10 essential informal expressions in French

After months, maybe years learning French, you finally are in France surrounded by French people and well prepared to understand everything they say. You even know the past subjonctive and the passé simple. In other words, French has no more secrets for you. Well, let’s see that.

 

Sadly, you soon realize you don’t get what your friends are talking about. You start sweating in you clothes and want to flee as far as you can. All right, no need to be so dramatic about it. 🙂 What you should do is to listen carefully. A new language sometimes looks like something too big, thousands of words in the dictionary, an unreachable knowledge… But the reality is that we use a very limited number of expressions in the real world, idioms that use and reuse several times a day.

So, listen up. Here are the 10 expressions the French oversay on a daily basis. 

Note: There are no vulgar words in these expressions. Feel safe to use them in any informal situation!

En fait

– Tu viens avec nous ? → You come with us?

– En fait… j’ai autre chose de prévu. → Well, I have something else. 

 

When to say “en fait”:

    • Give an information your interlocutor doesn’t know.
    • Earn time while thinking about what you’re going to say.
    • Help prepare to say something difficult.

Try it!

Vous voulez un steak?

Du coup

– Tu viens avec nous ? → You come with us?
– J’ai un examen demain. Du coup, j’ai pas le temps. Du coup, désolé. → I have an exam tomorrow. So, I don’t have time. Sorry. 

When to say “du coup”:

    • To express the consequence.
    • To express multiple consequences.
    • To connect sentences.

Try it!

– Pourquoi tu n'es pas venu?

A ce moment-là

– Tu viens avec nous ? → You come with us?
– Non,  je ne peux pas. → No, I can’t.
– Quoi ? Tu refuses toujours de venir. → Why? You always say no.
– J’ai un examen demain. 
→ I have an exam tomorrow.
– D’accord. A ce moment-là, je comprends. → Okay. In this case, I understand. 

When to say “à ce moment-là”:

    • To show you understand a new situation/point.

Try it!

– Tu veux un peu de mon sandwich ? Par contre, je suis malade.

En même temps

– Tu viens avec nous ? → You come with us?
– J’ai envie mais en même temps je suis fatigué. → I want to but in the same time I’m tired.
– En même temps, tu es toujours fatigué. → To be fair, you’re always tired.

When to say “en même-temps”:

    • To show by opposition, the other side of sth. Most of the time, to make it more understandable.

Try it!

– Elle fait toujours trop attention.

Au pire

– Tu viens avec nous au ciné ce soir ? → You come with us to the movies tonight?
– Je ne sais pas. Je dois terminer mon rapport. → I’m not sure. I hav the finish my report.
– Au pire, on se voit demain. → If you can’t, we’ll see tomorrow anyway. 

When to say “au pire”:

    • When the worst case scenario doesn’t seem so bad.
    • To show there is no reason to be dramatic.

Try it!

– Tu veux un peu de mon sandwich ? Par contre, je suis malade.

A priori

– Tu viens avec nous au ciné ce soir ? → You come with us to the movies tonight?
– A priori, non. J’ai un dîner de famille. → I’m not sure. I have a family dinner.
– Ok, appelle-nous pour nous dire. → Well, give us a call to tell us what you do. 

When to say “a priori”:

    • When you are not 100% sure of something.

Try it!

– Si tu ne révises pas, tu vas rater l'examen.

J'avoue

– Tu viens avec nous au ciné ce soir ? → You come with us to the movies tonight?
– Non, ça va être nul. → I’m not sure. I have a family dinner.
– J’avoue. → Well, that’s a good point.

When to say “j’avoue”:

    • When you agree with sb (a friend).

Similar expressions:

    • C’est pas faux

Try it!

– Tu sais pourquoi Pierre n'est pas là ?

N'importe quoi

– Tu viens avec nous ? → You come with us.
– Non, mon père m’interdit de sortir le soir. → No, my father don’t let me go out at night.
– C’est n’importe quoi. → That’s nonsense.

When to say “n’importe quoi”:

    • When sth seems stupid in your eyes.

Try it!

– Tu sais pourquoi Pierre n'est pas là ?

Bof

– Tu viens avec nous voir Batman ? → You come with us see Baman.
– Bof… Il est bof ce film. → I dunno. This movie is lame.

When to say “bof”:

    • When sb proposed you sth and you are not really enthusiastic about it.
    • To say “so-so”, “not really good”.

Try it!

– Il est bon ce gâteau !

Histoire de

– Tu viens avec nous chez Paul? → You come with us at Paul’s house?
– Pour quoi faire? → For what?
– Je sais pas. Juste histoire de. → For nothing in particular.

When do I say “histoire de”:

Express that there is no big reason behind something you do.

Alternative expressions:

Juste histoire de. Histoire de faire quelque chose. Comme ça.

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Try it!

– Il dit que les Français n'aiment pas le bon vin.

To go further, check our lessons for beginners on the frontpage and the ebook Learn French! You’ll find tons of activities to practice and get better!