Your Guide to Essential French Slang
As anyone who has ever been to a Francophone country will tell you, there’s the French you learn in the classroom and there’s the French that native speakers actually use.
Like any language, everyday spoken French is full of slang, abbreviations, and oh yeah, this tricky little thing called verlan. Learning slang is an important step toward sounding more like a native speaker, regardless of whether you’re still a beginner or a more advanced student.
Of course, there has to be a little caveat: French slang is hard to teach for all of the reasons that you might imagine: it can vary by region or generation, and it changes quickly. The best way to keep on top of slang vocabulary is by consuming a lot of current and authentic media, like films, TV series or music. However, there are some words and expressions that seem to be mainstays in the language, so if you want to get by in a French speaking country, this is what you’ll have to know about l’argot (slang).
If you want to study these slang words and phrases more closely, why not add them as a lesson on LingQ? Then you can add your new vocabulary to your personal French database and learn it through repeated exposure in other LingQ lessons and the vocabulary activities.
Everyday French slang
These are words and phrases that you’re likely to hear on a near-daily basis in France, so they’re definitely need-to-know!
Un mec / une nana
Un mec is slang for “a guy” and une nana is “a girl”. As in:
C’est un mec que je connais depuis longtemps.
I’ve known that guy for a long time.
La nana de Julien l’a largué la semaine dernière.
Julien’s girl dumped him last week.
Borrowed from Arabic, the word “kiffer” means “to love”. It’s conjugated like an -er verb.
Je kiffe le nouvel album de Stromae! I love Stromae’s new CD!
Je kiffe ce mec, il est génial. I love that guy, he’s awesome.
Two verbs that mean “to work” in French. You can also use the word le boulot to refer to the noun le travail.
Je peux rien faire vendredi, je bosse tout le week-end.
I can’t do anything on Friday, I’m working all weekend.
On voit jamais Jérôme, il est toujours au boulot / il taffe tout le temps.
We never see Jerome, he’s always at work / he works all the time.
Or “perfect”. If you buy something at the store and you manage to pay with the exact change, the cashier will probably say this to you. A similar expression (though slightly ‘younger’) is nickel.
Son rendez-vous est à 8h00 et il est arrivé à 7h59. Impeccable!
His meeting is at 8:00 and he arrived at 7:59. Perfect!
On se réunit à 22h00 devant le cinéma? C’est nickel!
Let’s say we meet at 11, in front of the movie theater? Perfect!
Ça craint / C’est nul!
If you’re really displeased with something and want to express your displeasure, ça craint or c’est nul will do the job! These translate to “that sucks”.
Perhaps borrowed from the word buffet – as in, all-you-can-eat – the verb bouffer means “to eat” in French slang. La bouffe is the noun to accompany it.
On a bien bouffé hier chez Chloé!
We really ate well at Chloe’s place yesterday!
Dalle / j’ai la dalle
Dalle is basically “nothing” in French. You’ll hear it used in a sentence as que dalle, or you can use the expression j’ai la dalle to express that you’re super hungry.
Le cours de maths hier? J’ai compris que dalle!
Math class yesterday? I didn’t understand anything!
J’ai pas bouffé depuis ce matin, j’ai la dalle!
I haven’t eaten since this morning, I’m starving!
To Faire gaffe is to “pay attention” or “be careful”. It’s used like a command, so you’ll need to conjugate the verb faire if you want to use it!
Fais gaffe à Pigalle le soir!
Be careful in Pigalle at night!
Literally la vache means “the cow”, but in conversation the exclamation is used as an equivalent to “oh my god!” or “holy cow!”.
Je suis tombé les escaliers devant tout le monde à la Tour Eiffel! La vache..
I fell down the stairs in front of everyone at the Eiffel Tower! (Oh) my god…
Le fric, le blé, la thune
Cash. Dough. Moolah. All of the above are ways to say “money” in French. Though l’argent is the term in français standard (standard French), you’re likely to hear le fric, le blé or la thune just as often, if not moreso.
Il a beaucoup de fric, ce mec. Il bosse comme un fou.
He’s got a lot of money, that guy. He works like crazy.
Similarly, you’ll often hear the word balles substituted for euros when talking about the price of an object.
Un appartement en plein centre de Paris? Ça te coûtera mille balles par mois, minimum.
An apartment in the middle of Paris? That’ll cost you a thousand bucks a month, minimum.
Verlan: The French “Pig Latin”
While French, like English, has a huge lexicon of slang vocabulary words that don’t look or sound anything like their français standard equivalents, it also has something that English doesn’t have: verlan.
Verlan is a bit like Pig Latin in the sense that it involves transposing the syllables of one word – by moving the last syllable to the beginning to create an entirely new word.
In fact, the word verlan is an example: it comes from re-syllabifying the word l’envers (the inverse). However, verlan has become an extremely common practice in French in a way that Pig Latin never did in English, and you’ll hear quite a lot of it in France.
Here are a couple of must-know expressions that use verlan.
Ouf is the result of inverting the syllables of the word fou, or “crazy”. It’s often used as an interjection, like one might use “Phew!” in English, though it can also be used as an adjective that retains the meaning of “crazy” or “awesome”. Un truc de ouf is one of the most common ways it’s used!
On a fait un truc de ouf ce week-end!
We did something crazy awesome this weekend!
Vénère is the word énervé (“annoyed”) in verlan. You can use it exactly the same way you would its standard equivalent.
Je suis vénère à cause de ce que t’as dit hier.
I’m bothered by what you said yesterday.
Relou is the verlan for lourd (“heavy”) and the equivalent of pénible (“annoying” or “bothersome”).
C’est trop relou, ça!
That’s so annoying!
Laisse béton is the equivalent of laisse tomber (“let it go”) with béton being the verlan version of tomber. This expression has become such a standard in spoken French today that it’s hardly even considered slang anymore – that’s why you need to know it!
Laisse béton, tu ne sais plus de quoi tu parles!
Let it go, you don’t even know what you’re talking about!
This one is easy but is sure to impress any native speakers you interact with – it’s merci (“thank you”), but verlanisé! In fact, it’s probably one of verlan’s most iconic words.
T’es trop sympa, cimer!
You’re too kind, thank you!
While French slang and verlan might take some getting used to at first, being able to understand and use them in everyday conversation will make interacting with your French peers so much easier.
Megan is currently working on her graduate degree in French and Francophone Studies, prior to which she taught high school French for five years. In addition to French, she self-studies Spanish and is looking forward to starting German classes soon.
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