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French language For Members

65 everyday French words they don't teach you at school

The Local France
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65 everyday French words they don't teach you at school
Everyday French life requires some less formal language. Photo by Lucas BARIOULET / AFP

You've diligently learned your French verbs, made your adjectives agree and remembered that a table is feminine - but when you get to France you'll find a whole different French vocabulary used in daily life.

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It's a common experience for foreigners in France to find that the French they learned in the classroom is not exactly how normal French people speak on a daily basis.

Of course there are sayings, swearing and regional dialects to get your head around, but as a starting point we've put together a list of basic words that you will hear a lot in France. 

For more informal French words and phrases, you can sign up to receive our daily French Word of the Day direct to your mailbox - click here

Sex

Where better place to start than "making love". In school (or at least growing up) you'll no doubt be told faire l'amour is the term to use for having sex in French.

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But in reality if you listen to French people, at least the younger ones, talking about this activity you'll likely hear the slang and fairly vulgar terms baiser, ken or niquer. (There are also plenty of nicer expressions to use including coucher - to sleep with).

Obviously like in other languages the world of sex in French comes with its own slang lingo. So while you might learn the body parts penis and vagin in your French text books, you are more likely to hear bite, zizi or queue for penis and chatte, foufoune or zezette for vagina.

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But bear in mind these are very vulgar and should be used with caution, if at all.

Car

The French love (and hate) their cars as much as Anglos do and have bestowed upon their four-wheeled conveyances a tonne of nicknames like la bagnole, la caisse, la tire. In formal settings la voiture is the correct word to use of course.

Toilet

Obviously in school we learn the word toilette. It couldn't be easier. But in reality once in France you are as much likely to hear people use the vulgar slang word chiottes to refer to the loo, bog, john... or 'les vay cay' (les WC) in more formal ones.

Money

This word has scores of slang terms in every language and French is no exception. When you talk about cash you may hear le fric, le pognon, le blé, la thune, l’oseille. But remember the proper word here is l'argent or les espèces if you mean paying by cash, as opposed to card or cheque.

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Wine

No surprise that a country known for its great wine would have tonnes of words for it. The funny thing is many of the slang terms like le pinard, le picrate, le pive, refer to cheap vino. Yes, bad wine is even possible in France. The proper word for wine of course is ‘le vin’.

Demos

You might think a political demonstration is not an everyday event - but that's because you're not French. Whether you're taking part in one or just discussing how it's disrupting traffic, the word la manif is very much part of everyday French. It's short for la manifestation and means a demo or protest march. Often coupled with this is la grève - the strike.

Children

France is recording a steadily declining birth rate, but its number of slang words for children is doing just fine. In the street you’re likely to hear gosse, gamin or môme for little ones. L'enfant is the proper word.

Criminal

The criminal underworld is awash with jargon, presumably in order to cloak its nefarious activities. Here are just a few of the French slang or informal terms for crooks: le voyou, le truand, le malfrat (from malfaiteur). The proper term is le criminel.

Police

Cops seem to employ just about as much slang and jargon as their criminal counterparts. Civilians have taken up the practice of not always flatteringly referring to police as les flics, les keufs, les poulets, les schmitts in France.

Just remember policier is always polite, and we recommend at least being polite to a police officer's face, whatever you say about them behind their back. 

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Work 

When it comes to work the French are often keen to call it anything but the normal word for it. They will frequently use le boulot, le taf, la bosse to talk about their job. The formal word is un travail or un métier and, especially among younger people, you will frequently hear the borrowed Anglicism 'le job'.

Food 

Many, many French expressions use food to paint a picture, which is perhaps some manifestation of the country’s obsession with what’s on the table. However, when referring to food in general you are most likely to hear la bouffe or its cousin the verb bouffer while malbouffe (literally 'bad scoff) is junk food.

When you want to impress, better use the word la nourriture for food or le repas for meal. If you're talking about food shopping, that is les provisions.

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Boyfriend

As affairs of the heart can be complicated, it’s perhaps fitting that there is a slew of words to describe one’s male romantic partner in France. There is le mec, le copain, le loulou. If in doubt the term petit ami is always safe, though a bit old-fashioned.

Girlfriend

French ladies are known in the Anglo world for their trim figure, effortless style and top notch parenting skills. But in France their boyfriends often refer to them with the not always respectful words such as la nana, la copine, la gonzesse, la meuf, la loulotte. If you want to be polite petite amie is fair game.

In more formal situation conjoint is used to refer to a partner or either gender, while ex-conjoint is of course an ex partner.

Hello/Goodbye

The first French words you'll be taught are Bonjour and Au revoir. Don't us wrong they are useful, in fact "bonjour" is probably the most important word in French.

But in informal situations in France you are much more likely to hear salut which can also be used to say goodbye or even Coucou. For goodbye you'll often hear people just sat A Plus or even bisous, which means kisses. To say goodbye by text message, you might see people just say bises.

A drink (of the alcoholic kind)

When a French friend invites you out for a drink it will be a le verre, le pot, le coup. These phrases are generally OK in polite company.

Also, don't believe what they tell you about the French always being restrained drinkers. 

Sleep 

The all-purpose complaint of life being nothing but of Metro, Boulot, Dodo (commute, work, sleep) does contain a slang term for shut-eye. However, “dodo” is primarily baby talk, so it’s not quite as street tough as some of the slang you’ve seen here. Pioncer is more grown up, and refers more to having a nap. The world “sommeil” is just fine when talking to adults.

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School 

With kids being behind most slang words it's not surprising that there is a slang word for school, which is "bahut". And it's the same for university, which you will probably hear students refer to as la fac (short for la faculté).

L'école and l'université are the formal words to use. It's worth noting that "bahut" is also slang for taxi and truck as well. It's pronounced [bah u].

Clothes

If you hear a French person talking about their clothes, you are likely to hear the word fringues, which is the slang version of vêtements. And there's also a slang verb for "to get dressed" - se fringuer - that you can use instead of s'habiller.

Family members

Members of family: There are plenty of slang names for family members in France: frangine for sister (soeur), frangin for brother (frère) or frérot, which would be used like Anglo 'bro', and extends to casually greeting friends, too.

Then there is the slightly derogatory les vieux or les darons, which is used to refer to parents, to the distinctly derogatory belle-doche which is an alternative to belle-mère for mother-in-law (only use if you're certain she's not around). Oh and you might hear the family dog referred to as a clebard rather than a chien.

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To express that you like something

If someone tells you that they kiffe your new hair cut, take it as a compliment. Kiffer means "to like" in a cool, hip way, generally used by younger people.

Another way you might hear French people describing things they like, is by calling it chanmé(/e). Like a lot of French slang, it came from another word being inverted, in this case méchant and means "wicked". So you will understand why older people may not view this as a positive word, either. 

Cigarette

And finally it will come as no surprise to anyone that the French, famous for their smoking habits, have a few different words for cigarettes. Whereas we would say "smokes" they will say clope or sèche while une pause clope is a cigarette break. Best stick to une cigarette if you are in formal surroundings. And if you ask someone for a feu, that is another way of asking for a lighter.

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