Common Foreign Phrases
Many foreign phrases have taken their place in English speaking and writing. Here are some of the most common. For each phrase, the language from which it comes and its meaning in English is shown. The phrase is then used in a sentence.
There is some confusion about whether foreign phrases should be italicized in English writing. There is no definitive rule regarding this. However, by convention, a foreign phrase should be italicized unless you have a strong expectation that your readers will know its meaning. This is a matter of judgment and it is safe to use italics when you write foreign phrases.
- ad nauseam From Latin meaning to a sickening degree. Tom talked ad nauseam about the time he scored the winning run.
- bon voyage From French meaning have a nice trip. We all shouted “bon voyage” as Rosa left for her vacation.
- bona fide From Latin meaning genuine. Emma’s teacher was a bona fide expert in European history.
- carte blanche From French meaning unlimited authority. As the owner of the store, Mr. Williamson had carte blanche regarding what merchandise to sell.
- caveat emptor From the Latin meaning let the buyer beware. I learned what caveat emptor meant the hard way when I bought a bike that never seemed to work right.
- en masse From French meaning in a large group. The fans left the football stadium en masse once the score became 42 to 0.
- fait accompli From French meaning established fact. Luis was disappointed, but his losing the election for class president was a fait accompli.
- faux pas From French meaning a social blunder. Elizabeth realized too late that not attending Susan’s party was a faux pas.
- ipso facto From Latin meaning by the fact itself. A teacher, ipso facto, is in charge of his or her class.
- modus operandi From Latin meaning method of operating. My modus operandi when studying is to set very specific goals.
- persona non grata From Latin meaning an unacceptable person. Sally was a persona non grata in our club because she wouldn’t follow the rules.
- prima donna From Latin meaning a temperamental and conceited person. Laura wasn’t popular with the other girls because they considered her to be a prima donna.
- pro bono From Latin meaning done or donated without charge. The lawyer’s pro bono work with the homeless gave him a sense of personal satisfaction.
- quid pro quo From Latin meaning something for something, usually an equal exchange. Helping Ian with his math was quid pro quo for the time Ian helped me mow the lawn.
- status quo From Latin meaning the existing condition. Because he didn’t like change, Bert always tried to maintain the status quo.
These are just some of the foreign phrases you will find used in English. Knowing their meanings and how they are used will help you in your reading, writing, and speaking.