Foreign Phrases Used In English

July 6, 2011

in Technical Writing

Not every word we use when writing English is actually English. A few foreign phrases have sneaked into regular usage, making themselves a staple part of written and spoken English. A number of foreign phrases used in English will make handy additions to your grammar arsenal, filling gaps when you can’t find an appropriate word to describe exactly what you are trying to express. Here are six useful foreign phrases that you will help you expand your writing expertise.

1. Vis-à-vis

This is a French expression meaning face to face. Although it’s an adverb, it is more commonly used as a preposition, meaning “in relation to”.

For example: “The job isn’t that difficult, vis-à-vis the forklift driving and weekly stock take”.

2. Status Quo

This Latin expression is perhaps the most common in this list. It means “the current state of affairs”.  So, if you alter the “status quo” you quite literally change the way things are.

For example: “He was always one to upset the status quo”.

3. De Facto

Another Latin expression, De Facto can take on two meanings, one as an adjective and one as an adverb. It means “actual” if used as an adjective, and “in practice” if used as an adverb. De Facto is commonly used in contrast to the term “de jure”, which means “by law”.

For example: “He may have lived in the UK for a period of time, but his de facto home was France”.

4. Ad hoc

You will typically come across this phrase at work, usually in job descriptions. Ad-hoc as an adjective means “formed or created with a specific purpose”, and as an adverb means “for the specific purpose or situation.”

For example: “The job will involve filing, making tea and other ad hoc tasks”,

5. Cul-de-sac

You will hear this expression used to describe dead end. The term was adopted by French speaking English aristocrats, and quite literally means “bottom of the sack”. The term can also be used metaphorically, to express an action that leads to an impasse.

For example: “The house at the end of the cul-de-sac was rather delightful”.

6. Per Se

Per se is another commonly used Latin expression that means, “by itself”, or “intrinsically”.

For example: “The expression isn’t Latin per se, and it is actually derived from Greek scripture”.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Katya July 7, 2011 at 1:47 am

Hi! You forgot the common phrases: ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’ Thank you for the list, I mentioned it on my twitter profile.


peter July 7, 2011 at 2:24 am

Hi Katya, I left it that out because they are abbreviations. I covered them in a sparate post; please see here:
Thank you for the mention, much appreciated!


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