A question from Hervé in France:
Could you explain the difference between something 'effective' and something 'efficient'?
Both could be translated in French by "efficace", although the word "efficient" also exists in French and there is a difference between both.
When it is 'efficient' in French, it means that it produces effect. When it is 'efficace', it means that it works well. Does that difference exist in English too - 'effective' / 'efficient''?
Well Hervé, thank you very much for your question. Your question in fact relates to the topic of false friends. These are words in a foreign language which seem similar to words in your own language. However, in fact they have a different meaning in the foreign language, so they're not really friends, they're false friends.
English is a language that has developed from Germanic and Latin languages, and it has also adopted words from other languages such as Hindi and Urdu. Because English has, in part, developed from Latin, and so has French, there are many similar looking or sounding words. And this is the problem that Hervé has with 'effective' and 'efficient'. In French there are similar sounding words, but the meanings are not exactly the same.
In English, 'effective' means that something produces results or an effect. It does what it is supposed to do. 'Efficient' means that something is done in a good way, without wasting time, money or energy. For example, a car with an effective engine will move, because the engine does what it is supposed to do. It produces results. It moves the car.
A car with an efficient engine is a car that travels a long way without using a lot of petrol. It is efficient, it doesn't waste energy.
It seems from what Hervé says, that the French word efficient' is more similar to 'effective' than the similar sounding 'efficient'. However, I am not a French expert, so I?ll leave him to decide.
A couple of other examples of these false friends include 'sympathetic' and 'sensible'. 'Sympathetic' is a false friend for the French and 'sensible' is a false friend for the Spanish.
I hope my explanation has been effective, and that I have made it in an efficient way.
Gareth Rees has been an English language teacher and teacher trainer for over 10 years. He is currently a lecturer at London Metropolitan University and his first course book for English Language learners is due to be published in the near future.
Audio - Download the answer (mp3 - 0.9 mb)
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