French expression of the day: Eh bé

If you think French people make weird sounds when they speak, read on.

French expression of the day: Eh bé
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know eh bé?

Because you may have noticed French people saying this when they’re surprised.

What does it mean?

This expression comes from the south, specifically from the Occitan expression e ben (eh bien in standard French) but is used all over France. Wiktionnaire has recordings of different pronunciations from different regions you can listen to here.

Eh bé is similar to filler words like hein, enfin or quoi that make you sound more French.

It’s used to express surprise or to draw attention to a remark, and may be translated as “well, well” or “I say”.

You may also see it spelled in various different ways: hé bé, é bé, eh ben, or even eh bhe like Aya Nakamura in this Twitter post:

Use it like this

Eh ben dis donc! – Well, well, well!

Eh bé, on aurait pas cru! – Well, well, who would have thought!


ça alors! – my goodness!

tiens donc – fancy that

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


French Expression of the Day: Une vache à lait

This might sound like the cheese for children, but it actually has nothing to do with dairy products.

French Expression of the Day: Une vache à lait

Why do I need to know une vache à lait ?

Because if someone describes a potential investment opportunity like this, you might want to consider it.

What does it mean?

Une vache à lait – roughly pronounced oon vash ah lay – translates precisely to ‘a cow with milk’ or ‘a dairy cow.’ However, this phrase has little to do with farming, cheese, or milk.

In practice, une vache à lait is almost synonymous with the English term “cash cow” – or something or someone that is a moneymaker or source of profit. 

The phrase in French comes from the middle of the 16th century and evokes an image of a cow who is being milked without protest, allowing for the farmer to profit off of it. It was gradually extended to people and business ventures as a way of talking about profitability. 

Sometimes, this expression can have a negative connotation, particularly if a person is being called a vache à lait. This would be akin to saying that they are being financially exploited without realising it. 

Use it like this

L’achat de Snapchat a été une vache à lait pour Mark Zuckerberg et Facebook. – The purchase of Snapchat was a moneymaker for Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.

Les parents ont été accusés d’utiliser leur enfant comme une vache à lait en l’inscrivant à des publicités. Ils ont trouvé cette accusation offensante. – The parents were accused of using their child as a cash cow by signing them up for commercials. They found this accusation offensive.