectives, and more. Since English and French share many grammatical features, their parts of speech are similar and similarly used, but differences also arise and can cause errors.

For example, the correct French article to use is based on the gender of the noun with which it is associated. Furthermore, possessive adjectives must agree with the nouns they qualify in French. These French rules result in incorrect English constructions such as "This is the Karen's dog" and "Chad and her wife like board games." In English, though, the following constructions are correct: "This is Karen's dog" and "Chad and his wife like board games."

3. Interrogatives

In addition, some confusion may arise in French speakers' attempts to ask questions. French does not have the auxiliary word do, which is used to ask questions in English. Thus, French speakers use intonation to frame their questions (e.g., "You want to go to the movies?"). Alternatively, a French speaker may switch the order of the subject and the verb, as in "How often go you there?"

In contrast, English uses the auxiliary do to ask questions; leaving it out, as in the previous examples, is considered incorrect, especially in formal situations. Therefore, "Do you want to go to the movies?" and "How often do you go there?" are the correct ways to ask these questions.

4. Word Order

Although French and English share the same basic syntax (subject–verb–object), common mistakes also arise in terms of word order. For example, whereas adverbs occur between verbs and subjects in English, or at the end of a sentence, they usually come between verbs and objects in French.

Thus, a French speaker learning English might incorrectly say "I eat always at that restaurant" instead of the correct order: "I always eat at that restaurant." Furthermore, English usually places adjectives before nouns, while French typically places them after. Therefore, in French, the word order might be "a car red," which is incorrect in English, where it should be "a red car."

5. False Friends

Sometimes, the overarching similarity between languages' vocabularies can cause confusion in their small differences. This is true for English and French, as they have words that share the same Latin roots. Thus, similarities in words' appearances can mislead learners. Often, French speakers falsely equate a French word that looks similar to an English word even though they have completely different meanings.

In some cases, the words are identical in spelling but totally different in meaning. For example, while coin means corner in French, the same word refers to money in English. These words are called false friends, and they often result in mistakes. There are many false friends to watch out for, so French speakers should be wary of them.


Different languages have different conventions, and this naturally results in ELLs making errors based on their native languages. Although English and French share some commonalities in their roots, their differences can trip up French speakers learning English. Being able to notice and remedy these mistakes can help learners add to their understanding of English.

To be sure you aren't making these and other common English errors, send your writing to the professionals at Scribendi for a thorough English grammar check.

Image source: Alexis Brown/Unsplash

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