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23 Useful French Phrases to Impress the Locals on your next trip to France

23 Useful French Phrases to Impress the Locals On Your Next Trip to France

useful french phrasesToday I’m delighted to feature a guest post that explains 23 of the most useful French phrases that will help you speak with confidence during your next trip to France.

Sounding natural when you speak is a tricky task but if you can use some of the phrases in this post, you’ll impress the locals and sound a lot more authentic right away.

In this post, you’ll learn about what each phrase means and also see an example of how to use it in a sentence.

I think you’re going to really enjoy trying out some of these words and phrases yourself.

Over to Jade…


Do you want to feel completely comfortable and confident about your French during your next trip to France? Or maybe even get mistaken for a local?

It might seem like a far distant dream but it’s very possible.

The best way to make your language learning peers jealous and impress the locals is to cheat. And by cheating, I mean quickly learning some essential French slang that will make you sound like a local when it comes time to open your mouth and speak.

French is a language that isn’t technically too difficult to learn.

And if you want to sound just like you were brought up in the streets of Paris or Québec then you should start by learning some of these 23 useful French phrases:

1. Boufferbouffer

Bouffer is a colloquial verb meaning ‘to eat’.

It literally means to ‘puff up’ or ‘blow up’ in size however it’s common to hear it being used in everyday speech meaning ‘to eat’.

This led to the introduction of the noun la bouffe which means food. It can all get a bit confusing though as its literal translation is beef.

Example:

  • J’ai bouffé à la cantine ce midi. (I ate at the cafetería at lunch time).

2. Kiffer

This is the trendiest new word used by French-speaking millennials everywhere.

Kiffer is based on ‘kif’, originating from the Arabic word ‘hashish’ or cannabis. The French meaning is to take pleasure in, to be attracted to or to like something.

The association comes from the heightened sensations from this narcotic.

It was introduced by younger generations of Arabic immigrants and found its way across popular cities and now even holds a place in the dictionary.

Example:

  • Je te kiffe! (I love you)
  • Tu vas trop kiffer! (You will love it!)

3. Faire Gaffe

I love this French phrase because it actually means the opposite of its literal translation which is ‘to make a mistake’. This expression actually means watch out or be careful!

Example:

  • Ça peut être dangereux – fais gaffe ! (That can be dangerous – be careful!)

4. Une Bagnoleune bagnole french phrases

This is a kind of “hipster” way to say ‘car’.

Surprisingly there are many ways to say ‘car’ in French, including:

  • une voiture
  • une caisse
  • une automobile.

With all this choice it makes the English language seem a bit dull in comparison!

Example:

  • Ah c’est une belle bagnole! (It’s a beautiful car!)

5. Nickel

Nickel is the name of a metal in English, a material known for its smooth and shiny surface. The French took a shining to this word and adopted it into their own language using it to mean ‘spotless’ or ‘impeccable’.

Example:

  • Range ta chambre, je veux qu’elle soit nickel ! (Clean your room, I want it to be perfectly clean!)

6. Sympa

Sympa is an abbreviation of sympathique meaning that something or someone is nice or friendly. The French tend to abbreviate many adjectives to give them a cool edge.

Example:

  • J’habite un quartier sympa. (I live in a nice area).

7. Balleballe

Balle would literally translate as ‘bullet’ in its singular form.

In the days before the Euro become the official currency, the French created this slang word to refer to their old currency: the French Franc.

But when the Euro was introduced the word balles seemed to stick around.

Example:

  • J’aime ton pantalon.- Merci. Je l’ai acheté au marché pour quinze balles. (I like your trousers – Thanks, I bought them at the market for 15 quid).

8. Envoyer Du Pâté

Envoyer means to send and pâté describes a spreadable meat paste, a word that we have borrowed and continue to use in the English language.

For some crazy reason, this expression means something is ‘awesome’ and is commonly used by teenagers and students.

Example:

  • Ca envoie du pâté ! (It’s awesome!)

9. C’est Trop Bien

Trop is often used to say something is more than trés (which means ‘very’). It means something like ‘so’ or ‘too much’. It’s often used to exaggerate how great something is.

Example:

  • C’est trop bien que tu sois venu ! (It’s so cool you came by!)

10. C’est Chouette

The word chouette is used to talk about something that’s pleasing. It’s usually used to describe a person, an object or an event. This expression is only used in a sincere and genuine way.

Example:

  • Je trouve cette couleur très chouette. (I find this colour very nice).

11. Un Mecun mec

The word mec is used for guy in a laid back kind of way just like ‘dude’ or ‘mate’ in English. But it also refers to boyfriend.

To be honest it’s so widely used now that it can hardly be described as slang as you’d probably overhear a bank manager or your teacher saying it.

Example:

  • Tu viens avec ton mec? (Are you bringing your boyfriend?)

12. Une Arnaque

This word basically means something is ‘a rip off’ or a ‘scam’. It’s a great one to use if you are in the centre of the tourist spots in Paris!

Example:

  • Cette annonce est une arnaque. (This advertisement is a scam.)

13. Sans Déc

Sans déc means ‘no kidding’, ‘no way’ or ‘get out of here!’ The word choice is far stronger than in English though.

It’s short for sans déconner. The French often shorten certain words which instantly makes them cool and hipster.

It’s actually a pretty vulgar saying so you’d best use this phrase in casual situations only.

Example:

  • Il a sauté d’un immeuble de trois étages et s’est relevé sans une égratignure. Sans déc! (He jumped from the 3rd floor of a building and stood up without a scratch. No kidding!)

14. Ça Roule

The literal translation would convert to ‘that’s rolling’ in English but in French, it’s used to mean ‘that’s great’, ‘that works for me’ or ‘I’m happy with that’.

If you really want to sound cool then you can say Ça roule ma poule, a little slang rhyme that basically means ‘no worries, honey’.

This is definitely a favourite of mine!

Example:

  • On se retrouve dans le centre à midi? – Ca roule ! (Let’s meet up in the centre at noon. – Okay!/That works for me!)

15. Le Pinard

pinard wine french phrases

We all know the French can be wine snobs (and quite rightly so!).

The word pinard refers to a really cheap and awful tasting wine.The term is said to have been introduced in the early 1900s when soldiers used to drink a horrible wine that was branded as Pinard.

The term is said to have been introduced in the early 1900’s when soldiers used to drink a horrible wine that was branded as Pinard.

Example:

  • C’est quoi ce pinard? (What is this [terrible] wine?)

16. Tranquille

Tranquille is an adjective to describe something relaxing or calm.

However, if you hear it in the streets of France in means something like ‘sure, no probs’.

Example:

  • T’as réussi ton exam? – Tranquille (Did you pass your exam? – Yeah, easy/no problem!)

17. Quoi

This is a very common word that probably doesn’t technically count as slang anymore due to its popularity.

Quoi translates to English as ‘what’. Recently French speakers have taken to adding quoi to the end of their sentences to add a certain level of emphasis.

The good news is that is can literally be added to any sentence without sounding wrong so there’s no fear of failure! It’s probably the easiest one to test out among your French peers.

Example:

  • Il n’avait pas de plan de la ville. Son téléphone n’avait plus de batterie. Il avait oublié le nom de la personne qu’il devait retrouver… Pas de chance, quoi. (He didn’t have a map of the city. His phone was out of battery. He had forgotten the name of the person he was supposed to meet… Tough luck).

18. Bosserbosser

This is an informal way of using the verb travailler or ‘to work’ as we would say in English.

It’s pronounced “buh-say”.

The next time you are having a hectic week try saying something like this …

Example:

  • Je bosse comme une tarée. – I’m working like a crazy person.

19. La Vache !

Une vache is literally a cow but in slang it means ‘oh my god’.

As you can imagine, it’s used a lot by French youngsters.

In a way, it’s not far off the American expression ‘holy cow’ which you might have heard Bart Simpson fondly use if you tuned into The Simpsons back in the nineties.

Example:

  • La Vache ! Tu m’as fair peur ! (Oh my god! You startled me!)

20. Laisse Tomber

This expression means ‘let it go’. It’s used in a ‘drop it’ or ‘never mind’ sort of way.

Some would say it’s slightly more aggressive than its English equivalent so it’s a phrase you probably don’t want to use around people you’re not too cosy with.

It’s actually a great phrase to use talk about learning a language when you can easily tie yourself up it knots trying to explain a simple concept.

Example:

  • Laisse tomber, c’est pas grave! (Just forget it, it doesn’t matter!)

21. #Oklm

oklm

This is a phonetic acronym for the phrase au calme, which literally translates to ‘being quiet’.

More recently, however, it would mean something is cool, calm or chill. It was introduced by French rapper Booba and it took off from there.

It also makes for a great hashtag, so you’ll see it on French Instagram or Twitter posts all the time.

Example:

  • Une belle balade ce soir #oklm (A nice stroll this evening #chilled)

22. T’sais?

This very casual phrase has become so common that it’s hard to imagine life before T’sais.

It means ‘you know’ or ‘do you know what I mean’ and it’s something you would add on at the end of your sentence.

English speakers can definitely relate to this one, as we use something quite similar.

Example:

  • Non, mais j’en ai marre, t’sais? (No, but I’m sick of it, you know?)

23. Allez Savoir Pourquoi

To end this list of French slang I’ve chosen allez saviour pourquoi because it loosely translates as ‘God knows why’ or ‘for whatever reason’.

It’s used to describe a situation you have absolutely no idea about and it’s one of those little extra phrases that makes you sound really authentic when you speak French.

Example:

  • Allez savoir pourquoi j’ai choisi cette dernière expression (God knows why I’ve chosen this as the last expression).

The Next Step Is Up To You …

Well there you have it, twenty-three wonderfully delightful informal French words and phrases that you can use to impress the natives and gain level points up on your language skills.

Now it’s up to you to go out and try a few of them the next time you speak in French. Bonne chance!


Which of these French phrases did you like best? Are there any other colloquial phrases you use when speaking French? Let us know in the comments!

This article was brought to you by Jade at Matinée Multilingual: Voice over agency. Jade is a lover of travelling, blueberry muffins and Instagram.

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