Why do I need to know the word bref?
You might never learn this word in French class but as soon as you get to France you’ll hear it everywhere you go. In fact bref is so widely used it was the name given to a popular French TV sketch.
Learning to use this little word will help you keep up in French conversations and make your own spoken French more natural.
What does it mean?
The adjective bref (of brève in feminine) officially means ‘brief’ or ‘short’ and comes from the word brièvement meaning ‘in a short space of time’. In a sentence you might hear it used like Voici un bilan bref de notre reunion. (‘Here’s a short assessment of our meeting.’)
In writing you might also see en bref (meaning ‘in summary’) used to introduce a concluding sentence or paragraph.
But you’ll most commonly hear bref (or enfin bref or bon bref) used as a kind of filler word thrown in to keep conversations moving.
When used in spoken French bref means something like ‘in a nutshell’, ‘basically’ or ‘anyway.’
For example, if the same points are being repeated over and over again in a discussion, bref could be used to summarize what’s been said and move the conversation on, like Enfin bref, le travail n’est pas encore terminé. Ça va nous prend combine de temps de le finir? (‘So basically, the work isn’t done yet. How long will it take us to finish it?’)
Or, if someone realises the story they are telling has started to get a bit longwinded or people are already familiar with it, they might use bref to stop themselves rambling on and summarise what they are saying, like bref, je n’avais pas trop de retard enfin. (‘Anyway, I didn’t arrive too late in the end.’)
So, how can I use bref in conversation?
Ça nous a fait deux mois d’organiser cette réunion. Enfin bref, je vais aller la voir la semaine prochaine.
It’s taken us two months to organise this meeting. Anyway, I’m going to see her next week.
Bref, tu me comprends.
Anyway, you understand.
Bref, ça ne s'est pas très bien passé.
Basically, it didn’t go well.
(the example above comes from wordreference.com)