How to Speak French More Fluently

Bonjour !

Today, I want to teach you specific words and expressions that you won’t find in most textbooks or literature.

These phrases will make you sound much more modern… and more French! Even just using two or three of them can go a long way.

Welcome to Week #2 of the Comme une Française French Summer Camp!

This Summer Camp will be a four-video series where we’ll recap and expand on previous Comme une Française lessons, diving into a specific theme each time.

In just 4 weeks you’ll be on your way to speaking better French. You’ll learn modern spoken French vocabulary, become more confident with your French, and learn exactly how to avoid classic faux-pas.

Previous episodes you can use for this week:
Little Words to Sound More French
Top 10 Most Useful Words in French
Easy Expressions to Help You Pass for French

C’est parti !

1. The 3 Basics of Modern Spoken French

Many French learners have the same problem: their French is just too good!

It’s important to learn the rules of French language, but when you apply them all, you sound way too formal.

In real everyday conversations, French people make grammar mistakes and take shortcuts all the time. The three main ones are:

A) Drop the "Ne"

Negative sentences in French are usually built around “ne… pas”.

Je ne sais pas où tu es ! (= I don’t know where you are.)
Elle n’a pas le temps (= She doesn’t have time)

These sentences are grammatically correct, and perfect for written French.
But they sound more formal than we’d usually say them!

Solution: drop the “ne.”
Je sais pas où tu es !
Elle a pas le temps.
This sounds better already.

À l’oral, “Je” devient parfois “Ch”, surtout avec “Je sais”, qui finit prononcé comme “Chai”. “Tu” suivi d’une voyelle perd aussi souvent le u : “Tu es”, “tu as”, “Tu entends ?” deviennent “T’es”, “T’as”, “T’entends ?”…

En français parlé, “Je ne sais pas où tu es” devient donc : “Chai pas où t’es.”
(Mais ne l’écrivez jamais comme ça !)

Et pour les passionnés d’histoire linguistique : “Mie”, “Goutte”, “Pas” : l’histoire de la négation en français

B) Don’t Use Inversions in Questions

“As-tu acheté le pain ?” (= Did you buy bread?)
“Avez-vous une baguette plus croustillante, s’il vous plaît ?” (= Do you have a crustier baguette, please?)

These sentences are technically correct… but in spoken French we rarely use the inversion of subject and verbs to ask a question (we do in written French, though!).

Instead, use the complicated structures of “Est-ce que…” or “Qu’est-ce que…” that you learned in high school… Or you can simply use the affirmative construction, and use your tone of voice ask the question.

Tu as acheté le pain ?
Vous avez une baguette plus croustillante, s’il vous plaît ?

This works fine and sounds less formal!

“T’as acheté le pain ?” est encore meilleur, sans le u de Tu !

La deuxième question est un peu trop directe, en vrai français parlé on dirait sûrement “Vous auriez une baguette plus croustillante ?” C’est le verbe “avoir” au conditionnel : on l’utilise pour être poli, pour ne pas donner un ordre.

C) “Nous” - “On”

Most of the time, if you can use “Nous” (=we) as a subject, you should use “On” in spoken French. It’s less precise and more informal. It’s also more inclusive: if you say “nous” to someone, it might seem that they’re not part of that group.

Nous n’allons pas à la plage, nous allons au marché : voulez-vous venir ? (= We’re not going to the beach, we’re going to the market: do you want to come with us?)

This is way, way too formal for any spoken sentence!

Let’s apply all we’ve just seen to make it more modern. The sentence becomes:
On va pas à la plage, on va au marché: vous voulez venir ?
Same meaning, but you don’t sound like a 19th-Century aristocratic lady with a giant hat and tuberculosis anymore!

“On” est aussi parfois utilisé pour une action dont on ne connaît pas l’auteur.
“Regardez ! On a volé la Tour Eiffel !”

À votre tour !
Comment moderniser la phrase N’allons-nous pas prendre le train ?

2. Conversation Fillers to Sound More French

You can also instantly seem more French with only a word!

For example, something you can use to instantly sound more French is:

EUH, hum. (All French people use it as a filler!)

Ouais (“oui”, but less committed)
Often said with a long ending: “ouaiiis…”
Mouais is a variation on that word and it means “more or less / let’s say that’s true for the moment / I’m not sure”
Ouais, ouais is often used ironically, as in “yeah, right…”

Hein ?
When you don’t understand something. Alternatively:
“Pardon ?”, I’m sorry?
“Comment ?”, Excuse me,
“J’ai pas compris, tu peux répéter ?” I didn’t understand, can you repeat?

Voilà
I’m fond of voilà as a particularly French word. It’s an all-around useful word whenever you want to agree. If someone understands your point, you can say “OK, c’est ça,” OK, you got it, or just “voilà.”

It also means “here comes…” As in “Voilà nos desserts !” Here come our desserts / the desserts are here.

Finally, it can also mean you’re changing the subject: “Et puis… voilà.” That’s it, that’s all we can do, that’s all we can say about it. A fatalistic tone makes it more French!

A possible answer to “et puis voilà,” that I didn’t talk about in the previous episodes, is the expression “Eh bah dis donc.” or the variation “Eh bah mon vieux.” It’s really idiomatic French. It means “Wow,” or “I’m impressed, I’m speechless.”

On a mangé tout le gâteau. Eh bah mon vieux, c’était bon !
We ate the entire cake. Well, my old friend, that was good!

“Hein?” est aussi utilisé d’autres façons.
Pour demander confirmation : “Tu arrives bien demain, hein ?”
Pour exprimer sa frustration : “Moi je fais ce que je peux, hein !”
Pour renforcer un ordre ou un avertissement : “Et tu me ramènes une baguette bien cuite, hein !”

3. Younger French

This section is typical “younger” French language. We like to think only French people who grew up in France know these expressions. It’s a great way to quickly make an impression!

Tu m’étonnes (“you’re surprising me”)
This is an expression of irony, when something is not surprising.
Tu as soif ? Tu m’étonnes, avec cette chaleur…
You’re feeling thirsty? Well, I bet you are, with that heat…

T’inquiète ! (“Don’t worry !”)
This is a colloquial expression. It’s very common–and very interesting to think about. It’s a negative sentence without any negation!
It means “fais-moi confiance,” “trust me”, or “Ne t’en fais pas,” “don’t worry”.

Tu es sûr qu’on va dans la bonne direction ? T’inquiète !
You’re sure we’re heading the right way? Yeah, don’t worry…

Quand même… (“even though” / “that’s too much, it’s out of bonds.”)
This is not really younger slang, but it’s still very idiomatic.

On va quand même pas abandonner maintenant !
We’re not going to give up now, that would be too bad!

Some expressions are less idiomatic, less colloquial, but even more common:
Pas de souci or Ça marche are two ways to say “don’t worry,” or “It’s OK for me, I’m fine.” They’re very useful!

Je serai en retard de 5 minutes, désolée. / Pas de souci, ça marche.
I’m sorry, I’ll be 5-minute late. / OK, no problem, that’s fine for me.

D’autres mots d’argot “jeune” qui ne sont pas vulgaires ou impolis :
Je me les caille / Je me les pèleJ’ai très froid
On s’arrache / On se casse / On se barre – On part, on s’en va
Vas-y / “Azy” – Allez !

Conclusion

Tell me in the comments below:
Qu’est-ce que tu as appris aujourd’hui ?
What’s your #1 takeaway in today’s lesson?

If you learned something today, please share this lesson with a friend. They can still join us in the program for free. 🙂

I’ll see you next week for our third lesson: 6 Faux-Pas in the French Culture

Allez, salut !
Geraldine

Join the conversation!

  • Beh alors, ce leçon est super. Ca fait 28 ans que je suis en France et je connais tous ces phrases mais je ne les emplois pas souvent. J’ai une copine française qui s’en sert tout le temps. Et maintenant je vais faire pareil.

  • Alors, j’ai appris que je ne comprends pas quand même. Peux-tu donner quelques exemples? Ou peut-être un second vidéo complète?

  • eh bah dis donc – ah the light went on. I have heard it spoken by mon mari many times in conversations with his family and now I know what it means. Merci Geraldine. I am encouraged to press on in my french!!

  • My big takeaway is that I’ve not been using “EUH”, but the anglophone “umm”! Merci beaucoup pour cela.

    And although I’ve long known better, I guess you’ve finally convinced me not to use inversion in questions. It still sounds impolite to my ears, though, and so in more formal situations I tend I use “Est-ce que….” but in another video you said that “est-ce que” was passive-aggressive! THAT blew my mind.

    Finally, I would love some examples of COD with “on” in the plural feminine! I wasn’t aware of that!

    • Bonjour Laura,
      Excellente question !
      Ahahah, ravie de t’avoir convaincue. Je me suis mal exprimée sur le “Est-ce que”. C’est plutôt que utiliser un français trop formel dans une situation du quotidien (avec un ton trop formel) PEUT paraître passif-agressif. Mais si on sait que c’est un non-natif qui parle, aucun risque de faux-pas. Par contre, ne pas utiliser l’inversion en français parler va te faciliter la vie et tu verras que tout le monde le fait. 🙂
      En ce qui concerne l’accord du “on”, voici des exemples :
      – Marie et moi, on est contentes de cette maison (l’adjectif s’accorde avec le sujet féminin pluriel. Ici, j’ai artificiellement ajouté une répétition du sujet. Ca s’appelle “la reprise”.)
      – Julie et moi, on est allées au cinéma ce matin. (pareil avec un passé composé)

  • Merci Geraldine! Moi e ma fille, on a apris que nous pouvons utilizer excuse moi en place de pardon!! Et que ce n’est pas necessaire faire le inversion pour faire les questions et c’etai une liberation!! Merci beaucoup!! À bientôt!
    Clara et Gabrielle

  • Does anyone ever use the “nous” construction now? e.g. should it be used in written French? When in France, I struggle to figure out which form to use; sometimes the sentence seems to demand “we” and not “one.” Is it really so simple that everyone understands that when you say “on” you mean “we”? And another question: Is the use of “tu” only with family and close friends becoming a thing of the past? You use the familiar in so many lessons…I’d like to feel comfortable using it but don’t want to offend anyone. Merci bien!

    • While waiting for Geraldine to reply, having lived in France for over 10 years, I’d said that you would certainly use “nous” in WRITTEN French. And I NEVER tutoyer someone I’ve just met unless we’re both guests at the same party, and they’re my age or younger. (In fact, my big problem returning to France after being away eight years is that I forgot whether I was on a “tu” or “vous” basis with certain people. So I have tended to use “vous,” so as not to give offense; on the other hand, I may be offending certain people who don’t think I like them as much as they thought I did!

      • Thanks, Laura, for your understand of my insecurity on the “tu” issue. For over 5 years, I corresponded with a French woman (appx my age) that I met traveling and she never tutoyer’ed me…so I guess I’d rather err on the more-polite side. In Italy, I use the familiar form (of Italian) all the time, but it’s a very different culture. As to the on/nous thing, is nous virtually absent in everyday spoken French now? The most we’ve spent in France at once is 2 months, not enough to get a global view. Merci de tout–

    • Bonjour Mary Jo,

      Great questions.

      For the use of “on”, as a close American friend says “Just unplug your brain”. Don’t overthink it.
      A rule of thumb: unless you’re written a thesis for the Sorbonne OR that you’re in a (often professional) super formal situation, use “on”.
      I use “on” instead of “nous” 99.9% of the time. The 0,01% is when I teach at Comme une Française. 😉

      Apart from sayings such as “Quand on aime, on ne compte pas.”, “on” never translates as “one” anymore.
      (Unless you’re writing a scientific, journalistic or philosophy article for some paper, but this is not what I assume my students do)

      I use “tu” because I address you as friends/students, from a teacher’s point of view.
      About the use, this is very very hard to answer. The use depends on the generation, the family, the situation…
      The Los Angeles Times offered a fantastic infographic on this topic.

  • Thanks Geraldine, lesson #2 was so helpful because in South Louisiana, USA, we speak an informal French that was handed down by our ancestors and majority of the expressions you have presented are still used today.

  • Thank you for today’s lesson Geraldine!
    My takeaway is the “tu m’ettones”, realized I’ve heard it so many times in spoken French!
    Merci !

  • Merci, Géraldine. Bonne leçon. I would appreciate an entire lesson on “quand même.” I have been trying to understand all the uses—and I notice how often French people use it. But the nuances still allude me. I’ve asked French friends how and when they use it, but it’s so automatic for them that they have trouble explaining it.

  • Comme toujours, c’est génial! Si la phrase “ça m’étonne” est pour les jeunes, qu’est-ce qu’on peut utiliser? Merci!

  • Merci Géraldine, c’est genial. J’ai compris l’importance d’utiliser la langue de manière informelle – “Comme une francaise” hein?

  • J’adore les leçons et tous les secrets du français bien que je sois prof de français. Je regarde vos vidéos depuis 2 ou 3 ans maintenant et je trouve toujours les conseils de partager avec mes élèves. Merci et j’ai hâte d’écouter la prochaine leçon!!

  • Salut Geraldine !
    Recemment, j’ai visite une famille en France. Ils ont souvent dit ” beh oui” et “beh non”. J’ai demande ce qui est ” beh” . Ils ne pouvaient pas repondre.
    Merci pour vos cours !!

    Jim

  • Super, Geraldine! J’ai appris que “quand même”, ça veut dire “nevertheless” ou “(it’s) all the same.” Ça marche?

  • Interesting lesson. Question – “voila” used when I might normally have used “voici” ??
    Voici ma mere, for example. “Here is…..” rather than voila, which I always thought meant ‘there is”

  • Great lesson! Thanks! Does “Younger French” mean it’s more current/trendy French or does it mean it’s only for young people? If it’s the later, what age?

  • I noticed listening to French radio and people in Paris speak, they use “quand même” a lot! I searched google and there are so many translations! It will take me a while to learn what it means in context but I think this is a good one to sounding more French!

  • Thankyou for the summer camp lessons. Interesting little phrases to use – Tu m’etonnes, t’inquiete, quand même. I’ve often heard french speakers saying Ça marche so I’m beginning to use that one myself! Thankyou Geraldine.

  • What I learnt is about dropping ‘ne…. pas’ ! However, it will take some time to learn the tone, so that it is not confusing to the listeners. I do have an important question: When there is a group of people (men and women, mixed), do we refer to them as ‘elles’ or ‘its’? Does it depend on whether it is majority of women or majority of men? Thank you, Geraldine.

  • Salut, Geraldine. Laisse tomber le ‘ne’ et ne pas utiliser l’inversion. Les deux sont tres utiles. Merci!

  • Now I understand what my aunt was trying to explain to me many years ago. Making the sentence shorter and changing the verb to the familiar (tu). Now I need to listen more so I can pick up the pronunciation. Thanks !

  • Thanks Geraldine. I have been learning these expressions and listening out for them. I was all ready to try out t’inquiete in Grenoble (where I live too!) but how old do you need to be to use it? Would you say no to the over 40s? I don’t consider myself to be old haha. Apologies for this appearing to be a silly question! I love how you teach French. Thank you!!!!

    • Bonjour Emma,
      My best tip would be: ask French friends.
      They know you, they’ll tell you.
      And it makes for a fantastic discussion around age and language. 🙂
      (Look at their body language and tone. It will be very interesting)

  • Geraldine this is excellent!! No one does this like you do!!! All those mysterious phrases you don’t learn in school but you hear spoken by real French people!! Bravo. Great lesson!!

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