Published 20th March 2019


It’s no secret that many of our English words are in fact not English at all. English has been around for thousands of years, but there are many languages that are older than English. As English-speaking nations came into contact with other countries they adopted certain words into English. These words were used to such an extent that over time people forgot that they weren’t English words at all. As a result, many times the pronunciation or even the meaning of the words have changed.

15 words you may not realise aren’t English

French loanwords in English

There are a number of words which we use in our daily lives which come from French. Some of them are obviously French in their spelling and pronunciation, like ballet, café and croissant, but there are quite a few others that have been anglicised to such an extent that they have lost their “Frenchness”.


An entrepreneur (don’t forget the second r!) is someone who has started their own business.


A meal where people serve themselves from a range of dishes.


In French, genre means “style” or “kind” but in English we use it to describe a category of something, usually books, songs or movies.


To rendezvous means to meet a person or people at a particular place at a particular time.

German loanwords in English

German is another language which we have borrowed heavily from. In fact, in some parts of the United States, people even say Gesundheit! rather than Bless you! when people sneeze.


Though it literally means “children’s garden”, a kindergarten is actually a school for young children. Children go to kindergarten for a few years before they start school.


A rucksack is another word for a backpack.

Spanish loanwords in English

Like French and German, there are a lot of Spanish words that we use in English.


To describe someone as macho is to describe them as manly or masculine.


A patio is an area outside your house with a table and chairs, but no roof.

Loanwords from other languages in English

Of course, European languages aren’t the only languages which have given words to English.


Chocolate came into English through the word xocolatl, which is from a Native American language. We don’t think we need to explain what chocolate is!


Gung-ho is an adjective which comes from a Chinese phrase. In Chinese it means to work together but in English we use it to describe someone who is excited about something.


Moped is a Swedish word. It comes from the two Swedish words motor and pedalar and it refers to a bicycle with a motor.


Loot, meaning stolen goods, is actually a Hindi word with the exact same pronunciation and meaning.


Though you may think the word safari has African origins, it’s an Arabic word.


A metropolis is a big or important city in a country. It originally comes from the Greek word referring to the most important city of a colony.


The world famous condiment made from tomatoes was originally a Chinese sauce made from fish and spices, called Ke-stiap. When the United States added tomatoes to the mix, they adopted the name ketchup.

The next time your students are feeling a little disheartened about the sheer amount of vocabulary they need to learn in English, reassure them that many words are not actually English, so they may know them already!