Semantic Feel: when French borrows from English
It’s a known fact: in North America, French has always been evolving alongside English. Thus, it’s not surprising that the two languages are permeable to each other, exchanging words, expressions and phrases, especially in the spoken realm.
However, even in formal, written French, you might still come across certain elements that were directly drawn from English, but for which French equivalents do actually exist. For those among you who might want to avoid making these common faux pas when writing official documents, here are a few pointers.
Levée de fonds > Calque of “fundraiser” > Collecte de fonds
In this case, it’s not the calque itself that’s the problem, but the meaning of the verb that was chosen when the expression was borrowed. As we know, in English, the verb “raise” could be translated as “lever” (raise the bar) or “élever” (raise a child), but also as “rassembler” (gather) or “collecter” (collect). In the erroneous “levée de fonds”, the issue is that the wrong meaning was selected among those available. One ought to say “collecte de fonds”.
Mettre l’emphase > Calque of “put emphasis” > Mettre l’accent
Here, the problem has to do with a faux ami, that is, an English word similar as a French word, but whose meaning is not the same. On the one hand, “emphasis” does in fact mean “special importance” or “force in the expression or action”, but the word “emphase” in French, signifies “grandiloquence”, “excessive, inopportune, pompous use of speech” or “exaggeration in the display of feelings”. In brief, “emphase” has a resolutely negative connotation. Therefore, if you’re tempted to “mettre l’emphase” on anything, we recommend that you choose to “mettre l’accent” on it instead.
Opérer un commerce > Calque of “operate a business” > Tenir / Administrer un commerce
When using the French verb “opérer”, if it’s followed by a direct complement, such complement needs to be an action (opérer un changement, un arbitrage) or a being, a thing that undergoes a surgery [“opération” in French] (opérer une jambe, un chaton). Once more, the confusion roots from a faux ami: “operate”, which may indeed mean, “run (a business)”. However, in French, when you run a business, what you do is not “opérer”.
Appliquer pour / à un emploi > Calque of “apply for a job” > Postuler pour un emploi
Sure, in English, you “apply” for a job. You fill out an “application”. It’s thus very understandable that this phrasing influenced North American French speakers. There are several French forms to express that reality: you can say, “postuler pour un emploi”, “solliciter un emploi”, or else “faire une demande d’emploi”. One can also, “poser sa candidature pour un poste”. As for the French verb “appliquer”, it has a lot more to with what your employer will expect of you once you’re hired, that is, “vous appliquer à la tâche” (apply yourself to your tasks).
Prendre pour acquis > Calque of “take for granted” > Tenir pour acquis
When certain Francophones speak English, some make the mistake of saying “take a decision”, a literal translation of “prendre une décision”, without knowing that the proper form is “make a decision”. In the case of “prendre pour acquis”, the process is more or less the same, but the other way around: it’s a word-for-word translation of “take for granted”. However, in French, the act of considering something is not expressed using the verb “prendre”, but rather “tenir”. Thus, one “tient” something “pour acquis”.
We hope that this list of pointers will prove useful!