My #1 Tip to Understand Fast Spoken French


If you’re trying to become more fluent in French, my best advice is to stop focusing on written French and improve your spoken French!
Written French and spoken French are almost two different languages. I’ll help make the transition a little smoother by sharing my #1 tip for understanding spoken French, no matter how fast it is. Any guesses?
French people swallow letters! Let me tell you why and when we do it and how you can make sense of it anyway.

C’est parti !

Let’s start with a French sentence:

Je suis allée prendre un petit café dans le jardin. = I went to have a small coffee in the garden.

Some silent letters are here: the final “t” in petit or the final “s” in dans.
It is not what today’s lesson is about. Instead, listen to the same sentence but in everyday spoken French pronunciation:
Chu allée prendre un p’tit café dans l’jardin. = I went to have a small coffee in the garden.
Did you notice? A lot more letters disappeared!
Je suis allée prendre un petit café dans le jardin. It really sounds like [Chu allée prendre un ptit café dans ljardin] !
That’s what swallowed letters, or “eaten” letters, are about.

Written / formal French: for school, business or formal spoken French (clear and correct pronunciation even with the silent letters).
Everyday spoken French: French people speak fast, change the grammar, and eat letters.

Attention! I talk with a “Parisian” accent, the normative one you hear on French TV or most TV shows. People with different accents swallow letters differently. We don’t eat the same letters in Paris, Southern France, Québec or Sénégal!

1) The Most Common Swallowed Letter in French

When speaking fast, the first letter to disappear is the French “e”. Mostly, when it’s on an unstressed syllable, it sounds like “e”, le “e” de “petit/ə/, the sound that’s called “schwa” in English.
Je prends un petit café dans le jardin. = I’m having a small coffee in the garden. These “e” are all unstressed “schwa” sounds and disappear in fast-spoken French: J’prends un p’tit café dans l’jardin.

So when you hear a sentence in fast-spoken French, and you don’t recognize some words, try adding some unstressed “e” and see if it matches what you already know. You can also practice the most common words with eaten letters and add them directly to your vocabulary.

In everyday life, French people do a mix of both: when I hear someone speaking fast, I know that p’tit = petit, and “p’tit” means small. And when they cut a letter in a more uncommon word, like “G’nève”, I add a schwa in the middle to make it fit a word I know, like here, Genève, Geneva.

Cutting the “e” is already part of “correct” French, before a vowel.
(This “élision” in correct French doesn’t happen before a consonant!)
Je vois = I see, but J’entends = I hear.
Elle te dit = She tells you, but Elle t’appelle = She calls you.
Le poisson = The fish, but L’oiseau = The bird.

In everyday spoken French, we cut the unstressed “e” in more occasions:

  • Cutting the “e” in small words before consonants:
    Je finis tout de suite. → “J’finis tout d’suite.” = I’m finishing right away.
    Elle va te montrer le jardin. → “Elle va t’montrer l’jardin.” = She’s going to show you the garden.
    Ce que je veux, c’est le numéro de Martin. → “C’que j’veux, c’est l’numéro d’Martin.” = What I want is Martin’s phone number.


  • Cutting the schwa sound inside longer words:
    Il m’a amené un petit café.“Il m’a am’né un p’tit café.” = He brought me a small cup of coffee.
    C’est ce que le médecin a demandé. → “C’est c’que l’méd’cin a d’mandé.” = That’s what the doctor asked for.

There’s a limit of these “élisions”. We wouldn’t cut three “e”s in a row either:
C’est ce que le médecin a demandé. For example, it would become
“C’est c’qu’l’médecin a demandé.” much harder to pronounce.

Don’t overdo it if you’re uncomfortable with the pronunciation.

Examples: Here’s a list of French words where we commonly cut letters.

  • Je = I (personal, subject pronoun)
    • Je vois. (formal) → J’vois (spoken French) = I see.
  •  Te = You (personal, object pronoun)
    • Tu te trompes. (formal) → Tu t’trompes. (spoken French) = You’re mistaken.
  • Se (personal, reflexive pronoun for 3rd person of singular)
    • On se voit demain. (formal) → On s’voit d’main. (spoken French) = See you tomorrow.
  • Le (definite article “the” in masculine singular)
    • Le matin, je prends mon café au lait. (formal) → L’matin, j’prends mon café au lait. (spoken French) = In the morning, I take my coffee with milk.
  • De (preposition and article, depending on the context)
    • Il est 4h de l’après-midi. (formal) → Il est 4h d’ l’aprèm. (spoken French) = It’s 4 PM.

It also happens in longer words, for instance:

  • Debout = standing.
    On était debout pendant qu’il donnait son discours. (formal) → On était d’bout pendant qu’il donnait son discours. (spoken French) = We were standing while he was giving his speech.
  • Venir = to come.
    Je ne peux pas venir ce soir. (formal) → J’peux pas v’enir ce soir. (spoken French) = I cannot come this evening.
  • Doucement = gently, slowly, quietly.
    Je parle doucement. (formal) → J’parle douc’ment. (spoken French) = I speak quietly.
  • Rapidement = quickly, fast, soon.
    Tu vas rapidement trouver un nouvel emploi. (formal) → Tu vas rapid’ment trouver un nouvel emploi. (spoken French) = You’ll quickly find a new job.

2) Cutting Other Letters

We don’t only cut the “e” in everyday spoken French. We also cut other letters. Sometimes, because the word is very common, especially with:

  • tu → t’ (before a vowel) = “you” singular
    Tu es là ? → “T’es là ?” = Are you here?
  • il → “i” (before a consonant) = “he”
    Et il fait quoi ? → “Et i’fait quoi ?” = And what is he doing?
  • il → “l” (before a vowel) = “he”
    Il est malade ? → L’est malade ? = Is he sick?
    Il est fou ? → L’est fou ? = Is he crazy?
  • Peut-être → p’t’être / p’tet = maybe.
    Elle est peut-être ici. “Elle est p’tet’ ici.” = She might be here.

Sometimes, we simply cut the end of words that are too long and too common:

  • Un resto = un restaurant
  • Un petit-déj / un p’tit-dèj’ = un petit-déjeuner (a breakfast)
  • Un ordi = un ordinateur (a computer)
  • D’occas’ = “d’occasion” (second-hand, used)
  • L’aprem = l’après-midi (the afternoon)
  • Une télé = une télévision
  • Un ado = un adolescent (an adolescent, a teenager)
  • Un appart = un appartement
  • Le ciné = le cinéma
  • Écolo = écologiste / écologique (environmentalism / “green”)
  • Une expo = une exposition (an exhibition)
  • L’actu = l’actualité (news)
  • L’info = l’information
  • la zik = la musique (here, we cut the beginning)

3) Cutting Words Entirely

  • “Ne” – the most common word we cut entirely is the negation in ne…pas.

You might have learned about building negative sentences in French, like
 – Je ne sais pas. And that’s correct, but in modern spoken French, we almost always cut the “ne.” Using “ne” actually sounds very formal. So we say:
Je sais pas. Or faster yet: “J’sais pas.”

When you cut the “ne” and then the “e” from “je”, we have a combination of “Je + s”, and it sounds like “Ch”. So what we hear is: “Chais pas”.
Elle n’est pas au restaurant. → Elle est pas au resto. = She’s not at the restaurant.

Click here to learn more:

  • “Il” is an impersonal pronoun.
    Il y a → “Ya” = there is or there are.
    Il y a le menu à la fenêtre du restaurant. → “Ya l’menu à la f’nêtre du resto.” = There’s the menu on the restaurant’s window.
    Il y a dix ans.Ya dix ans. = ten years ago.
    Il faut → “Faut”, “you need to”, or literally “one needs to, there needs to be”. It is the verb “falloir”, an impersonal verb in French.
    Il faut y aller cet après-midi. → “Faut y aller cet aprem.” = We need to go there this afternoon, or literally, There’s a need to go there this afternoon.
    Il fait froid. → “Fait froid.” = It’s cold.
    Il fait chaud. → “Fait chaud !” = It’s warm. Or it’s hot in here.

Attention! We don’t cut “il” in all the impersonal verbs, such as in the verb “pleuvoir” (= to rain). We still say “Il pleut” = it’s raining, etc.

Il suffit de…“Suffit de…” = you only need, or “one only needs to”. It is the verb “suffir”, an impersonal verb in French.
Il suffit d’essayer. → “Suffit d’essayer !” = Trying is all you need. // The only thing that’s needed is trying.


  • Cutting the ending of expressions
    À tout à l’heure → À toute = see you soon, see you later today.
    À plus tard → “À plus !” = See you later, and we add a “s” sound in “plus”!

4) Recap and practice!

French people cut letters to speak faster, and in particular:

  1. The “e” as “schwa” sound in small words: “Je”, “Le”… or in longer words: “médecin”, “amener”…
  2. The “u” in “tu” before a vowel → t’ + vowel: T’as quel âge ?
  3. The “l” in “il” before a consonant → i’ consonant: I fait quoi?
  4. The ending of longer words: le restaurant → le resto.
  5. The entire words:ne” in negation, or “il” as an impersonal subject.


1/4 Here’s a French sentence:
Je ne passe pas à l’appartement avant ce soir. = I’m not dropping by the apartment before tonight.
In everyday French, you hear: J’passe pas à l’appart avant c’soir.
Je ne passe pas à l’appartement avant ce soir. (I’m cutting the negation “ne”, the schwa sound of the letter “e” in “Je” and “Ce”, and I use the colloquial, shortened version of appartement: l’appart.)

2/4 What would you cut in that sentence so it sounds like everyday spoken French?
Tu as pris le programme de l’après-midi ? = Did you take the program for this afternoon?
Without cutting anything, you hear Tu as pris leu programme deu l’après-midi ?
In everyday French, it would probably sound like T’as pris l’programme de l’aprem ?
Tu as pris le programme de l’après-midi ? (We cut the “u” in “tu” before the vowel (“as”), we get rid of the schwa in “le”, and we use the colloquial word “aprem” for afternoon. We could try to cut the “e” in de, but then it sounds a bit too harsh. “d’l’aprèm” is hard to pronounce even for us.)

Attention! French people don’t always cut every possible thing. You could very well hear, for example, “T’as pris leu programme de l’après-midi ?”. It depends on the person and the situation!

3/4 Here’s an informal sentence. What would be its formal version for written French without colloquial elisions?
Faut qu’j’achète un nouvel ordi. = I have to buy a new computer.
It would be Il faut que j’achète un nouvel ordinateur.
Il faut que j’achète un nouvel ordinateur. (We add back the impersonal pronoun “Il” in “il faut”, the swallowed “e”, and the end of “un ordinateur”. We keep j’achète because “je” always loses the “e” before a vowel like here).

4/4 Create your own sentence in written French, using what you know already, then write down what would be its spoken French version. Be creative. That’s your chance to apply what we’ve seen today together! Write down your answers in the blog post’s comments on my website!

Keep learning about understanding fast spoken French with me!

Click here to get your next lesson:

À tout de suite.
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