The Meaning of A La Carte: What It Is and How To Use It

Have you ever wondered about the definition of a la carte? This article will provide you with all of the info you need on the word a la carte, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word à la carte mean?

According to Vocabulary and Grammarist Free Dictionary, the term a la carte is a French word that can be used as a noun, adjective or adverb. As a noun, this refers to a menu that has individual dishes listed with separate prices. As an adjective, this is used to describe a type of eating in which you order items that are listed a la carte on a section of a menu. Finally, it can be used as an adjective to describe such a meal. Some places you might commonly see a la carte ordering would be a sushi restaurant or Indian restaurant in which you order separate items to create a meal rather than one dish. These items are not part of a set meal, but are rather unlimited choices of individual dishes that one chooses from to create a restaurant meal.

The opposite of a la carte is a table d’hôte. In French, this refers to a meal that is served at a fixed price or that contains fixed priced items or fixed priced options. You might also see a table d’hote at a wedding, in which there is a fixed list of items one can choose from. For example, one might have a choice between steak or chicken, but the whole meal and garnish are fixed with few options. The entree selection may all come with the same individual side dishes with no choice, like a pickle and chips. There might also be limited choices when it comes to dessert, with few or no separate items to choose from. Guests and waiters may enjoy this inclusive price, but could also be frustrated that their main course is chosen for them. The literal meaning of the French phrase a la carte is “by the card” but both English and French use the term to mean “according to the menu.” The pronunciation of a la carte is ˌɑ lə ˈkɑrt. A la carte has been used since C19.

What are other French loan words commonly used in English?

There are many different words that come from the French language. You might be able to find these in Collins English Dictionary 12th edition or the American Heritage Unabridged Dictionary of the English language 5th edition. Thousands of words come from French origins, we have many cognates of French words in English, but we also use many loan words that you may not even know are French. There are around 7000 French words in the English language according to Busuu, but take a look at the below and see if you recognize any of these words! Try making flashcards or a quiz like a student at Princeton University to test your knowledge. In Italian, you might register words like this in an Italian Dictionary 1st edition.

  •  Metabolism –  French métabolisme
  •  Chauffeur –  French chauffeur
  •  Delegate –  Old French delegat
  •  Vinaigrette –  French vinaigrette
  •  Gallery –  Old French galerie
  •  Souvenir –  French souvenir (memory)
  •  Metro –  French métro
  •  Apéritif –  French apéritif 
  •  Apostrophe –  French apostrophe
  •  Identity –  Middle French identité
  •  Ricochet –  French ricochet
  •  Rendez-vous –  French rendez-vous (appointment)
  •  Hotel –  French hôtel
  •  Restaurant –  French restaurant
  •  Irony –  Middle French ironie
  •  Attaché –  French attaché (attached)
  •  Dossier –  French dossier
  •  Magnificent –  Middle French magnificent
  •  Homage –  Old French homage
  •  Optimism –  French optimisme
  •  Chic –  French chic (elegant)
  •  Nocturnal –  Middle French nocturnal
  •  Laissez-faire –  French laissez-faire (leave things to take their course)
  •  Omelette –  French omelette
  •  Sabotage –  French sabotage
  •  Salad –  French salade
  •  Expatriate –  French expatrier
  •  Silhouette –  French silhouette 
  •  Cul-de-sac –  French cul-de-sac (bottom of the bag/sack)
  •  Illusion –  Old French illusion
  •  Risqué –  French risqué
  •  Purify –  Old French purifier
  •  Menu –  French menu
  •  Cadet –  French cadet
  •  Television –  French télévision
  •  Variety –  Middle French varieté
  •  Liaison –  French liaison
  •  Solicitor –  Middle French soliciteur
  •  Literature –  Old French littérature
  •  Fiancé –  French fiancé
  •  Navy –  Old French navie
  •  Soufflé –  French soufflé
  •  Envisage –  French envisager
  •  Soup –  French soupe
  •  Occasion –  Middle French occasion
  •  Cabaret –  French cabaret
  •  Heritage –  Old French eritage (héritage in modern French)
  •  Massage –  French massage
  •  Facade –  French façade
  •  Baguette –  French baguette (stick)
  •  Rich –  French riche
  •  Utensil –  Old French utensile
  •  Cliché –  French cliché
  •  Lacrosse –  Canadian French la crosse (the stick)
  •  Elite –  Old French elit (chosen)
  •  En route –  French en route
  •  Champagne –  French champagne
  •  Tournament –  Old French tornoiement (tournoiement in modern French)
  •  Premiere –  French première
  •  Uniform –  Middle French uniforme
  •  Gateau –  French gâteau
  •  Valid –  Middle French valide
  •  Energy –  Middle French énergie
  •  Film noir –  French film noir (a film genre)
  •  Neutral –  Middle French neutral
  •  Bachelor –  Anglo-Norman bacheler (bachelier in modern French)
  •  Ridicule –  French ridicule
  •  Zest –  French zeste
  •  Kilogram –  French kilogramme
  •  Sentiment –  Old French sentement
  •  Faux-pas –  French faux pas
  •  Novel –  Old French novel
  •  Maisonette –  French maisonette
  •  Debris –  French débris (broken, crumbled)
  •  Recipient –  Middle French récipient
  •  Brunette –  French brunette
  •  Avant-garde –  French avant-garde
  •  Déjà vu –  French words déjà (already) and vu (seen – past participle of ‘voir’)
  •  Parasol –  French parasol
  •  Bureau –  French bureau (desk, office)
  •  Allowance –  Old French alouance (payment)
  •  Musketeer –  French mousquetaire
  •  Aviation –  French aviation
  •  Jubilee –  Middle French jubile (modern French jubilé)
  •  Technique –  French technique
  •  Ballet –  French ballet
  •  Beret –  French béret
  •  Poetic –  Middle French poétique
  •  Connoisseur –  French connoisseur
  •  Insult –  Middle French words insult (noun) and insulter (verb)
  •  Reservoir –  French ‘réservoir’ (collection place)
  •  Eau de toilette –  French eau de toilette
  •  Bon voyage –  French phrase bon voyage (have a good journey)
  •  Gastronomy –  French gastronomie
  •  Machine –  Middle French machine
  •  Gazette –  French gazette
  •  Detour –  French détour (from détourner)
  •  Papier-mâché –  French papier-mâché
  •  Faux, as in faux fur –  French faux (false)

Overall, a la carte (adj./adv./n.) means


  1. How to Use à la carte Correctly | Grammarist 
  2. 99 French words we use in English all the time | Busuu Blog 
  3. a la carte – Dictionary Definition | Vocabulary