some common french expressions

Let's be honest; the process of learning French takes years, but it can be considerably speeded up by spending as much time in France as possible, listening to the spoken language (as well as trying it for yourself). 

But you must realise that no matter how much you achieve over the years, the French will always detect something in your speech that gives you away. I doubt you'll ever really get away with trying to convince French people that you are one of them. So, satisfy yourself with being French in spirit, and offering the best possible rendition of what it is you want so say...make the effort and the French will appreciate it

To help you on your way, here is a list of some common expressions. Listen for them; use them whenever you can, you'll be surprised how nicely they fit in with what you already know. The translations given are the most common; as you practice your French, you'll come across many variant meanings, and different occasions when the same expression means different things according to your social relationship with the group you're in...but now we're getting into slang (mots argots)...


...within reason, and not to whole conversations, that would be impolite, but to everyday greetings, informal chat in a supermarket, for example, or the bakery, how people order food and drink...

Gradually, words you recognise start to emerge from the chatter, and then whole sentences. Then, use them yourself...using them is the best way of remembering them. Bon chance!

à cause de because of, due to

à la fois at the same time

à la vôtre! cheers! - also santé

allez-y! Go (as in when you are giving way to someone)

allons-y! let's go!

à mon avis in my opinion

à peine hardly

à peu près about, approximately, nearly

a priori at first glance, in principle

à tes souhaits! Bless you! - as when someone sneezes, but note you can only use 'tes' if the someone who sneezed is someone you are on 'tutoyer' terms with; if it's, perhaps, someone in a group that you don't know very well, you can still bless them, but say 'à vos souhaites!' instead.

au cas où just in case

au contraire on the contrary

au fait by the way

au fur et à mesure as, while, i.e. at the same time

au lieu de instead of, rather than

avoir l'air (de) to look (like)


bien entendu of course, obviously

bien sûr of course

à bientôt see you soon

Bon anniversaire! Happy birthday!

Bon appétit! Enjoy your meal!

bon marché inexpensive, cheap


ça m'est égal it's all the same to me

ça ne fait rien never mind, it doesn't matter

ça va? how's it going? [In response, this means 'Fine!']

ça vaut le coup it's worth it

c'est it is; c'était it was

c'est-à-dire that is, i.e., I mean

ce n'est pas grave it doesn't matter, no problem

un coup de fil phone call

un coup d'œil glance, quick look


d'ailleurs moreover, besides

du coup as a result

du jour au lendemain overnight

du tout not/none at all


en effet indeed, that's right

en fait in fact

enfin well, I mean

en retard late

être en train de to be in the process of doing something


faire cadeau to give (something)


grâce à thanks to


il(s) est (sont) it is/they are

il faut [que] it's necessary [that]

il y a there is, there are


J'arrive! I'm on my way!

Je n'y peux rien There's nothing I can do about it. Or, on n'y peut rien - there's nothing anyone can do about it

Je n'y suis pour rien It's got nothing to do with me

je t'aime I love you


métro, boulot, dodo [slang expression for] the rat race; it means underground train, work, sleep


n'importe quoi whatever


oh là là oh dear, oh no

on ne sait jamais you never know

on peut se tutoyer? can we use tu?

On y va? Shall we go? Ready?


par contre whereas, on the other hand

pas du tout not at all

pas mal not bad, quite a bit

pas terrible not that great, nothing special

plus ça change... the more things change...

prendre une décision to make a decision


quand même anyway, really, finally

quoi de mieux? what could be better?


rien à voir nothing to do with


si tu veux if you will

si vous voulez if you wish/will


tant mieux it's just as well, even better

tant pis oh well, too bad, tough

tout à coup all of a sudden

tout à fait absolutely, exactly

tout à l'heure in a moment

tout de suite right away, immediately

tout d'un coup all at once


valoir le coup to be worth it

voilà there is, that's it

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