Here are some very common French words that are used in everyday speech and which you can express in a more formal way, giving a touch of “sophistication” to your language.
The truth is that you may become fed up with using the same words all the time. With these words you will bring your knowledge of French to the next level and surprise your French friends.
Even if you are a beginner, you will learn here some basic but essential French vocabulary that you will certainly find useful in everyday conversations. You come back later to learn their more advanced synonymes.
Here is a list of 10 French idiomatic expressions that you will probably hear most frequently while in France. The list is rather subjective, as I did not base myself on any official document proving the frequency (Does such such thing exist ?). The only explanation I have is that to my mind these idiomatic expressions are used more often than others. Of course, there are others but I thought these might be the most useful ones for the beginning and intermediate learners of French. Thus, upon your arrival to France you won't be surprised to hear what may at first appear as some strange sounding expressions you have no idea about their meaning.
"Why learn French idioms ?"
You may ask. If you want to get over the "speaking the very basic French" level, you need to get to know some idiomatic expressions. And this is true for any language. That's just the way people like to express ideas. Idioms make the language more vivid, more colorful and more expressive.It's one of the things that shows that you know the language well.
You may also check this website about The French Idioms (origin, explanations, translation).
The List of the 10 Popular Everyday French Idioms:
Prendre quelque chose au pied de la lettre: It is used to describe somebody who believes too seriously in everything he/she hears. Eg. On entend souvent dire que tous les parisiens sont grincheux mais il ne faut pas le prendre au pied de la lettre. C'est juste un cliché.
Il n'y a pas un chat: used to say that there are very few or no people in a particular place. There isn't a soul. Eg.Cet endroit est complètement désert ! Il n'y a pas un chat !
Il pleut des cordes: when it rains a lot and hard. It's raining cats and dogs. Eg. Tu as vu le temps qu'il fait dehors ? Il pleut des cordes ! Hors de question que je sorte !
Il n'y a pas le feu au lac / y'a pas le feu: when you are not in a hurry. There is no panic. Eg. Attends ! Pourquoi t'es si pressé ? Il n'y a pas le feu au lac !
Fumer comme un pompier: to smoke a lot of cigarettes. To smoke like a chimney. / To be a chain smoker. Eg. Ca pue la cloppe chez ton voisin ! C'est parce qu'il fume comme un pompier !
Maigre comme un clou: speaking about someone really thin, a skinny person. Thin as a rake. Eg. Il est maigre comme un clou ! Il ne doit pas peser plus de 50 kilos tout habillé !
Etre au taquet: when you are fully engaged in some activity. To be going flat out / to be going full throttle. Eg. Regarde le ! Il est complètement absorbé par son travail. Ouais, il est vraiment au taquet.
Etre nickel (chrome): when something is neatly / very well done. To be spotless. Eg.(En parlant de nettoyage d'une voiture par exemple) Vous avez fait du bon travail. C'est vraiment nickel ! / C'est nickel chrome !
En avoir marre: to have had enough of something. To be fed up with something. Eg. J'en ai marre de ton comportement stupide ! Je me casse d'ici !
S'en moquer / ficher / foutre: to be completely uninterested or indifferent to something / somebody. Not to give a damn / toss about something. Eg. Tu es au courant que fumer tue ? Oui, me je m'en fous !
Even if you have learned a substantial amount of the French language, once you are in the country you might feel overwhelmed by the way the people speak. One of the reasons will certainly be some of the French expressions that you won’t see in a French language course book. Here you will learn some of the common expressions of the spoken French.
13 Everyday French Expressions
Here is a list of the most common everyday French expressions that you will come across while in France. You will notice them easily as the people will be using them all the time. They are the words and expressions that each French person is using tens if not hundreds of times each day. The list is in no way exhaustive, but it will certainly make the everyday French a bit easier to understand. If you use them correctly, they will also make you sound more native like.
The List (with examples) :
Ouais … : a colloquial way of saying “oui”, or showing that you agree with someone.
Eg. A: “Tu viens ?” Are you coming ?
B: “Ouais, j’arrive…” Yeah, I’m coming
Vas-y ! / Allez-y ! : It means “go on!”, “come on”, or “do it!”. Don’t forget that “vas-y! ” is informal (used between friends and young people) and “allez-y” is formal (adults, people you don’t know, especially older than you people).
Eg. A: “Je n’ai pas encore acheté de billet.”I haven’t bought the ticket yet.
B: “Qu’est-ce que tu attends ? Vas-y !”What are you waiting for ? Go ahead ! (Do it) !
Eg. Formal situation. You want to let someone go in front of you, in a queue for example: “Allez-y (Madame / Monsieur). Vous pouvez passez devant.” Please, Madame, you can go ahead of me.
Je sais pas / Chais pas ! : Literally it means “I don’t know”. In the spoken French you won’t here the “ne” word normally added in negative sentences in writing. In spoken French, especially when spoken rapidly, it will sound more like “chais pas” (also written “ché pas”) than “je sais pas”. Interestingly, it doesn’t work in the affirmative way. You just cannot say “chais / ché” for “Je sais” (I know).
Eg. A: “Qu’est-ce qu’on fait ce soir ?”What are the plans for this evening ? (What are we doing this evening ?).
Je suis / J’suis / Chui: The same principle as in the previous example. In spoken French the “to be” verb in “I am” sounds more like “chouis” than “Je suis” when said rapidly. You will rarely hear the French pronounce all the words from for example “Je suis chez moi” (I’m at my home).
Eg. A: (Au téléphone) “T’es où là ?” Where are you ?
B: “Chui chez moi !” I’m at my place.
Oh là là: Used to express stupefaction. You will hear it a lot.
Eg. Your friend injured him/herself. You may ask: “Oh là là! Qu’est-ce qui t’est arrivé ?! “.Oh my ! What happened to you ?!“
Laisse tomber ! The infinitive form: laisser tomber. To let something go, to drop to, to forget it. Literally “to leave / let (something) fall”
Eg. A: “Je vais l’attendre encore un peu.”I will wait for him (a bit).
B: “Laisse tomber. Il ne viendra pas !”Forget it! He will never come !
Je m’en fous / M’en fous / On s’en fout: It is very informal way of saying “I don’t care”, or simply “I don’t give a damn / shit about … .”. It has a formal equivalent “Je m’en fiche” but you won’t hear it as often as the informal version.
Eg. A: “Tu étais au courant que fumer tue ?”Did you know that smoking kills ?
B: “Oui, mais je m’en fous.”Yes, but I don’t give a damn.
Putain ! The ultimate swear word in the French language. It basically is a pejorative term for a prostitute but it is used in the same context as the English word “f**k”. Nowadays, you can even hear it on tv sometimes. It is also interchangeable with the word “merde” which mean “shit” (literally).
Eg. When you are really irritated: “Putain ! Où est-ce que j’ai mis mes clés ?!”F**k, where did I put my keys ?
C’est bon ! : Literally it mean “It is good.”However, in the spoken language it is more used in the context of “That’s ok / Okay / All right.” You can also used it to express irritation.
Eg. A: “Tu as fini ?”Have you finished ?
B: “Oui, c’est bon. On y va!”Yes, I have (it’s good to go). Let’s go.
On y va ! As seen in the previous example, it means “Let’s go! ” (Literally: “we there go!”)
Eg. Before going out. A man to a woman: “Tu es prête? Si oui, alors on y va !”. You’re ready ? If so, then let’s go !
En fait : Actually / In fact. Many people use it and some overuse it.
Eg. A: “Tu as fait ce que je t’ai demandé ?”Did you do what I asked ?
B: “En fait, je n’ai pas pu. J’ai eu un empêchement.”Actually, I didn’t (I couldn’t). Something came up.
T’inquiète pas. Don’t worry / Never mind / That’s ok. Normally, it should be “ne t’inquiète pas” but in the spoken French the “ne” is frequently thrown out.
Eg. A: “Excuse-moi, j’ai oublié de te rendre ton livre.”I’m sorry (lit. pardon me), I’ve forgotten to take your book.
B: “T’inquiète pas. Tu me le rendras la prochaine fois. “Don’t worry. You will give it back the next time.
C’est clair! : Of course ! / you bet !
Eg. A: “Il aurait pu au moins me prévenir qu’il ne serait pas là !”He should at least have let me know that he wouldn’t come (be here) !”
B: “Oui, c’est clair!.” Of course ! (that he should have).
Please include in the comments which words you think you have heard most often or you think the French people are using most frequently. Merci !