1. Mon pote
This is a pretty basic one. Pote is an extremely common French slang term for ami (friend), and mon pote is similar to ‘mate’, ‘buddy’, ‘pal’ or ‘chum’.
If your French male friend asks you, Tu veux venir au match ce soir ? – Do you want to come to the match? – but you have to work, you can reply Désolé mon pote, je suis occupé – Sorry mate, I’m busy.
However mon pote (or ma pote for women) can be just a referral to ‘my friend’, as in Mon pote Louis est toujours en retard – My friend Louis is always late.
Its plural version, les potes, means just ‘friends’, and is not gender specific. Ca va les potes ? – how’s it going guys?
2. Mon gars
Mon gars is perhaps a tad more affectionate than mon pote. It translates as ‘my boy’ or ‘my guy’, but gars, which is short for garçon, can mean un brave type – a brave fellow.
It’s perfect for comforting others, like if your mate just got his heart broken or needs a bit of cheering up; ça va aller, mon gars – ‘you’ll be alright, mate’.
Unlike mon pote/ma pote and mon copain/ma copine, mon gars doesn’t have a female version and only works on blokes – except in its plural form, les gars, which means ‘guys’ and can used on either gender.
3. Mon grand
Mon grand literally translates as ‘my tall’, as grand is French for ‘big’ as in ‘tall’ and not ‘fat’ (which is a bit counter-intuitive and foreigners often struggle to remember it when embarking on their French lessons).
Also counter-intuitively, mon grand has nothing to do with a person’s height. A grandfather out fishing with his grandson could yell C’est ça, mon grand ! – That’s it, big guy!, when the tiny little boy catches a fish.
It’s a friendly and affectionate expression, often used among male friends. It doesn’t need the mon; Salut grand – hi mate.
There is a female version, ma grande, which means the same for women. Merci ma grande – thank you dear/hun (depending on who says it).
4. Mon vieux
However, it’s important to be friendly with the person in question, especially if he is older than you. If you’re in your 20s and say mon vieux to a French pensioner, it could be interpreted as quite rude.
This does have its English equivalent of course, but while ‘old man’ or ‘old boy’ are now rarely heard outside World War II movies, in France it is still frequently heard to refer to mon vieux or (for a woman) ma vieille if you mean mate or pal.
Gros, which means ‘fat’, is another common French term of endearment that sounds like an insult.
Ca va gros? – Alright fatty? is by no means a reflection of a person’s physique, it’s just a friendly greeting, similar to ‘alright, bro?’.
Gros is slangier and younger than vieux or grand, more often heard in high school yards than around a game of boules (the sport French old men are known to love).
6. Mec – ‘dude’
Mec is used for men and again can be used for talking about someone or to them. Ca va, mec? would roughly translate as ‘Alright mate?’
Mec is extremely common among young people in France and both men and women use it frequently in everyday language.
Alongside mon pote and mon gars, mec is actually so common that South Park French version made a parody sketch ridiculing the frequent usage of the terms.
Crucially, mec should not – contrary to most of the other terms on the list – be accompanied by a mon, unless you’re referring to your boyfriend rather than your mate. Mon mec is French slang for mon copain – my boyfriend.
The female equivalent of mec is meuf – a Verlan version of femme (woman). While this term was considered slightly sexist, women have reclaimed it and you will frequently hear younger girls referring to mes meufs (my gal pals) or greeting each other with ça va, meuf – OK love?
Frère is French for ‘brother’ and frérot means ‘bro’.
Both frère and frérot are common terms of affection for men, used the same way as English speakers use ‘bro’. Both, especially frérot, are slangy and young.
If you want to buy a round for your mate, you can say; T’inquète pas frère, c’est pour moi. – Don’t worry brother, I’ve got it.
8. Les copain
Les copains is more commonly used in its plural form than the single version mon copain. It’s a broad term that can mean ‘friends’, ‘pals’, ‘lads’, ‘fellas’ or ‘guys’ – whatever your fancy.
Ça va les copains ? – How’s it going lads/guys?
Men sometimes use copain in referral to their mate, but if someone refers to mon copain or ma copine it’s likely they’re talking about a romantic partner.
For more French words and expressions, head to our French word of the Day section.