cool-french-words

10 Cool French Words You’ll Use All the Time

Not all words are created equal.

Let’s face it: some are just plain boring.

There are those words like bien (well/good) and chose (thing) that French learners use from day one… then there are words like d’accord (agreed/okay) that pad so many French conversations…

Don’t nod off just yet! Those plain old common words are definitely essential to your French, but they’re not what we’re focusing on today.

Instead, we’re going to look at the cool French words you aren’t using enough. They’ll refresh your communication skills and keep you from getting bogged down or burned out as you build your French vocabulary.

What’s So Useful About These Cool French Words?

We all know why vocabulary is so important—you need the right words to express yourself in French! Learning some fun, cool French words won’t just expand your vocabulary, but will also benefit your language studies in bigger ways.

  • They’ll reinvigorate your motivation to learn: Think back to the first time you heard someone speak French. You may’ve felt a deep sense of awe at how beautiful the language sounded.

There are many cool French words, like the ones we’ll discuss below, that can take you back to this feeling—whether they sound incredible, have interesting definitions or express something we don’t quite have a word for in English.

  • They’ll give you a brain boost: Research shows that learning foreign vocabulary is good for your brain. Taking the time to study new and interesting French words will exercise your brain and keep you on your A game in all areas of your language studies (and beyond!).

The cool French words will also make you sound… well, pretty cool! In fact, as pointed out by this video from FluentU’s YouTube channel, the French use cool words all the time. Sure, some of them are slang words that can’t be used in formal contexts such as at work or at school, but learning these French words will help you sound more like a French native speaker.

Check out videos about learning the French that real native speakers use on FluentU’s YouTube channel!

Finding More Cool Words for Your Vocabulary

The words below are just a start. If you want to continue spicing up your vocabulary with the most interesting words French has to offer, here are some ways to do just that:

Each video comes with interactive captions that give you instant definitions or pronunciations for any word you don’t recognize. You’ll rapidly grow your vocabulary while absorbing French the way native speakers really use it.

The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the words you’ve learned and suggests new videos to keep you moving forward. You can see for yourself by signing up for a free trial.

10 Cool French Words That’ll Make You Appreciate the Language Again

These words weren’t just chosen because they’re beautiful (although there’s plenty of those) but for one or more of these reasons:

  • They’re quirky or funny
  • They sound interesting
  • They don’t have an English equivalent

Débrouillard

A rough translation of this word would be “resourceful” or “wily,” but it really doesn’t have a true English equivalent. To understand the meaning of this word, let’s picture what someone who’s débrouillard might look like.

This person is able to take care of things for themselves. When life gets tough, they can surmount difficulties without much help from others. That isn’t to say someone who’s débrouillard won’t ask for help—they will, if they need to get things done—but they don’t depend on other people to solve their problems for them.

How it’s used:

My mother used this word when I was being a whiny kid: Débrouille-toi! (Figure it out!)

But it can also be used to refer to a positive character trait: Le garçon est jeune mais débrouillard. (The boy is young but resourceful.)

Cochonnerie

This word may remind you of the French word cochon (pig), and it’s actually not far off.

Cochonnerie is used in a variety of situations, but the connotation is negative, as it can mean “junk” or “rubbish.” You may use this word to refer to junk food, or to something useless.

How it’s used:

If you want to refer to food, you could use this word in a phrase like: La nuit d’Halloween j’ai trop mangé de cochonneries. (On halloween I ate too much junk food.)

In a different setting, a teacher may tell her class to stop misbehaving with the warning Arrêtez vos cochonneries!

Bêtise

This world literally means “stupidity,” but it goes much deeper than that. This is another word that doesn’t directly translate to English. It’s used to describe a behavior or action that lacks basic intelligence, common sense or judgement. However, it can also be used in a variety of other unexpected ways.

Note that a different form of this word, les bêtes, can refer to animals, and colloquially this word can be used to describe someone who has been working very hard comme une bête (like a dog).

How it’s used:

If a group of teenagers are engaging in what might be described as rebellious or risky behavior, such as coming home past curfew, their parents might say: Les adolescents font des bêtises. (The kids are being stupid).

Avocat

Believe it or not, this word can mean two completely different things. Depending on the gender and the context, avocat could translate to “lawyer” or “avocado.”

Although the gender can help to distinguish which you’re talking about, this can get a little confusing because the masculine form of avocat (un avocat) can mean male lawyer or avocado. However, the feminine version, une avocate, means female lawyer.

How it’s used:

This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but as we’ve seen, you’ll be relying on context here because gender may sometimes lead you astray. Let’s just say that you’ll have to assume your audience isn’t bête (stupid) and will have the common sense to know whether you’re referring to an attorney or the main ingredient in a bowl of guacamole.

Tête de pioches

You may be familiar with French terms of endearment, such as mon chou (my sweet bun) or mon coeur (my love). Tête de pioches? That’s not exactly a term of endearment. In fact, it’s the opposite.

This is something you might say to someone who’s acting without rationale or forethought. Perhaps they were engaged in bêtises (stupidity) or cochonneries (nonsense). This term translates roughly to “blockhead.”

How it’s used:

I’ll leave it up to your discretion for what circumstance you’ll save this phrase, but it’s not something you’d use in a formal setting! A mother may refer to her careless child as a tête de pioches the 10th time they knocked over a water cup at the dinner table (not that I speak from experience…).

La grasse matinée

You’ve woken up leisurely after the sun, without an alarm. You slowly pad around the kitchen fixing a cup of coffee and a piece of toast… then get right back in bed. You might lay there while the coffee brews, maybe paging through the paper or watching your favorite TV show. A lazy morning sleeping in—this is what grasse matinée refers to, even though it translates literally to “fat morning.”

How it’s used:

Use this whenever you want to describe the best kind of morning: slow, relaxed and with nothing pressing on the agenda. If you enjoyed sleeping in this morning, you might mention, j’ai fait la grasse matinée jusqu’à midi. (I slept in until noon).

L’embouteillage

Translated in English to “bottling,” this word is used to describe slow or congested traffic. But really, isn’t this term just a perfect description of that infuriatingly, illogically slow traffic we all despise? I can’t think of a better way to describe a traffic jam.

How it’s used:

You would use this word just as you might in English. You might say, il y avait de l’embouteillage sur la grande route ce matin. (There was slow-moving traffic on the highway this morning.)

Mince

A rough equivalent of this word would be “shoot” or “darn,” although it translates literally to “thin.” This is a slang word that can be used to express mild frustration or annoyance.

How it’s used:

You could use this in most settings without too much concern for company. Whether you just stubbed your toe or loaded the wrong powerpoint presentation at a big meeting, you’d be safe to exclaim, mince!

L’ennui

You may’ve seen this word referenced in English, and like other French words, it’s been adapted for use outside of the French language sphere.

That said, this is another of those French words that doesn’t quite have the same connotation in English. A rough equivalent may be “boredom,” but there’s more to it than that.

How it’s used:

This word can change its meaning depending on the setting. You might say, je m’ennuie! (I’m bored!), but if it’s pluralized (by adding an s), the word refers to troubles or nuisance: des ennuis au bureau (trouble at the office).

Gueule de bois

I’ve saved my favorite one for last. Gueule de bois literally means “wooden throat/mouth.” This is a form of slang that refers to a hangover.

This expression comes from the feeling one might get after a night of drinking that leaves the throat dry and dehydrated.

How it’s used:

Hopefully you won’t often experience that regretful feeling after a late night out, but next time you do, you can say: J’ai mal à la tête! J’ai la gueule de bois. (I have a headache! I’ve got a hangover.)

 

And there you have it! Next time your French is feeling a little uninspired, take a stab at incorporating some of these cool French words and phrases. I personally challenge you to use both meanings of avocat (lawyer/avocado) in the same sentence.


Loie Gervais is an educational writer and editor. She specializes in language, post-secondary education, academic skills and organizational behavior.

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