To give some examples:

He has a certain je ne sais quoi about him. (French)

I thought I'd go au naturel for our girls' night out. (French)

That skirt with that blouse, I must say, what a fashion faux pas. (French)

I don't like my meat al dente, I prefer it well-done. (Italian)

Your meshugge cousin can be quite the klutz! (Yiddish)

Oy vey, that kamikaze klutz almost gave me a heart-attack! (Yiddish, Japanese)

My question here is, is it grammatically correct to use more than one language in a sentence?

I know it is accepted to do so (appropriately). But! if anything this site in particular has taught me, just because it is accepted, it doesn't mean that it is correct.

I found these websites (1 and 2) that say you should italicize them when you use them, but that doesn't answer my question if it is grammatically correct.

Reference(s) would be nice.

There is a comment regarding au naturel meaning naked, and while that is one definition, I'd like to point out that it also means

in a natural state

  • @ΜετάEd: That ain't right.
    – Mitch
    Sep 26, 2012 at 0:06
  • @Mitch How so? And to what are you referring isn't right?
    – Souta
    Sep 26, 2012 at 0:13
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this. Use of foreign phrases is a matter of style and communication, not grammar.
    – Pitarou
    Sep 26, 2012 at 1:42
  • @Pitarou would it be preferable that I just delete the question then?
    – Souta
    Sep 26, 2012 at 1:43
  • 1
    With the possible exception of meshugge and perhaps, oy vey, none of your italicised words are "foreign words". They are simply words of a foreign origin that have been incorporated into English over time; you will find them listed in any modern English dictionary. The same is true of words which you have not italicised such as blouse which is a relatively recent French acquisition. If foreign words were considered ungrammatical, English would probably have a vocabulary of only ~5000 words instead of the ~750000 it does now. Sep 26, 2012 at 3:47

2 Answers 2


Mixing in foreign expressions has been a widespread practice in English for hundreds of years. It appears in literary, casual, and formal contexts.

This claim can be easily verified by consulting an English corpus. For example, you can use Google Ngram Viewer to search for any of the foreign phrases you used in your examples. One such search, [ je ne sais quoi ], reveals that this phrase has been in continuous use in English publications for the past two centuries.

One critical lesson to take away from this site is that usage determines what is “correct”. By definition, then, mixing in foreign expressions is correct because it is a common, well established usage.

About this claim that usage determines what is “correct” rather than the other way around, one professor of linguistics has the following to say in an introductory course on the subject[PDF]:

To know a language is to have in principle the ability to utter and understand infinitely many new sentences. How is this possible? The key is that speakers know (a finite number of) rules, which can be applied repeatedly to produce an infinite number of sentences. All spoken language is in this sense governed by rules; in this respect there is no difference between what is considered “good English” and what is considered “bad English” – they each follow rules, though they may be different ones. We will distinguish two uses of the notion of rule: for prescriptive vs. for descriptive purposes. Prescriptive rules are intended to teach people how they should speak or write according to some pre-determined (arbitrary) standard. They are of dubious origin, have no linguistic justification, and have no relevance for the linguist, who is solely interested in describing and understanding the rules that speakers do in fact follow (=descriptive rules).

Per @Nohat's suggestion, see also “What is Grammar?” in Chapter 1 (“What is Language?”) of Fromkin & Rodman’s An Introduction to Language.

  • 1
    Provided the speaker is certain that the listener recognizes or understands the chunk that's in another language. If the listener doesn't do either of those things, it's exactly the same as making up phony language or babbling -- just noise, which doesn't have grammar. That said, there are thousands of words and phrases in thousands of languages that are used daily in speaking English. In various places, by various people, for various purposes. Sep 26, 2012 at 0:03
  • 1
    If you mean ain't, it is not incorrect. It is very unlikely to be seen in formal contexts, that is all. So it could be said to be a social faux pas to use it in a formal situation, but not a grammatical error.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 26, 2012 at 0:04
  • 2
    Sometimes using different languages is simply code switching (linguistic terminology). I do it all the time here in Taiwan. I sometimes have to use Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, and English in a single sentence to say what I want to say because I don't know how to say it all in a single language. In all of your examples, however, I'd say that the foreign words and phrases are actually English because they've been imported into the language and given English pronunciations, especially kamikaze, which is usually pronounced kamakazi (kama rhymes with Obama and kazi with Swazi in Swaziland).
    – user21497
    Sep 26, 2012 at 0:26
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    @souta, your presumption should be that if you see something done frequently by native speakers of a language, then it is "grammatically correct".
    – nohat
    Sep 26, 2012 at 1:24
  • 1
    @Souta, you might try the second section, "What is Grammar?" of chapter 1, "What Is Language?" of Fromkin & Rodman's An Introduction to Language.
    – nohat
    Sep 26, 2012 at 6:33

I'm not happy about the classification of all the OP's examples as 'not English' (by implication if not directly stated). Some, if not all, are regarded as loan words by various authorities. For instance, at http://www.palgrave.com/language/freeborn/site/pdfs/Wordbook_pdfs/20%20_Ch21.pdf , al dente and kamikaze are so regarded. I can't access the extensive Wikipedia lists, but I'm sure all the examples from French will be listed, and klutz and possibly Oh vey!

Admittedly, this is a grey area, with the AHDEL's rather imprecise definition being representative of current views on loan words:

A word adopted from another language and completely or partially naturalized, as very and hors d'oeuvre, both from French.

At http://grammarist.com/words/klutz/ is : Klutz, a noun, came to English from Yiddish in the late 20th century, and it has origins in the German klotz, which means a wooden block. In English, it means (1) a foolishly clumsy person, or (2) a stupid person, especially one who is socially inept. The word is more often used in the first sense.

At least one dictionary gives the English pronunciation and the Italian for al dente.

Perhaps partially naturalised expressions ('word' in 'loan word' really means lexeme - see Wikipedia) are partially acceptable. And quite English.

  • Yes, but if these 'loan words' that are accepted in English and have English translations, then would that mean it is more grammatically correct to use the English translation? I only say this, because for some of these accepted phrases, their translations don't always fit grammatically even if the original 'foreign' phrases and words do.
    – Souta
    Sep 26, 2012 at 16:18
  • Or, if it doesn't always fit grammatically when translated to English, does that mean that the person misused the foreign phrase?
    – Souta
    Sep 26, 2012 at 16:20

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