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16 phrases to make your French sound more authentically local

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16 phrases to make your French sound more authentically local
Any conversation in France is likely to be littered with verbal tics. (Photo by Ludovic Marin / AFP)

They're the sort of phrases that provoke tuts from older relatives and despairing newspaper columns from language experts - but as a French learner they could be just what you need to make you sound a little more local and less like you're in the classroom.


The French pepper their conversations with all sorts of verbal tics and phrases - not to mention argot (we’re looking at you, verlan) - that you never were and never will be taught in class.

They're perhaps not the the thing to roll out in your language exam, but you will hear them all the time in daily life in France. 

So what are the French versions of ‘like’, and ‘sort of’, and ‘know what I mean’ that you can throw into your daily conversation so you sound more like a local and less like a stunned honour roll student?

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You're unlikely to see these written down very often, we're firmly in the realm of spoken French here.

Du coup

You’ll hear this a lot, especially from younger folk. It literally translates as “of the blow”, which seems pretty meaningless, but is the French version of the English verbal tics "so" or "like" - you can remove it from the sentence and the meaning stays pretty much the same, but it's very authentically French. 

Du coup tu pourras me ramener ? So, will you be able to take me home?

Il est arrivé en retard. Du coup, il doit travailler jusqu'à 19h ce soir. He arrived late. So, he has to work until 7pm this evening.

For language learners, the bonus of this is that it will allow you an extra second to remember how to conjugate that verb. 

Et si

Literally "and if", this is used at the beginning of a sentence to mean "what if...", or "how about..." basically it's a shorthand way to indicate that what you're about to say is a suggestion or a hypothesis, not a fact. 

It's practical in written and spoken French because it adds a good dose of rhythm, and once you've used it once you'll wonder how you ever lived without it. 


En fait

The French for in fact, in fact. And, in fact, you can use it as you would use in fact in English. 


It’s the perfectly ordinary French verb avouer - meaning “I confess”, or “I admit” - doing sterling moonlighting work among our fellow young people as an expression of agreement. Think “fair point” and you won’t be far wrong.

If you think exclaiming "I admit" doesn't make much sense, you’re not alone, because it divides opinion in France. Much like verlan, it’s an element of speech which traditionalists find particularly upsetting.


You’re at a friend’s house for dinner, and they serve up something that looks and smells amazing. Just say miam (myam) and look hungry, and you’ll be invited back - it means yummy. 



The exact opposite of miam. Often said to sound like vomiting. Definitely do not use it at a friend’s dinner party. Think yuck, or barf.

Comme quoi

This one literally means "like what", but it's a really versatile expression that you can use as, "which just goes to show". 

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Quoi, en fait, is a very useful verbal tic. You can also use it on its own, after pretty much any statement you make, as an emphasis marker - and you can't get much French than that, what?

For example: Ca se fait pas, quoi ! – I mean, that’s unacceptable!

Ou quoi?

Or what? Possibly save this one for an argument (probably about driving).

Vous êtes fou ou quoi ? - Are you mad, or what?



A word - it means what that - to strike terror into the hearts of French students everywhere, as it is used at the beginning of a sentence followed by the subjunctive, to mean, "Although..." 

But, as we’re not mean enough to impose the subjunctive on anyone (stares hard at French), you can also use it to simply mean “then again” to indicate doubt. Like this..

Je devrais être chez moi toute la journée demain. Quoique… - I should be at home all day tomorrow. Then again…

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Par contre

Officially, it means however, or anyhow and is routinely scattergunned through French footballers’ press conferences without fear or accuracy.


Quand-même - pronounced con memm, but often swallowed into something that sounds like a bit of a cough, literally translates as 'when same'.

Its actual meaning is a bit more vague - it means several different things in France depending on context. Which, of course, makes it difficult to define - it can mean ‘really’, or ‘anyway’, or ‘even so’, or even ‘wow’. Or ‘despite’, or ‘at least’, or ‘even though’. 

Like “du coup”, it doesn’t really add much to a sentence except emphasis - especially if you mangle it up, as they do in the south west of the country so it’s more qua’emg than quand-même.



Perhaps you've been warned not to say Je suis excité (I'm excited) because it’s a bit risque in French (it's mostly used to mean sexual arousal) so you find yourself repeating J'ai hâte (I can't wait) whenever you're looking forward to something.

The colloquial vivement will be a welcome addition to your repertoire. It's like the English "Bring on..." Commonly used when you've just about had enough, for example: Vivement les vacances ! - Roll on the holidays!


This little noise - sometimes lengthened to hop-là - is really just punctuation or a running commentary. It basically means 'I am doing something' and you'll hear it a lot from shop assistants, work colleagues or perhaps at the doctor as they go through the process of fetching down your order, preparing your blood test, organising your file.

It's like a very efficient way of saying 'right, just on with this now, just a moment, nearly ready, here we go' all in a single syllable. Efficient language, French. 


It's use in English is more dramatic, like a 'ta-da' or big reveal moment, but in French it's much more of a low-key everyday phrase.  

It’s verbal punctuation, an everyday addition to general phrases - when the waiter brings your coffee, when you're scrabbling around in your purse and find the correct change, when you've signed the document and hand it back. It says you’ve finished. 

But we haven't...

Voilà quoi 

Finally, there’s this verbal tic chimera. It means there it is, then. And it does exactly the same thing as voilà, only it takes longer to say. Perhaps because it’s a little more definitive. Donc, voilà quoi.

The case against

As we mentioned, not everyone loves these. Younger French people will often tell you that their parents tell them off for using too much du coup or en fait, and demand they speak 'proper' French.

Françoise Nore, a doctor of linguistics and translator, noted in an interview with BFM TV that these conversational habits, “are not only not useful, in that they do not provide any information, but very often they are inaccurate”.

All of which is true, but also boring - these are fun and will make your speech sound much more authentically French, however much they annoy the purists. 


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