Heavy borrowing from French occurred in two phases:

  1. 1066-1250. About 900 words were borrowed during this phase, with most of them showing the effects of Anglo-Norman phonology. Examples from this source are:

    Social: baron, noble, dame, servant, messenger, feast, minstrel, juggler, largess.

    Literary: story, rime, lay, douzepers.

    Church: The largest number of words were borrowed for use in religious services since the French-speaking Normans took control of the church in England.

  2. 1250-1400. The heaviest borrowing from French occurred in this period because after about 1250 there were more French speakers who began speaking English--remember the loss of Normandy in 1204. The words borrowed during this phase are found in many areas.

    Government and Administrative: govern, government, administer, crown, state, empire, royal, majesty, treaty, statute, parliament, tax, rebel, traitor, treason, exile, chancellor, treasurer, major, noble, peer, prince, princess, duke, squire, page (but not king, queen, lord, lady, earl), peasant, slave, servant, vassal.

    Ecclesiastical: religion, theology, sermon, confession, clergy, clergy, cardinal, friar, crucifix, miter, censer lectern, abbey, convent, creator, savior, virgin, faith, heresy, schism, solemn, divine, devout, preach, pray, adore, confess.

    Law: justice, equity, plaintiff, judge, advacate, attorney, petition, inquest, felon, evidence, sue, accuse arrest, blame, libel, slander, felony, adultery, property, estate, heir, executor.

    Military--Army and Navy: (Much of the fighting during this time was done in France. Many now-obsolete words for pieces of armor, etc., were borrowed at this time.) army, navy, peace, enemy, arms, battle, spy, combat, siege, defence, ambush, soldier, guard, mail, buckler, banner, lance, besiege, defend, array.

    Clothing: habit, gown, robe, garment, attire, cape, coat, collar, petticoat, train, lace, embroidery, pleat, buckle, button, tassel, plume, satin, taffeta, fur, sable, blue, brown, vermilion, russet, tawny, jewel, ornament, broach, ivory, turquoise, topaz, garnet, ruby, pearl, diamond.

    Food: feast, repast, collation, mess, appetite, tart, sole, perch, sturgeon, sardine, venison, beef, veal, mutton, port, bacon, toast, cream, sugar, salad, raisin, jelly, spice, clove, thyme.

    Social: curtain, couch, lamp, wardrobe, screen, closet, leisure, dance, carol, lute, melody.

    Hunting: rein, curry, trot, stable, harness, mastiff, spaniel, stallion, pheasant, quail, heron, joust, tournament, pavilion.

    Art, Learning, Medicine: painting, sculpture, music, beauty, color, image, cathedral, palace, mansion, chamber, ceiling, porch, column, poet, prose, romance, paper, pen, volume, chapter, study, logic, geometry, grammar, noun, gender, physician, malady, pain, gout, plague, pulse, remedy, poison.

    Common words and expressions include nouns--age, air, city, cheer, honor, joy; adjectives--chaste, courageous, coy, cruel, poor, nice, pure; verbs--advance, advise, carry, cry, desire; phrases--draw near, make believe, hand to hand, by heart, without fail (These are loan-translations).

Many of the above words differ from Modern French in form and pronunciation because of phonological changes such as the following:

Some 10,000 French words were borrowed into Middle English, and about 75% (7500) of these words are still in use. These words were quickly assimilated into English; i.e., English suffixes, etc., were freely added to the borrowed French words; e.g., gentle, borrowed in 1225, is found compounded with an English word, gentlewoman, in 1230.

This heavy borrowing from French had several effects on English:

  1. Native words were replaced:

    OE aeðele -- F. noble
    OE aeðeling -- F. nobleman
    OE here -- F. army
    OE campa -- F. warrior
    OE sibb -- F. peace

  2. English and French words were retained with a differentiation in meaning:


  3. The Old English word-forming powers were reduced, with less use of prefixes and suffixes and fewer compounds.

    Latin Borrowings. In a sense the French words were Latin borrowings since French developed from Vulgar Latin--as did all the Romance languages. The borrowings that came directly from Latin tended to be more learned in character--e.g., allegory, index, magnify, mechanical, private, secular, zenith. Aureate terms--direct borrowings from Latin--were a stylistic affectation of the 15th century Scottish Chaucerians such as James I, Henryson, and Dunbar. Some of these words have been dropped from English (or never really made it in) while others have survived, e.g., diurnal (daily or daytime), tenebrous (dark), laureate, mediation, oriental, prolixity.

    It has been pointed out that as a result of Middle English borrowing from French and Latin, Modern English has synonyms on three levels: popular (English), literary (French), and learned (Latin), as in rise--mount--ascend; ask--question--interrogate; fire--flame--conflagration; holy--sacred--consecrated.

    Based on Baugh and Cable, A History of the English Language.