French Phrases: Using and Understanding Verlan (You Didn’t Learn This In School)


Understanding real everyday spoken French can be difficult. French people speak fast, they eat letters, they use informal vocabulary… Like le verlan.

Le verlan is a type of French slang where the syllables of a normal word are inverted to make a completely new word.

In today’s lesson, I’ll introduce you to verlan and to the most common words that you might hear if you were to eavesdrop on a French conversation. Ready?

C’est parti ! (C’est ti-par !)

1) Le verlan in French: A few examples
2) Le verlan in French: How it works
3) Le verlan in French: More verlan
4) Blog only: Extra verlan about family and more

Want all the vocabulary of the lesson ?

1) Le verlan in French: A few examples

  • Une meuf = a woman, a girl
  • Un iench = a dog
  • C’est tipar ! = Let’s go !

They’re all made from common words, but the beginning is placed at the end.

Une femme (a woman) → Une fe-mme → Une me-fa → Une meuf
Une chien (a dog) → Un ch-ien → Un ien-ch → Un iench
C’est parti ! (“It’s gone” = Let’s go) → par-ti → ti-par → C’est tipar !

Notice how sometimes, we cut the final vowel of the verlan word if it doesn’t sound good. “Femme” should make “meufa,” but the last “a” got cut to speak faster.

There’s a bit of mental gymnastics at first. And that’s the point, really.
Let’s talk a bit more about verlan itself.

The technical term for cutting the end of a word is une apocope, like in meufa → meuf. Funnily enough, “meuf” is so common that some people might use that as a base for verlan, making the word: “feumeu.”
It doesn’t sound good to the ear, but it’s funny how the word went back and forth but didn’t come back to its starting point of “femme” !

2) Le verlan in French: How it works

Le verlan is a technique to build slang words. But it’s not a whole slang language by itself, really. And words in verlan are relatively easy to understand, once you know the rules I just described.
…But it’s harder to use in an organic way.

Since the 1950s, it’s been associated with the Parisian suburbs, and lower class urban youth. Nowadays some people use a lot of verlan words, while others not at all. And in between, depending on your social circle, some verlan words are seen as quite common, while other verlan words would be seen as trying too hard to sound like a young suburban guy.

That’s why I’m recommending that you don’t try to use verlan in your everyday French – it can be hard to pull off.

*** Le truc en plus ***

Using the verlan “Zy va” a lot, for “Vas-y (= come on), is a stereotypical shortcut for youth culture, especially from the suburbs. “Zy va” is really used, but older people would use it as a way of meaning “I’m making an impression of a young person.” And it’s a tired cliché. Unfortunately, that’s what one might sound like when using verlan they’re not comfortable with.

*** *** ****

You can still use the verlan slang that your French friends use around you though.
Be careful of some subtleties, like how cimer can be more sarcastic than merci
for saying “Thank you.”

But it’s still important to know about these words, and how to understand verlan, because it’s used a lot in everyday French, including French pop culture.

So: If you hear a French word that you don’t understand, try to figure out if it’s not verlan. Place the last syllable or the last letter at the beginning, and see if it makes a word that you know. You might need to add a vowel in there as well.

For instance, if your French friend tells you: “Je suis chez wam.” and that you don’t know the word Wam, try to put the last part at the beginning.

Wam → Wa-m → Mwa → Moi
Chez wam → Chez moi = at my place

Of course, if a French person uses verlan and you have to take the time to figure out what they’re saying, then you’re not really “one of them” yet. You’re not talking the same lingo – and you’re probably a bit older than them. And that’s OK! (It does happen to me from time to time!)

The funny thing is, verlan itself is very old, it wasn’t invented by this generation. It started in the 1950s among cops and criminals, then it got popular in French banlieues (suburbs) in the 1970s, before spreading to the country as a whole through rap culture and immigrants.

Some main old examples:
Laisse béton (Renaud, 1978) → Laisse tomber = “Let it drop,” forget about it
Les ripoux (Zidi, 1984) → Les pourris = “The rotten ones,” corrupt cops

(That popular movie is the story of a young idealist cop being trained by an older cop more flexible with the rules, at the border of corruption – with two great French actors in the leads.)

3) Le verlan in French: More verlan

Le verlan is verlan!

It comes from:
À l’envers (= the other way around, upside down) → l’en-vers → vers-l’en

Other words in verlan that you might hear in French movies or TV series, or even in a conversation with French friends:

** Verlan wordNormal word → Translation **

Ouf ! → Fou ! → Crazy
La teuf → La fête → The party
From that we make: teufer = to party

Vénère → Énervé → Angry
Nothing to do with the verb Vénérer, to worship !
Je suis vénère = I’m angry ≠ Je vénère = I worship

Un keum → Un mec (informal) → A guy, a boyfriend
Pécho → Choper (informal) → To grab… or to kiss, to make out
Téma → Mater (informal for Voir, Regarde) → Look, look at !
Beur → Arabe → Arab, or North-African.
Not le beurre = butter.

Often, the verlan words have a slightly different meaning than the regular word.

For instance:
Relou (= annoying) comes from Lourd (= annoying, or heavy.)
Chelou (= weird) comes from Louche (= suspicious)

And there’s a flurry of verlan words that I hear a lot. I don’t use them all personally, but my friends do. Words like:

Zarbe (or zarbi) → Bizarre → Weird
ReuchCher → Expensive
Ieuv → Vieux → Old
Teubé → Bête → Stupid.
Keuss → Sac → A bag.
Keuf → FlicPolicier, agent de police (official) → A police officer
Veuch → Cheveux → Hair.

And also:
Chanmé (“impressive”) → Méchant (= “nasty, mean”)
Stromae → Maestro

4) Blog only: Extra verlan about family and more

La reum → La mère → Mother
Le reup → Le père → Father
Le reuf → Le frère → Brother
La reuss → La soeur → Sister

If you feel like testing your verlan, two particular French shows (on TV, but now on YouTube) with extra short episodes, around 2 minutes:

  • Bloqués – Two guys on a couch being lazy. The actors are famous rap artists.
  • Serge le mytho – A spin-off from Bloqués, about a guy lying his teeth off with impossible stories. Based on the funny improv skills and charm of actor Jonathan Cohen.

Or click on the links below to get to your next lesson about real everyday spoken French:

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!

  • This is a bit like “pig Latin.” That’s taking English words and inverting them, then adding “-ay” to the end so it sounds like Latin. “Ig-pay tinlay”

    Rhyming slang in England is truly bizarre. You use a word associated with a word that rhymes with the word you mean. Like, calling someone “China.” “china” – > “plate” – > rhymes with “mate.”

  • I Thank you for all the hard work AND time that it takes to come up with your lessons Geraldine. Even if it is verlan, I think is important for non francophones to be aware of the existence of these words, which are spoken by real people. Lets not forget that these words, albeit “strange” they might one day, in the future, be recognized by l’Académie Française. Merci!!

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