Spoken French Vocabulary: French People Would Never Say These 5 Words

Expanding your vocabulary is a great way to ensure you’ll be understood in spoken French. But what if the words you’re learning are actually… never used by French people?

To sound less like a tourist and improve your French fluency, you must know which words to use and which to avoid. Let’s check out 5 types of words you should scrap from your vocabulary to sound more authentically French.

C’est parti!

1/5 – Real words that we never use
2 / 5 – Words and expressions that don’t exist
3/5 – Words and expressions that aren’t used this way
4/5 – False friends (“les faux amis”)
5/5 – Fake “French” stuff
Recap & Practice

1/5 - Real words that we never use

English-speaking culture has embraced a few French expressions that, over time, have become a signal for whimsical French flair. It’s fine and funny; it’s a quick way to show that a character speaks French, but you should know that real French people don’t use them.

1) Sacrebleu
It used to be a mild swear word for surprise or disappointment, a euphemism for Sacré Dieu (= “Holy God” or “Dear God!”). French people stopped using it around the 18th century, and you’ll never hear it in spoken French. Yet British writers kept using it anyway.

2) Zut alors !
Zut ! is an expression of anger and frustration that you would use around children or in polite company instead of saying the rude swear word: “Merde !
But it’s been a long time since I’ve heard it, especially in French media. French people simply started swearing more, and it’s become common to say simply:
Et merde. (= Shit.)
But even if you hear a “Zut !” sometimes, the expression “Zut alors !” becomes such a cliché that we won’t use it anymore, or at least not, as we say, au premier degré (= straightforwardly, un-ironically).
I always talk about French in France with the Parisian accent you’ll hear in the media and movies. Things might differ in other regions or francophone countries.

3) Comme ci comme ça.
Literally, “like this, like that”, it means “more or less,” “kind of.” And we don’t use it in France!
Comme ci, comme ça does have a fun ring to it, and that’s why many French classes will teach it to their students as a first mildly colloquial expression of everyday spoken French. It’s okay, and people will understand what you say. It’s a real expression! But in actual spoken French, we never really say this. Instead, we would say things like: “Bof”, “Moyen”, or “Pas mal” = More or less, not bad.
–  Ça va ?
–  Ouais, bof. Moyen. (= Yeah, kind of. More or less.)

You can also say:
–  Pas top.
–  Pas ouf.
–  Plus ou moins.

2/5 - Words and expressions that don’t exist

1) Jour de la Bastille.
I know you’re not going to make that mistake, but just in case, the expression Le Jour de la Bastille (= Bastille Day) doesn’t exist. English-speaking countries started using Bastille Day for the yearly French celebrations of July 14th, but it’s not used in French. The French national holiday is le 14-Juillet (la Fête Nationale). And many people will argue that we don’t actually celebrate the storming of the Bastille on that day anyway.

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2) Bon matin !
It means good morning, but we never use it as a greeting. We simply say Bonjour during the day, including when waking up, and Bonsoir during the evening and night.
One thing about “bon matin”, though, is that it used to mean “early morning”, so you might hear it in some older traditional songs.

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3/5 - Words and expressions that aren’t used this way

These are more complicated, like Bien fait or Mon ami. The subtle thing is we use these expressions in France, but I’ve heard many students use them wrong.

1) Bien fait.
I told you never to say “Bien fait !”. Students will use it as a compliment because they want to say, “Well done!”. But “Bien fait” is not a compliment; it’s more of an insult.
If you want to share positivity, you can use Bravo or Félicitations (= Congratulations) or even Bien joué ! (= Well played!) instead.

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Bien fait” = serves you right, well deserved, “you deserved that bad thing that happened to you”.
C’est bien fait pour toi ! = It serves you right!

However, making things muddier: as an adjective, it does mean “done well”:

  • une tête bien faite = A well-educated or well-formed mind
  • un fromage bien fait = an old, runny, delicious piece of cheese.

It exists as a noun, too.

  • Le bienfait = benefit.
  • Les bienfaits de la lecture sur le développement intellectuel sont largement reconnus. = The benefits of reading on intellectual development are widely recognized.

But in short, if you’re unsure, don’t say “bien fait”, or you might be insulting someone by mistake.

2) Mon ami.
You might sound much more intimate in French than you think. Mon ami is “my friend” – except that in everyday spoken French, we’d say mon pote or un copain for a friend. “Ami” is reserved for a stronger relationship built over a long time and connection. We don’t use it lightly! It’s weird to see it thrown around by supposedly French characters in media. So don’t say “mon ami” if you don’t mean it, or people might think you’re a false friend.

4/5 - False friends (“les faux amis”)

Les faux amis (= false friends or false cognates) are words that seem transparent between languages but mean different things.

It’s pretty straightforward, but still, they might trip you up when you don’t expect it.

  1. La librairie = a bookstore, and not la bibliothèque = the library.
  2. Une exposition = an exhibition ; une exhibition = flashing someone.
  3. Éventuellement = maybe; finalement = eventually.
  4. La chair = the flesh ; une chaise = a chair, to sit on, is.
  5. La location = a rental, a lease, renting something like a house or a car; le lieu, l’emplacement, l’endroit = the place (the location).
  6. Sensible = sensitive ; raisonnable = sensible.
  7. Actuellement = now, right now, currently ; en fait = actually.
  8. Une envie = a desire, a craving ; la jalousie = envy.

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5/5 - Fake “French” stuff

Finally, there’s simply a bunch of things that are called “French” in English, but we don’t see them as French.

1) Les frites = French fries.
These long pieces of une pomme de terre (= a potato) cooked in la friture (= frying oil) actually come from la Belgique (= Belgium)!

2) “French nails”.
They are an American invention from the 1970s that used “French” as a marketing tool to signal elegance. In France, we sometimes call it une manucure française, but more frequently… “une French manucure,” using the adjective in English as a marketing tool! In French, a fingernail is un ongle, not un clou, a metal nail!

3) “French Press” for coffee.
In France, it’s called une cafetière à piston (= coffee plunger). This one was invented in France, but French people don’t know it, so if you mention “une cafetière française”, they won’t understand.
A French press is an easy way to make the strong coffee we love, and it’s faster than une cafetière italienne (= the moka pot), popular in Europe and Latin America.

4) “A French door”.
In French, we don’t say “une porte française”. So, if you used that word, French people would have no idea what you mean by that. The French name for it is descriptive: une porte-fenêtre. Une porte is a door and une fenêtre is a window.

Note that it’s not “un porte-[quelque chose] = a [something] carryer, like:
un porte-serviette (= a towel rail),
un porte-gobelet (= a cup holder) or
un porte-manteau (= a coat rack).

Le truc en plus: The French term “porte-fenêtre” directly translates to “door-window” in English. Historically, it was initially conceptualized in the 17th century in France. These doors provided access to outdoor spaces such as balconies, gardens, or terraces while allowing natural light to flood into interior spaces. Over time, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries, this architectural feature evolved. It became a prominent element in French architecture, often characterized by its large, glass-paneled design, allowing for an unobstructed view of the outside. These doors were commonly utilized in both residential and commercial buildings. The modern “French door” design typically features a pair of doors primarily made of glass and open outward or inward on hinges. These doors enhance interior spaces by allowing more natural light, creating an open and airy atmosphere. They serve as a connection between indoor and outdoor areas and are prevalent in various architectural styles, providing an elegant and functional element to a building’s design.

The reverse happens, too. Sometimes, we use words containing the adjective “américain” or “anglais”, but these expressions don’t exist in English.
filer à l’anglaise = fuir discrètement, filer en douce (= to leave without saying goodbye).
la nuit américaine = Day for night.

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Recap & Practice

We’ve seen some French words that aren’t used:

  • Sacrebleu
  • Zut alors
  • Comme ci, comme ça

Some French expressions that don’t exist in French:

  • Bon matin
  • Bastille Day

And some that we don’t use the way you think:

  • Bien fait
  • Mon ami

As well as words that sound like they mean something else:

  • La chair
  • Éventuellement
  • La librairie

And things called French that aren’t:

  • French fries
  • French nails

So let’s have a short quiz:

  1. How do we call the national French holiday in France?
  2. What’s the French word for “eventually”?
  3. What’s the English translation for “la location”?

Do you have all the answers? Congratulations!
If not, you’ll find them below. Or by watching this video a second time!

Or you can keep learning about understanding fast-spoken French with me!

Click here to get your next lesson:

(The answers: 1. Le 14-Juillet 2. Finalement 3. A rental, a lease.)

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

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Join the conversation!

  • Salut Geraldine !!
    Vous étiez près de la famille de mon amie en Alsace.. ils habitent près de Colmar.. ily a certainement beaucoup de vignes dans cette région !!
    For zut etc ou merde, mes amis utilisent “Oh mince “😀

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