French Word of the Day: bref

This one little four letter word will make your spoken French sound so much more native and natural.

French Word of the Day: bref
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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

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French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

This might look like a mix of Spanish and French, but it is definitely not Franish.

French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

Why do I need to know mettre le holà?

Because you might need to do this if your friends go from laughing with you to laughing at you. 

What does it mean?

Mettre le holà – pronounced meh-truh luh oh-la – literally means to put the ‘holà’ on something. You might be thinking this must be some clever mix of Spanish and French, but ‘holà’ actually has nothing to do with the Spanish greeting. 

This expression is a way to say that’s enough – or to ‘put the brakes on something.’

If a situation appears to be agitated, and you feel the need to intervene in order to help calm things down, then this might be the expression you would use. Another way of saying it in English might be to ‘put the kibosh on it.’

While the origins of ‘kibosh’ appear to be unknown, ‘holà’ goes back to the 14th century in France. Back then, people would shout “Ho! Qui va là?” (Oh, who goes there?) as an interjection to call someone out or challenge them. 

Over time this transformed into the simple holà, which you might hear on the streets, particularly if you engage in some risky jaywalking. 

A French synonym for this expression is ‘freiner’ – which literally means ‘to break’ or ‘put the brakes on,’ and can be used figuratively as well as literally. 

Use it like this

Tu aurais dû mettre le holà tout de suite. Cette conversation a duré bien trop longtemps, et il était si offensif. – You should have put a stop to that immediately. That conversation went on for too long, and he was so offensive. 

J’ai essayé de mettre le holà à la blague sur ma mère, mais ils étaient sans pitié. – I tried to put a stop to the joke about my mother, but they were merciless.