Useful foreign words in English, with pronunciation and meaning

A foreign language dictionary

English has borrowed a ton of words and phrases from foreign languages. Some of these foreign words in English are so commonly-used that you are expected to understand them in normal academic or social situations.

A very high score in the IELTS or the PTE test is reserved for someone who can skillfully use less common lexical items in writing or speaking. That means, instead of using plain English words, try using foreign words in English language to demonstrate your vocabulary to the examiner.

Here is a list of some the common foreign words in English. These English words with foreign origin would be a perfect addition to your vocabulary.

Editorial note
The pronunciation sounds for the foreign words in English are from the Dictionary boxes on Google. To find more about where these come from, click here»


à la carteadjective. origin French.

food from a set meal on the menu that can be ordered separately

While my brothers and sisters opted for the dinner set from the menu, I ordered à la carte and only got the beet soup and the steak.

à la modeadjective. origin French.

in fashion

I bought a pair of ripped jeans because Ashley said they were à la mode.

ad hocadjective/adverb. origin Latin.

done only when necessary

The government formed an ad hoc committee to study the impact of the pandemic.

ad nauseamadverb. origin Latin.

something done repeatedly to an annoying degree

Jamie described ad nauseam about his new hybrid car.

agent provocateurnoun. origin French.

a person who provokes someone to commit a crime so they could be apprehended

The rival political party had sent agent provocateurs to disrupt the peaceful protests and invite police brutality.

aide-de-campnoun. origin French.

a military officer who is the personal assistant of another officer

Second Lieutenant Harvey Maddison was appointed as the aide-de-camp to General Mason Gilmour.

alma maternoun. origin Latin.

the institution (college or school) that one had attended in the past

Twelve years after graduating, Anthony returned to teach at his alma mater.

alumnus noun. origin Latin. plural: alumni

the former member of an institution (usually a past student of a school or a college)

Ben is an alumnus of Harvard University.


bon appétitexclamation. origin French.

an expression wished to someone about to eat (literally translates to ‘good appetite’)

“I see you about to try our main course of fish and rice tonight. Bon appétit!”

bon voyageexclamation. origin French.

an expression wished to someone about to start a journey (literally translates to ‘good journey’)

Before I left the city on horseback to cross the desert, I saw a pilgrim who was shouting ‘Bon voyage!’ at me.

bona fideadjective. origin Latin.

genuine or real

Karen is a bona fide member of the Sigma Delta Club.


carpe diemexclamation. origin Latin.

an expression said as an encouragement for someone to do the best at the current situation

Dwight urged Pam to have a more carpe diem attitude toward life and enjoy her each and every moment in the university.

carte blanchenoun. origin French.

complete freedom

Messi was given carte blanche by the manager to play as he wished.

lionel messi

communiquénoun. origin French.

an official statement (usually given to the media)

The Governor issued a communiqué regarding the deaths caused by DUI.

corrigendumnoun. origin Latin.

the correction of errors in a book or newspaper

Yesterday’s mistake in the news article was rectified today in the corrigendum section in the front page.

crème de la crèmenoun. origin French.

the best of the best

When the club was relegated to the second division, the crème de la crème players left for greener pastures.


de factoadjective/adverb. origin Latin.

an event actually happening with or without design or legality

The bandits killed the town sheriff so his younger brother became the de facto leader.

déjà vunoun. orign French.

the weird feeling of having already experienced the ongoing situation

As Phil apologized for his behavior and I forgave him, I had a feeling of déjà vu.

doppelgänger noun. origin German.

the double of a person

Rumors have it that Paul McCartney was replaced by a doppelgänger in the 1960s.

paul mccartney


en blocadverb. origin French.

all together at the same time

The disgruntled workers demanded a pay rise en bloc.

en masseadverb. origin French.

all together

The fans chanted the national anthem en masse when the cricket team entered the ground.

en routeadverb. origin French.

on the way

We saw many wonderful lakes en route to Helsinki.

ex gratiaadjective/adverb. origin Latin.

payment to someone out of moral obligation (kindness) rather than legal obligation

Meera will receive a minimum wage of $18 per hour as per the contract and $25 lump sum daily as ex gratia payment.


faux pasnoun. origin French.

an embarrassing mistake in a social situation

Luke admits that wearing the fancy colorful outfit to the business meeting was a faux pas.


hoi polloinoun. origin Greek.

an expression used to refer to the common people in a derogatory way

The current behavior of the hoi polloi is against the culture of our society.


lingua francanoun. origin Italian.

a common language used by people living in one area

Of the 123 languages spoken in Nepal, the lingua franca is Nepali.


magnum opusnoun. origin Latin.

the most important or the best work of an artist

I believe the song Echoes is the magnum opus of the band Pink Floyd.

modus operandinoun. origin Latin.

the specific method of doing something

Writing a threatening letter to the victims was part of the serial killer’s modus operandi.


par excellenceadjective. origin French.

the best of a kind

Norm Macdonald is a comedian par excellence.

norm macdonald

per annumadverb. origin Latin.

for each year

My sister is paid $200,000 per annum for her job at the hospice.

per capitaadverb/adjective. origin Latin.

for each person

The average per capita income of a resident of Toronto is around $80,000.

per seadverb. origin Latin.

by itself (by themselves)

You are not asked the meanings of words in the IELTS exam per se but learning them would be a great help.

persona non gratanoun. origin Latin.

an unacceptable person

Terry became persona non grata in the community when he was found to have problematic opinions.

potpourrinoun. origin French.

a mixture of things (originally, a mixture of spices in a bowl used as perfume)

Sydney is a potpourri of various cultures, each adding its own flavor but all united in shared goals.

prima donnanoun. origin Italian.

a very temperamental and conceited person

Although Stephan was a down-to-earth fellow back in his college days, getting the high-paying corporate job now has turned him into a prima donna.


quid pro quonoun. origin Latin.

a return favor

If the Minister grants the permission for mineral extraction to the company after it has hired his son as a consultant, the media will accuse him of quid pro quo.


rendezvousnoun. origin French.

a meeting (or a meeting place) that has been decided

Shaggy had arrived at the rendezvous before Welma.


status quonoun. origin Latin.

the existing situation (especially, political or social)

While the government wants to maintain the status quo, the public have demanded a change in the electoral system.


tête-à-têtenoun. origin French.

a private talk between two people

The manager asked for a tête-à-tête with me after I had failed to meet the deadline.

tour de forcenoun. origin French.

a feat that was achieved with great skill

Hugh’s win in the debate competition was a tour de force.


vis-à-vis – (1) noun. origin French.


Despite their enmity, Paul and John were seated vis-à-vis in the meeting.

vis-à-vis – (2) preposition. origin French.

in relation to

The institute has begun coaching classes for the students vis-à-vis the upcoming exams.


zeitgeistnoun. origin German.

the spirit or cultural climate of a period of time

The zeitgeist of his presidency can be deduced by reading the popular newspapers of the time or the songs that were hit on the radio.

If you think you have already learnt these foreign words and phrases, there is a short quiz you can take to judge your progress on the common foreign words in English. Click here »

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