Top 10 French expressions to sound like a native

Off on holiday to France or Belgium this summer?

Want to sound like a native when you’re speaking the language of Molière?

You’ve come to the right place – check out this list of French words and expressions below, complete with handy tips on how to use them!

If you’d like to find some more French expressions, why not have a read of the funniest French idioms (in my humble opinion, of course) here and part two of the list of idioms here?

Bonne lecture !

1. Chou

While ‘chou’ can mean ‘cabbage’ in English, it can also be translated as ‘cute’ or ‘adorable’. So by that logic, then, an ‘adorable cabbage’ would be translated as ‘un chou chou’. Ah, the wonders of French.

Do say: “Le chaton est trop chou !” (“The kitten’s absolutely adorable.”)


2. Fric

In English, we don’t just use money – our currency ranges from ‘dough’ and ‘dosh’ to ‘bread’, ‘cash’, ‘moolah’ …. and the list goes on.

In French, they’ve got ‘thune’, ‘oseille’ (also the word for ‘sorrel’ incidentally), ‘pognon’, ‘fraîche’, ‘artiche’ and, last but not least, ‘fric’. Apparently it comes from the Arab word for ‘crushed wheat’. You heard it here first.

Do say: “Ils gagnent plein de fric !” (“They’re filthy rich.”)



3. Avoir mal au cœur

If you find yourself having a funny turn while in a French-speaking country, why not try out this phrase? It literally means ‘to have an ache in the heart’, but can be used whenever you feel under the weather.

Ideally, this should be announced dramatically – ‘J’ai mal au cœur!’ – to a crowd of obliging admirers who are ready to whip out the smelling salts and catch you as you faint in a suitably photogenic manner.

Do say: “Oh, comme j’ai mal au cœur !” (“I’m really feeling under the weather.”)


4. Raplapla

The perfect thing to say when you’re totally worn out and have no energy left. Why go to all of the trouble of explaining how incredibly tired you are when three satisfying syllables can do the job just as well?

Do say: “Je viens d’aller courir 10 kilomètres et maintenant je suis raplapla.” (“I’ve just run 10 kilometres and now I’m wiped out.”)

Or you could simply say: “je suis raplapla.” Job done.


5. La vache!

A bit like ‘oh my God’ in English or even ‘OMG’, a favourite expression of mine as a teenager, ‘la vache’ is used to express anything like surprise, disappointment or admiration.

Do say: “Il a gagné au Loto ? La vache !” (“He won the lottery? Wow!”)



6. Avoir le cafard

Literally translated in English as ‘to have the cockroach’, this is a great expression for when you’re feeling a bit low or upset. Or perhaps for when you’re going through an oh-so-French existential crisis.

Do say: “J’ai le cafard aujourd’hui !” (“I’m so down today!”)


7. Ça marche

This is good to use for when you’ve confirmed or agreed to an arrangement. It can be literally translated in English as ‘that works’, but in this context it means something along the lines of ‘that sounds good’ or ‘that’s great’.

Do say: “Rendez-vous à midi ? Ça marche.” (“Want to meet at lunchtime? That sounds good.”)

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8. En avoir ras-le-bol

The literal meaning of this is ‘to have a bowl full of it.’ Of what, I’ve no idea. Cereal? M&Ms? Puppies?

Whatever it is, it’s the ideal expression to use when you’re completely fed up and have had enough.

So from now on, if you get woken up by your neighbours having the builders in at 6am, you need to stay late at work and the weather’s terrible, you’ve got the perfect response ready.

Do say: “Oh là là, j’ai trop de travail et ma voiture est en panne. J’en ai ras-le-bol !” (“Oh God, I’ve got way too much work and my car’s broken down. I’ve had enough!”)


9. Grand moment de solitude

We’ve all been through those tricky moments when you meet someone for the first time, you get chatting and then you suddenly find … you’ve got nothing left to say. And there’s an awkward silence.

Well, now there’s a word for it. The French don’t call it an ‘awkward silence’ but simply say that it was a ‘great moment of solitude’. Gallic shrug optional.

Do say: “Aujourd’hui au travail, je suis tombée devant tout le monde. Grand moment de solitude !” (“Today at work, I fell over in front of everyone. There was an awkward silence.”)


10. Faire la grasse matinée

This one’s definitely my personal favourite – I love how unusual it is. The Brits and Americans might have a lie-in on weekends, but how about in France, Belgium and Canada?

It’s non to ‘the lie-in’ and oui to ‘doing the fat morning’.

Do say: “Demain, c’est samedi. Je ferai la grasse matinéé.” (“It’s Saturday tomorrow. I’ll have a lie-in.”)


What do you think of these expressions?

Which expressions or phrases are your favourites?

Feel free to get in touch on here by leaving a comment – as always, I’d love to hear from you 🙂



7 Comments Add yours

  1. Ha, I love these. Some I knew, some are new! I’m off to brush up my French…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! It’s so nice to hear that you enjoyed reading them 🙂 Are you planning a holiday in France soon?


      1. I really must. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t managed to get to France in nearly 10 years despite having lived there as a student… I’ll keep an eye on your blog for some trip ideas!


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