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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

The French abbrevations you need to blend in

Sometimes, in French, you can expand your vocabulary by cutting it down. Here are the some of the best French slang shortcuts for everyday conversation.

The French abbrevations you need to blend in
Photo: Chris Ford/Flickr
Shortening words is something so common in English that you might not even realize you do it.
 
Photo, gym, maths, mayo… the list goes on and on (and on even further if you're Australian). 
 
If you want to get technical, the shortened words are called apocopes (pronounced a-pocker-pees – a word that comes from the Greek word for “cutting off”).
 
Some of them in French are so normal that even French people might not realize they're using shortened words, like Métro (from Métropolitain).
 
If you're looking to really talk like a French person, add the following words to your vocabulary. But a word of warning, they're mostly informal, so perhaps use them sparingly with your mother-in-law or boss.
 
Comme d'hab
 
Instead of saying comme d'habitude (“as usual”), the French are quite happy to say comme d'hab.
 
 
D'ac
 
The French word for “ok” or “alright” is d'accord. Or simply d'ac, if you're in a hurry. 
 
D'ac! Photo: Sarah Reid/Flickr
 
Then there's the bons…
 
Bon aprèm or bonne aprèm 
 
Short for bon après-midi (or “good afternoon”), this is a classic way to save a syllable and show you're confident with your French. 
 
Bon week
 
Why bother saying bon weekend (have a nice weekend) when you can say bon week? Ironically, as one reader pointed out, this shortening sounds more like you're wishing someone a good week rather than a weekend… 
 
Bon app'
 
No, this isn't what you exclaim when you download a great app for your phone. It's the very common phrase for “bon appétit“. If you spend one lunch in France, you'll almost certainly hear this.
 
And of course bon anniv for bon anniversaire (thanks to a reader for this reminder), which you should say to someone on their birthday, if they are under 40 perhaps.
 
A plate of boeuf bourguignon. Photo: ace_alejandre/Flickr
 
Champ'
 
Nope, it's not champignon, or champion, or Champs Elysées, champ is short for Champagne of course. 
 
Sympa
 
If something is nice, you can say it's sympa (short for sympatique). Eg: J'habite un quartier sympa (I live in a nice neighbourhood).
 
Beauf
 
If a man is vulgar and stupid, you might call him a beauf. This is a shortening of beau-frère (brother-in-law). Little known fact: The word was coined by an artist at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
 
Petit dej'
 
The French word for breakfast, petit déjeuner, is commonly referred to as petit déj’.
 
Photo: Mary St.Germain-Brown/Flickr
 
Apéro
 
Let's face it, no one actually says apéritif in France. They only say that in the UK, to sound French. (Thanks to a reader for this entry)
 
À toute
 
Why say the whole mouthful of à tout à l'heure (see you soon) when you can say just the first bit and get away with it?
 

 
Coloc'
 
Got a roommate (colocataire)? Well the French version of what we might call a “roomie” in English is coloc.
 
Expo
 
“Fancy popping to see an “exhi” at the Louvre today?” Nope, in English we can't really shorten “exhibition”, but in French exposition easily and regularly becomes expo.
 
Restau or resto 
 
Here's another common one – restau for restaurant
 
A pleasant restau. Photo: hotels-paris-rive-gauche/Flickr
 
Clim'
 
Turn up the clim, it's too warm in here! Yes, clim is the shortened word for climatisation (air conditioning).
 
Cap
 
If someone is cap of doing something, it means they're “capable”. Eg: “T'es pas cap” would be a very slang way of saying “You're not capable of doing this”. 
 
Vélo 
 
Here's a little known apocope – the French word for “bike” is a shorter version of vélocipède.
 
Ciné
 
This is the rare double whammy… ciné is the shortened form of cinema – which is actually a shortened version of cinématographe.
 
 
Photo: Punkroyaltiger/Flickr
 
And our favourite:
 
Dégueu
 
A slang word in itself, which should be used with caution, shortens the French word for disgusting (dégueulasse) to “dégueu“. As in “La tête de veau est dégueu” (That veal's head is “disgusto”).
 
Charcut'
 
Fancy a bit of cold, cooked meat? Head down to the charcuterie and pick up some charcuterie. Or, as it should now be known, charcut'. 
 
And lastly… here are some new ones.
 
The beautiful thing about languages is that they're always growing. So here are three words that we invented, which we think need to be added to the above list.
 
Bonj'
 
Short for bonjour, pronounced “bondge”. Think of all the time you'd save if you cut the French word for hello into just one syllable. 
 
Arro
 
Paris is divided into 20 “districts”, which are called “arrondissements” in French. Arrondissements! Four syllables for such a common words. Let's cut the nonsense and call each an arro (pronounced arrow).
 
 
A bit of charc? Photo: jan buchholtz/Flickr
 
Disclaimer: We must stress, these last two words do not exist, so only use them if you're aware that you are joining us in a trailblazing language revolution. 
 
 

Member comments

  1. What about bion……..something I say inadvertently when I can’t decide whether to say bien ou bon…. ?

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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