Essentials of Spoken French – French Filler Words

Sometimes, informal words don’t really mean anything. Such as “umm”, “like”, “yah”… They’re more punctuation than real words.

French people rely on these “filler words” constantly when speaking – even when they’re trying not to!

These filler words are a great tool to stall for time in a conversation, when you’re looking for your words – even though they might sound indecisive.

Which words are they? How can you finally understand them? How can you use them?

Let’s dive in.

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1) “Euh”

Euh (= like “umm” / “hmm” in English) is the most common French filler word. We say it as a reflex to fill up silence, while we’re looking for words.

Filler words are also called des tics de langage (= language tics.)

2) “Tiens”

Tiens” (= literally “hold on” / “take this”, with a silent “s”) is used to grab someone’s attention.
As in “Tiens, prends mon parapluie.” → “Hey, here, take my umbrella.”

(In this meaning, you can use “Tenez” instead if you’re using “vous” instead of “tu” : Tu or Vous, what’s the difference?)

Or you can use “Tiens” as “Oh! That’s surprising, unexpected.” Then it’s invariable.

So if your friend says Tiens, il pleut, she means “Oh, it’s raining.”
She is not asking you to hold or take anything!

3) “Tu vois”

Tu vois (= “You see?” / “See?”) is another verb used as a filler.
Just like “See?”, it’s not always literal – it can simply mean “please understand what I’m saying.”
J’ai pas le temps là, tu vois ! = I don’t have time for right now, you see!

4) “Bon”

Bon (= “Good” / “Well”, with a nasal vowel “on”) can be used as a regular adjective (as in un bon gâteau” = a good cake)… or as a filler word. Just like “Well.” There’s often a meaning of “Well, that’s enough, let’s end this conversation.”

Bon, on y va ? = Are we finally going to go?
Ah bon ? = Oh, really?
Ah bon. = Oh, OK.

5) “Eh bien”

Eh bien is a very short filler expression that means : “Well…”

It’s rarely used, actually. But its variations are very popular. Everyday French conversation often uses “Bah” / “Ben” (pronounced “bin” with nasal vowel “in”).

These common filler words are informal, degraded pronunciations for “eh bien.”

For example:
Bah… oui. = Well, yeah, obviously.
Ben non. = Well, no.

6) “Hein”

Hein sounds like “un” (= one). It’s not very elegant, yet it’s one of the most common French filler words.

It can mean:
“What did you say?” / “What was that?”:
Hein ? (with a look of surprise or confusion)

– “Isn’t it ?” / “Right?” :
Vous m’attendez pour partir, hein ? Hein ? (= You’re waiting until I arrive so we can leave together, right? Right?)

– Adding weight to an order or a warning:
Fais attention, hein ! (= Be careful, alright!)

– Pure filler, for surprise or a realization:
Hein ! C’était ça ! (= “Ooooh, so that’s what it was.”)

7) “Quoi”

Quoi (= “What”) is used a lot. A lot.

Quoi ? = What? What did you say?
N’importe quoi… = Nonsense. / Whatever.

And as a pure filler, in informal spoken French, it can mean something like “come on!” or “that’s all.

J’ai juste fait une erreur, quoi… = I only made a mistake, that’s all…
Mais écoute-moi, quoi ! = Come on, listen to me!

8) “Genre”

Genre (pronounced like “jorr” with a soft “j”) means “a kind of” in French. It’s also the word for “gender.

And it’s also used as a filler, meaning something like “as if” or “like.”

Genre tu connais Matthieu. = As if you knew Matthieu! (You’re lying!) [playfully]

J’étais là, genre, j’attends le bus, quoi, et alors… = I was there, like, I was simply waiting for the bus, you know, and then…

It’s more used among younger people, but you can hear it in everyday French.

9) “Nan, mais…”

Nan, mais… (= “No, but..”) is my mum’s favorite filler word!
It can fit at the start of almost any sentence in a conversation.

Nan, mais, on peut partir demain sinon. = No but I mean, we can leave tomorrow, alternatively.

However, you can also remove it from almost any sentence – and you’ll sound much more assertive! Don’t weaken your words or apologize for saying what you want to say… mom!

10) “Voilà”

Finally, Voilà (= “There it is” / “That’s it.”) is my favorite filler word.
It’s short, it sounds good, and you can use it to agree with someone or to put weight on your words.

Voilà, c’est ça. = Yes, that’s it.
On a décidé comme ça, et voilà. = We made that decision, and that’s all.

Et voilà, now you can use and understand everyday French filler words ! Congrats! 🎉🎉🎉

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Join the conversation!

  • I LOVE your classes, Geraldine, and especially because I have been neglecting my French for a few months during this virus pandemic. It is such a treat to open your e-mails and read & attempt to write French !

  • So, in the example, “J’ai pas les temps la…” not only are the p and s silent but the “m” as well; ce pas??

    • Bonjour,

      That is correct. However, the e and the m are part of the same sound /tɑ̃/

      I hope this helps.

      Bonne journée et bonnes fêtes,

      Comme Une Française Team

  • A couple of words I seem to hear a lot recently are ‘du coup’, or that’s what it sounds like. I think it means ‘and so’ or ‘therefore’. Am I right?

  • En anglais, il me rend fou quand on dit, comme fillers, « you know », or « like ». Mes enfants utilize ces mots tous le temps. Maintenant, je comprends que c’est un truc universelle. Ça me fait mieux!

  • merci, je suis très impressionné par votre site et les opportunités d’apprendre des phrases plus familières. J’ai rejoint la liste d’attente pour la prochaine séries de réunion « Comme Une Française » fortement recommandée par une autre étudiante de mon groupe français ici à Waiheke Island!

  • Bah, oui, I think I’ll be using a LOT of these — especially now in the beginnings of my learning ! Alors merci for these very useful phrases, Geraldine. AND, thank you for mentioning the catch-all, Voila ! As I told you in a separate email, I love the current chanseuse, Barbara Pravi and her song by the same name. Bon, Voila ! À bientôt !

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