Spoken French Rules: 9 Filler Words Slowing Down Your Comprehension (& How To Fix It)


Struggling to understand spoken French despite learning it for years? You might be getting confused by “filler words” – words that don’t add much meaning to the conversation, similar to “like” or “umm” in English.

The problem is that they can look like they’re important logical connectors (for example, “donc” or “alors.”) So you’ll try to translate them and see how they fit logically in the sentence. By the time you realize they don’t actually mean anything, you’ve missed the end of the fast spoken French sentence!

Today, we’ll explore 9 common French filler words, what they can mean, and how to use them in French. By learning about them, and recognizing them, you can prevent them from interfering with your understanding of spoken French.

C’est parti !

1) French filler words: Euh, Alors, Donc
2) French filler words: Enfin, Hein, Ben
3) French filler words: Voilà, Nan mais, Genre
4) French filler words: Quick Practice

1) French Filler Words: Euh, Alors, Donc

Euh (sounds like an English “uh”) = “umm”, hesitation = the most basic French filler word.

That’s the sound French people make when they’re not sure what to say. When we’re trying to collect our thoughts. Or when we want to signals that we’re not done talking!

Euh… J’ai oublié, désolé.” = Umm… I forgot, I’m sorry.

Donc is not purely a filler word, it also means“Therefore” or “So.”  for instance:

  • Il pleut donc je prends un parapluie. = It’s raining, so I’m carrying an umbrella.
  • Je pense donc je suis. = I think therefore I am (= I could doubt everything about myself and about the world around me, but I immediately intuit that I’m a thinking agent, I can’t doubt that I’m thinking right now.)

However, we also tend to use it to pad out a sentence, as filler, just like “So” in English:
Et, euh, donc, je disais : j’ai fait un gâteau.” = And, so, hum, I was saying: I made a cake. → “So” isn’t used purely as a logical connector.

Alors is similar; it means “So”, including “therefore”, but more like “and then / at the moment.”

  • Il pleut, alors je prends un parapluie. = It’s raining, so I’m taking an umbrella.
  • Alors que j’allais sortir, il a plu. = As I was going to go outside, it started to rain.

But it’s got a variety of uses in everyday spoken French, actually. Such as:

  • Et alors ? = So what? / Why do you care? (a bit aggressive / dismissive)
  • Alors ? = So? What’s happening? What’s next?
  • Alors, quoi de neuf ?” = And so, what’s up? (filler)

2) French filler words: Enfin, Hein, Ben

Enfin, Hein and Ben all end with the nasal sound “in.”

Click here to learn more: French Nasal Sounds

Enfin = Finally (mostly) or Anyway.

  • T’es enfin là ! = You’re finally here!
  • Enfin, je voudrais ajouter une dernière chose… = Finally (as a final point), I’d like to add one last thing…
  • Enfin on verra bien, t’inquiètes. = Anyway we’ll see, don’t worry about it.

It’s also used as a filler, to simply express “that’s surprising” :

  • Mais enfin qu’est-ce que tu fais là ? = But what the hell are you doing here?

Mais enfin often sounds like “m’enfin” in informal spoken French, because French people like to speak fast and often “eat” some letters. “M’enfin” is the catchphrase of comic book character Gaston Lagaffe – “Gaston Blunder”, a stereotype of a very lazy (yet often very creative) employee at the fictional Spirou magazine company.

Hein” is another versatile word. We can use it as:

  • Pure filler: “Hein! J’ai compris, maintenant !” = Oooh, now I get it.
  • Expressing surprise or incomprehension: “Hein ?” = What did you say?
  • A tag question (“isn’t it?”): “Tu m’attends, hein ?” = You’ll wait for me, right?

Less intriguing, Ben (or the similar Bah) a deformation of Bien (= good, well) and we use it:

  • While searching for words (“C’était en… ben… 2018.” = “It was in, hmm (let me think)… 2018.” )
  • Or to mean “of course, obviously, duh” : Ben oui / Bah oui = Well, yeah, obviously. Ben non / Bah non = Well, no, duh.

It can also be a sign of detachment:

  • Bah, si tu veux, oui. = Well, if you want, yeah (I don’t really care either way.)
  • Ben, ça pourrait être pire. = Well, it could be worse.

3) French filler words: Voilà, Nan mais, Genre

Voilà is a nice word. It’s a short one that nevertheless gives a nice weight to a sentence.
We can use it as:

  • Here is”: Voilà mon bus ! = Here is my bus. / Here comes my bus / That’s my bus arriving.
  • Now / Yes, exactly” : Voilà, t’as compris. = “You get it now!” or Voilà, c’est fini. = Here we are now, it’s the end.

Or in general:

  • Voilà. = Yes, that’s it, that’s right, that’s the end of my sentence.
  • Eh puis voilà quoi ! = And, well, that’s it, you know!

I like the short expression Nan mais a lot less. It means “No, but” (literally.) For some people, it’s a language tic, negativity by default. But anyway, we use it to express disagreement or surprise, like :

  • Nan, mais ça va pas ? = Are you crazy?
    Nan, mais tu vas pas rester ici toute la soirée ! = You’re not really going to stay here all night!
  • Or for contrast: Nan mais j’veux dire, on peut aussi y aller en train. = We can also get there by train, I mean.

Finally, our last filler word for today is: Genre.

The nasal “en” in the middle is often pronounced “oh,” when speaking fast spoken French.

  • “Genre” can mean:
    “Gender” : le genre masculin, le genre féminin
  • “A kind of / a type of” : J’adore ce genre d’endroits. = I love this kind of places.
    – See also: un genre musical (= a type of music) or un genre cinématographique (= a type of movies, a genre of movies) which became un film de genre (= a genre movie, from traditionally “low-brow / low-budget” genres like sci-fi or horror.)
  • “An air” : Ton chapeau te donne un petit genre raffiné. = Your hat is giving you a bit of a sophisticated air.

Many French people, especially Millenials and younger, use “genre” as a filler word. Just like the American “like.”

Il avait, genre, deux heures de retard, et il était genre, “oh ça va c’est pas grave” ! = He was, like, two hours late, and he was like “Oh that’s alright, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

And you might even hear it on its own, to express disbelief: Genre ! , meaning something like “You’re saying that like it’s true.” (but I don’t believe you!)

Or for a common expression:

  • Fais pas genre ! = Stop pretending / You’re pulling my leg / I don’t believe you.

4) French filler words: Quick practice

Now that you know about these nine filler words, you can mentally trim them out from the French sentences that you hear in conversations. That will become easier with practice and familiarity. For instance:

Donc, euh, le train est parti, hein. = So, hum, the train has left, you know.
Without filler words: Le train est parti. = The train has left, we missed the train.

Nan mais c’est pas si grave, enfin, c’est juste une heure à attendre.
= Come on, it’s not that bad, I mean, it’s only a one-hour wait.
→ = C’est pas si grave, c’est juste une heure à attendre. = It’s not that bad, it’s only a one-hour wait.

Bah voilà, on peut en profiter pour genre, aller manger un truc.
= Well yeah, that’s it, we could use that time to, like, go a grab something to eat.
On peut en profiter pour aller manger un truc. = We can use that time to go and eat something.

Keep on learning more about understanding fast spoken French, the obstacles on your way, and how you will overcome them ;
click here to get your next lesson:

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

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