My significant other asked me today whether or not she should use a fillet or filet of steak in a recipe.

What is the difference between fillet and filet, and the history behind these words? Is there a context in which one should be used and the other shouldn't? Filet sounds rather French as in filet mignon.

My own brief experiences with the terms are that fillet is the term for the cut of meat whereas filet would be used for fish. I've also read that one is American English and the other is British English.

  • Or as Ben Folds sang: 'Grew a moustache and a mullet, got a job at Chick-fil-A...' Dec 8, 2011 at 21:33
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    In British English at any rate 'fillet' means to de-bone whereas 'filet' tends to refer to a way of cooking something. As such almost all white fish is filleted before it's sold. Technically a joint of red meat has been filleted if the bone has been removed but usually it is said to have been 'boned and rolled'. Also poultry is usually referred to as 'boned' or 'butterflied' rather than filleted. Strangely most beef steaks have no bone in them but the most expensive cut is known as 'fillet steak'. The idea that 'fillet' applies to meat and 'filet' to fish certainly does not apply in the UK.;
    – BoldBen
    Sep 10, 2019 at 22:01
  • The link below pretty much nails the American perspective. I have never in my life heard fillet used with respect to food. A fillet is only a type of interior corner joint - fillet tools Note they explain the pronunciation because Americans who haven't welded or worked with epoxy will not have heard it before.
    – Phil Sweet
    Aug 6, 2020 at 19:44
  • On the British Home Baking contest show, the contestants and judges pronounce it with a hard “t”, for at least the noun and perhaps for the verb. (They also pronounce “taco” as “tack-oh”, which to me as an American who speaks Spanish sounds silly.)
    – jvriesem
    Jul 6, 2021 at 17:13

6 Answers 6


You are correct that Filet is the French spelling of fillet. According to the Oxford online dictionary:


French spelling of fillet, used especially in the names of French or French-sounding dishes

filet de boeuf


a fleshy boneless piece of meat from near the loins or the ribs of an animal:

a chicken breast fillet

[mass noun] :

roast fillet of lamb (also fillet steak)

a beef steak cut from the lower part of a sirloin.

a boned side of a fish.

So, when preparing a dish, as an ingredient, you should use the word fillet. When referring to the name of the dish, it will depend (as you note: filet mignon).

Additionally, the Cambridge online dictionary states that filet is the US spelling of fillet:


US for fillet

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    No mention of pronunciation? /ˈfɪlɪt/ or /file/ ?
    – GEdgar
    Dec 8, 2011 at 22:18

Norman Schur, British English A to Zed, third edition (2007) reports that fillet in British English has two corresponding senses in U.S. English: tenderloin and filet. Here is Schur's entry for fillet:

fillet, n. 1. tenderloin 2. filet

(Rhymes with MILLET, not MILLAY.) On an American restaurant menu the equivalent would be tenderloin steak, or perhaps filet mignon. The term may also be applied to pork, lamb, etc. 2. a piece of fish served without the bones.

Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) treats filet as a variant spelling of one particular sense of fillet. Here is the Eleventh Collegiate's entry for fillet:

fillet in sense 2b also filet n {ME filet, fr. AF, dim. of fil thread, fr. L filum — more at FILE} (14c) 1 : a ribbon or narrow strip of material used esp. as a headband 2 a : a thin narrow strip of material b : a piece or slice of boneless meat or fish; esp : the tenderloin of beef 3 a : a concave junction formed where two surfaces meet (as at an angle) b : a strip that gives a rounded appearance to such a junction; also : a strip to reinforce the corner where two surfaces meet 4 : a narrow flat architectural member: a : a flat molding separating others b : the space between two flutings in a shaft

So in Schur's view, the main difference between fillet and filet is that, in addition to being coextensive with filet in a general sense in connection with cuts of meat, fillet in British English is used to refer to the specific cut of beef called, in U.S. English, tenderloin.

For its part, Merriam-Webster emphasizes that fillet and filet have the same meaning in meat sense, but then notes that fillet has multiple additional meanings that filet does not. On the other hand, according to the Eleventh Collegiate, filet has one meaning in English that fillet doesn't:

filet n {F, lit., net} (1838) : a lace with a square mesh and geometric designs

Aside from an entry for filet mignon (which Merriam-Webster defines as "a thick slice of beef cut from the narrow end of a beef tenderloin" and assigns a first occurrence date in English of 1835), that is the only entry for filet in the Eleventh Collegiate.

With regard to the word's etymology, Glynnis Chantrell, The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories (2002) has this entry for fillet, confirming the summary that appears in the Eleventh Collegiate:

fillet {Middle English} Early use of the word was to denote a band worn round the head. Old French filet 'thread' based on Latin filum 'thread' is the source of the word in English. Current senses all involve the notion 'thin strip' (e.g., fillets of beef, fillet impressed on a book cover, etc.).


In the USA I have most often seen "filet" for the noun (regardless of whether it is fish, beef, pork, etc.) although fillet is also "permissable". It is correct either way. The English culinary word derives from the French word like many or most culinary terms such as "purée". And, for example, the interchangeable word for beef tenderloin (filet mignon). When using it as a verb (i.e. to "debone" fish or meat) it is preferred to use fillet (present tense) and filleted past tense. Example: He filleted the red snapper with his fancy Japanese steel chef's knife. Ah. By the way, a knife specially created for deboning is sometime called a "filet knife", sometimes a "fillet knife". I see them both ways on Amazon.com. And to clarify. A steak (or piece of fish) with bone removed is a filet. One with the bone is more correctly called a chop. For example, a T-Bone and Porterhouse steak are not filets, they are technically chops. No offense intended to the butcher that stated the opposite for the noun and the verb. By the way, whether spelled filet or fillet, it is pronounced "filay".


The difference in pronunciation is simple; spelling. If I see the word spelled filet on a menu I will pronounce it ‘filay’. If it is spelled fillet then it is pronounced ‘fillett’, hard t. That is because they are two separate words and should not be confused. If you wish to be pretentious by all means pronounce fillet as ‘filay’ but just know it’s wrong and people outside the US will laugh at you for it.

  • 1
    Please add some references to support your answer.
    – JJJ
    Sep 10, 2019 at 21:28
  • Welcome to EL&U. Please note that this is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum, but this answer doesn't really improve upon the answers that were already given eight years ago. You could improve it by providing references or examples. I strongly encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance.
    – choster
    Sep 10, 2019 at 21:37

Upon asking a professional butcher in a meat market, I was informed that the word filet, pronounced 'fillay', is the process of cutting a 'fillet', pronounced 'fil'- lette'. Therefore, filet would be the verb and fillet would be the noun.

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    Can you please add the region so the origin is known? At least to distinguish between American English and British English?
    – Bookeater
    Aug 12, 2015 at 8:52

If it is. a french description, as in filet mignon, the t is silent, if it McDonalds' bastadised mix of English and French the t is hard!! Either fillet of fish or filet du Poisson!

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    Hello, Chris. We need supported answers (with linked and attributed authoritative references) on ELU. With correct spelling and capitalisation. Otherwise, answers come across as being quite possibly unreliable. Aug 6, 2020 at 18:29

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