5 French Fluency Shortcuts: Spoken Grammar


Spoken French is very different from written French. That could be why you struggle to speak and understand everyday French, even though you studied the language extensively in high school or college.

If you want to improve your French fluency, you need to know and practice these differences — and of course, French grammar is no exception. Let’s revisit some of my most popular videos to give you some shortcuts to master your spoken French grammar.

C’est parti.

*Click the heading above to watch the video lesson. *

  • Using “on” instead of “nous” to sound more authentic.

In modern French, the pronoun “on” primarily means “we” and always takes a verb form to the third person singular. However, its meaning can vary based on context. It may also represent “one,” “people,” “someone,” “you,” “they,” and even “he,” “she,” or “I.” It’s crucial to understand the context to interpret its intended meaning correctly. “On” is often pronounced as a short nasal sound, making it challenging to hear, so relying on context is essential.

  • How to make the passé composé agree with “on”

Even though it’s a singular pronoun, we should pay attention to the number and the gender of the subject it refers to.
Le Passé Composé is French and pop culture’s most common past tense.
We went to the Eiffel Tower. Which sentence is correct in French?
a) On est allé voir la Tour Eiffel.
b) On est allés voir la Tour Eiffel. 

b is correct

The third-person singular pronoun “On” is ambiguous in French. And in informal French, we rarely use “nous” but “on”.
Aux États-Unis, on apprend parfois le français à l’école. = In the US, people sometimes learn French at school.

Le truc en plus :
The direct pronoun for “on” is… “nous” (= us).
Nous, on aime le fromage. = We love cheese. (“and other people don’t”). Here we use la répétition. It’s very common in everyday spoken French.

Click here to learn more:

On a vu la Tour Eiffel. = We saw the Eiffel Tower.

Or, in informal French, “on” is the much more common way to say “Nous” (= we).
Avec mes amis, on a vu la tour Eiffel. = With my friends, we saw the Eiffel Tower.

In the informal meaning, “on” agrees like “nous”:
On est belles ! = We are pretty. (in the feminine form)
On est beaux ! = We are handsome. (in the masculine form)
On est belles et beaux ! = We’re pretty and handsome! (If you’re a mixed group and want to make everyone feel included.)

Or, indeed in le passé composé :
On est allés voir la Tour Eiffel. (for a group of men or a group of women and men)
On est allées voir la Tour Eiffel. (for a group of women)

However, when “on” traditionally means “some people” or “someone we don’t know”, the past participle stays in the masculine singular.
Au Mexique, on est allé très loin dans les décorations de Noël. = In Mexico, people went very far into Christmas decorations.
On est parties à l’heure. = We left on time. (“we” as a group of 3 women) / parties – “e” for feminine, “s” for plural.

  • Cutting vowels in pronouns (“je” = I ; “tu” = singular you)

a) Je = I.

Je” already becomes “J’” before a vowel in correct and formal French.
Je + avoir faim (= to be hungry) = 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]

In informal French, we extend this rule to les consonnes (= consonants) as well. Here are some correct French sentences and then their colloquial 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.)

Le truc en plus:
It might be too difficult to cut the “e” in “Je” when we already cut another vowel right after. 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 particular 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”)
Chuis là !” = I’m here / Here I am.

b) Tu (= singular friendly ‘you’)

Tu” becomes “T’” before a vowel in fast, informal pronunciation.
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 ? = Can you imagine?
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.

  • 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” (literally “Is it that… ?”) without the inversion:
Est-ce que tu es sûre ? = Are you sure?

Click here to learn more:

In informal French, we do not use the inversion of subject and verb in a question. We simply add an interrogation point at the end of a statement.
Tu es sûre. / Tu es sûre ? = Are you sure?
And with the rule we’ve seen before: T’es sûre ? = Are you sure?
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:
Où 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.
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 ?C’est qui ? = Who is it?
Qui es-tu ?T’es qui ? = 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?

There’s one exception. It’s the interrogative pronoun “que”. “Que” means “what” as a subject, like “what is it?”. However, it becomes “quoi” at the end of a sentence (it becomes a grammatical object).

Click here to learn more:


  • Drop the “ne”

In formal or correct French, a negation is constructed with “ne… pas”:
Tu ne sais pas où sont tes clés. = You don’t know where your keys are.
Elle n’oublie pas ses clés. = She doesn’t forget her keys.
Je ne sais pas. = I don’t know.

But in everyday spoken French, we drop the “ne” almost automatically since “pas” already means the negation:
Je ne sais pas.Je sais pas. (→ Chais pas.)
Elle oublie pas ses clés.

Le truc en plus: 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 / him.
Il ne mange rien.Il mange rien. = He doesn’t eat anything.
Il n’y a personne ici. Ya personne ici. = Nobody’s here.

Click here to learn more:

Practice these few informal questions:
Auras-tu le temps de dîner avant le spectacle ? = Will you have time to have a dinner before a show? (Tu auras le temps de dîner avant le spectacle ? T’auras le temps de dîner avant le spectacle?)
N’ont-ils pas pris leurs clés ? = Didn’t they take their keys? (Ils n’ont pas pris leurs clés ? / Ils ont pas pris leurs clés ?)

→ 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 🙂

Double your Frenchness! Get my 10-day “Everyday French Crash Course” and learn more spoken French for free. Students love it! Start now and you’ll get Lesson 01 right in your inbox, straight away.

Click here to sign up for my FREE Everyday French Crash Course

Join the conversation!

  • Get My Weekly Lessons

    In Your Inbox

    Join the 30,000+ French learners who get my premium spoken French lessons for free every week!

    Share this post!


    Download this lesson as a PDF!

    Please enter your name and email address to get the lesson as a free PDF!