I moved to Montreal from Australia 3 months ago. I'm gradually learning French but am not confident enough to ask in French yet.

So I'm having an argument with a French speaking (bilingual) friend here. She says that "hypocrite" is a synonym for disingenuous, two-faced, or just being a fake person. I told her that "hypocrite" in English captures a more narrow meaning. It has to imply that your judging someone else but doing the thing you're critical of yourself. You would use the word "hypocrite" in English if a guy called someone a terrible father but went home that night to beat his kids. My friend also wants to use the word hypocrite for a situation where let's say a girl is talking to another woman and she pretends she likes her but as soon as she's gone she says "I hate that woman". I would never use the word hypocrite here.

Are the words different in French and English? She's insisting they mean exactly the same thing and now she has me questioning it. I looked up the origins of the word and it is an Old French word. I'm fascinated about whether it's possible for identical words across languages to have their meanings drift over time. You could imagine how this might happen a lot.. Especially in cases where the meaning just mutates a little or gets a little more specific in one language. Most English people, if they heard a French person say "hypocrite" in the 2 faced meaning would probably not even bother to correct. Because it's close enough.


Edit: The English definition here seems to match my suspicions exactly. I'm wondering now if there is a difference in the word from UK/Australian English to American/Canadian. I'm more confused than ever. People seem to be quite divided on this. People will vehemently insist it means one meaning or another.

The French definition here smuggles in the extra part of "hiding her true feelings". This is not part of the definition in the way I understand the English word.

  • From the Wiktionnary : "Someone who practices hypocrisy, who pretends to hold beliefs, or whose actions are not consistent with their claimed beliefs." For me "hypocrite" has the same meaning in french or english…
    – Stéphane
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 6:10
  • In french, I would not use "hypocrite" in the first example (about the father)... I would only use it in situations like the 2nd example (about the girl)... So there seem to be a difference, or is the first example odd in english too ?
    – Random
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 9:23
  • With a quick look at etymology here, we can see the hypo- prefix associated with the root crit like in critic / critical (in the sense of "analyse and judge"). So the first direct meaning of hypocrite is "someone who critics [others, in front of them,] less than [he really thinks]", and that's true in both languages. Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 12:58
  • I've added in 2 definition sources for english and french. Is there a better french dictionary to use?
    – Mike S
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 13:48
  • Looking at the full definition in the link you provide, I find: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings. This corresponds to your second example, acting in contradiction to your feelings, being nice with someone you find awful...
    – Laurent S.
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 19:51

2 Answers 2


In French, the word hypocrisie is not limited to criticizing someone for something that one practices. It applies to any situation where one untruthfully pretends to have a quality.

Hypocrisie is primarily about situations where the quality is some general positive virtue (kindness, courage, piety, …), but this definition is very inclusive; pretending to like someone fits.

In fact I partly agree with Random that your first example is not a textbook example of hypocrisie, though I would use that word. If a man criticizes someone for being a bad father but beats his own children, this isn't strictly speaking hypocrisie, but it's very likely that hypocrisie is involved because that person is probably pretending to be kind to children when they criticize the other person.

I don't think there's a difference between French and English here (“Hypocrisy is the contrivance of a false appearance of virtue or goodness”), but this site isn't the place to discuss English.


The same thing happens in Portuguese. IMO they definitely have two different meanings. The French/Portuguese one is used when someone is a fake or a liar. The English one is more philosophical. It´s about one's dissociation with their beliefs and morals.

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