French Language Refresher for Spring 2023: Everyday French Grammar


Spring has arrived—time to refresh your French! Regardless of your experience, it’s essential to revisit your knowledge periodically. Today’s lesson covers everyday, informal French grammar, which may differ from textbook French. Let’s see what you remember!

C’est parti !

1) Informal French Grammar: Cutting vowels in pronouns

In informal French pronunciation:

  • Je → J’ (before any letter)
  • Tu → T’ (before a vowel)
  • And even: il → i (before a consonant)

Couper les voyelles de “Je” et “Tu” = cutting the vowels of “Je” and ‘Tu”

a) Je (I)

Je already becomes J’ before a vowel, in correct and formal French.
For instance: Je + avoir faim = J’ai faim (= I’m hungry)

  • J’apprends = I’m learning
  • J’écoute = I’m listening
  • J’insiste = I insist
  • J’oublie = I forget
  • J’utilise = I’m using [something]

Well in informal French, we extend this rule to les consonnes (= consonants,) as well. For instance, here are some correct French sentences, and then their informal pronunciation:

  • Je pars de chez moi.J’pars de chez moi. (“I’m leaving home right now.”)
  • Je te rappelle demain.J’te rappelle demain. (“I’ll call you back tomorrow.”)
  • Je lis un livre. = J’lis un livre. (= “I’m reading a book.”)
  • Je reprends le français.J’reprends l’français. (= “I’m taking up French again”) ( → Notice that le also often becomes l’ in informal French pronunciation)

Extra mile (blog only) :
It might be too difficult to cut the “e” in “Je” when we already cut another vowel right after. For instance, the “e” in “re-” often gets cut in informal pronunciation. And saying something like “J’r’prends” is a mouthful, even for native French people! So we have to make a choice.
Here, we would say J’reprends or Je r’prends, interchangeably.

Special case : Je + “s–” = “Ch–”

Some verbs that start with “s” get a special pronunciation in fast spoken French. Most notably Savoir (= to know) and Être (= to be) with :

  • Je sais“J’sais” → “Chais” (= “I know”)
  • Je suis“J’suis”“Chuis” (= “I am”)

For instance: “Chuis là !” = I’m here / Here I am.

b) Tu (= singular friendly ‘you’)

Tu becomes T’ before a vowel, in fast informal pronunciation.

For instance:

  • Tu aimes les fleurs.T’aimes les fleurs. (= You like flowers.)
  • Tu oublies tout le temps tes clés.T’oublies tout le temps tes clés. (= You always forget your keys)
  • Tu imagines ?T’imagines ? (= Do you picture it?)
  • Tu es sûr ?T’es sûr ? (= Are you sure?)
  • Tu as le temps ?T’as l’temps ? (= Do you have time?)

“T’es” (= Tu es = you are) and “T’as” (= Tu as = you have) are ubiquitous in everyday spoken French.

c) The extra mile (blog only) : “il” and “ils”

In informal pronunciation:

  • il (= “he / it”) + consonant → “i” (we cut the “L”)
  • ils (= “theywhen it’s not only feminine) → we cut the “L” : “ibefore a consonant, “izbefore a vowel (with la liaison)

For instance:

  • Il est là. “Il est là.” (“He’s here”, no change, before a vowel)
  • Il va à Paris.“i va à Paris” (“He’s going to Paris.”, cut the L)
  • Ils ont bien mangé.“Iz-ont bien mangé” (= “they ate well”, cut the L + the “s” sounds like “z” with “la liaison”)
  • Ils vont chez Martin.“I vont chez Martin” (= “they’re going to Martin’s”, cut the “L”, the “s” is silent before a consonant)

In particular in informal spoken French, Il y a (= there is / there are) is simply pronounced: “Ya”

  • Il y a du café si tu veux. (= There’s coffee if you want some.) → Ya du café si tu veux.”

2) Informal French Grammar: No inversion in questions

a) Yes / No questions : verb & subject

In formal French, to ask a yes/no question, we use l’inversion, between subject and verb, just like English:

  • Tu es sûre. (= You’re sure.) → Es-tu sûre ? (= “Are you sure?”)

Another correct (less formal) structure is using “Est-ce que” (= “Is it that… ?”) without the inversion:

  • Tu es sûre. (= You’re sure.) → Est-ce que tu es sûre ? (= “Are you sure?”)

Click here to learn more:

In informal French, On ne fait pas l’inversion du sujet et du verbe dans les questions. (= We do not use the inversion of subject and verb in a question.)

Instead, we simply add an interrogation point at the end of a statement.

  • Tu es sûre. (= You’re sure.) → Tu es sûre ? (= “Are you sure?”)

And with the rule we’ve seen before:

  • Tu es sûre ? (= Are you’re sure?) → T’es sûre ? (= “Are you sure?”)

Other examples:

  • Tu es là. (= “You’re there.”) → T’es là ? (= Are you there?)
  • Ils ont bien mangé.Ils ont bien mangé ? (= Did they eat well?)

b) Interrogative pronouns

In formal and correct French, we also use interrogative pronouns at the beginning of questions, with the inversion, such as:

  • est-elle ? = Where is she?
  • Quand es-tu arrivée à Paris ? = When did you arrive in Paris?
  • Comment vas-tu ? = How are you doing?
  • Pourquoi apprends-tu le français ? = Why are you learning French?
  • Combien de personnes sont là ? = How many people are here?
  • Combien coûte cette robe ? = How much does this dress cost?
  • Qui est ton auteur préféré ? = Who’s your favorite author?

In informal French, we often place the interrogative pronoun at the end of the question. For instance:

  • Où est-elle ?Elle est où ?
  • Quand es-tu arrivée (à Paris) ?Tu es arrivée quand (à Paris) ?

You can specifically practice these few very common informal questions:

  • Où es-tu ? T’es où ? (= Where are you?)
  • Qui est-ce ? / Qui es-tu ?C’est qui ? / T’es qui ? (= Who is it? Who are you?)
  • Qu’est-ce que c’est ? → C’est quoi ? (= What is it?)
  • Que fais-tu ? → Tu fais quoi ? (= What are you doing?)

Notice that “Que” (= “what” as a subject, like “what is it?”) becomes “quoi” at the end of a sentence (it becomes a grammatical object).

Click here to learn more: “Quoi” in French – Comme une Française

3) Informal French Grammar: Drop the “ne” in negations

Enlever le “ne” des négations = drop the “ne” in negative sentences.

In formal or correct French, a negation is often constructed with “ne… pas” :

  • Je ne sais pas. (= I don’t know.)
  • Elle n’oublie pas ses clés. (= She doesn’t forget her keys.)

But in spoken French, we drop the “ne” almost automatically:

  • Je ne sais pas.Je sais pas. ( → “Chais pas.”)
  • Elle oublie pas ses clés.

Extra mile for the blog:
The same thing applies to other negations than “pas”, such as:

  • Je ne l’ai jamais vu.Je l’ai jamais vu. (= I never saw it.)
  • Il ne mange rien. → Il mange rien. (= He doesn’t eat anything.)
  • Il n’y a personne ici.Ya personne ici. (= Nobody’s here.)

4) Informal French Grammar: Informal pronouns (blog only)

Instead of using “nous” (= we) as a subject, we use “on” (with the 3rd person conjugation.)
Nous allons partir. (= “We’re going to leave.”) → On va partir.

For a singular “you”, formal French uses “vous” (= the plural “you”), but in informal French with French or family, we use tu (= singular “you” for closeness) instead.

Click here to learn more: Tu or Vous ? – Comme une Française

5) Informal French Grammar: Practice with examples

Apply those rules to the following examples:

  • Je ne sais pas. (= I don’t know.)
  • Auras-tu le temps de dîner avant le spectacle ? (= Will you have time to have dinner before the show?)
  • N’ont-ils pas pris leurs clés ? (= Didn’t they take their keys?)

These sentences, pronounced as is, sound very formal in a spoken conversation.
How would you say that in informal spoken French?

By applying the rules above, we get:

  • “Chais pas.”
  • “T’auras le temps de dîner avant le spectacle ?”
  • “Ils ont pas pris leurs clés ?” (and the “L” is silent in “Ils”)

Finally, a word of warning:

  • French grammar rules are pretty different between correct written French and informal, often spoken, French.
  • You need these rules to understand spoken French conversation.
  • They can help you make French sentences more easily.
  • However, do not use the rules of informal spoken French, in a written exam or an official letter!

Keep exploring spoken French, and practice your understanding.
Click here to get your next lesson:

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!

→ If you enjoyed this lesson (and/or learned something new) – why not share this lesson with a francophile friend? You can talk about it afterwards! You’ll learn much more if you have social support from your friends 🙂

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Join the conversation!

  • Informal French is difficult !!
    A French friend sent me a message « ça te dit ? »
    I replied « no you didn’t tell me.. « !
    Laughter followed.. it seems it means « what do you say ? «  « how about it, are you in? « 😂😂
    It’s a whole different world to school French..
    I suppose explaining « are you up for it ? “ to a French person is the same …😉

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