unique french words

21 Cool and Unique French Words (With Audio)

There are tons of words that you’ve been using since day one of learning French, but how many cool French words do you use in your conversations?

Learning unique French words and phrases will help you build your French vocabulary and communicate effectively in the language.

In this post, we’ll teach you 21 cool and unique French words that you can use in your conversations to help you sound like a native speaker!


Unique and Cool French Words That’ll Make You Sound Like a Native Speaker

Here, we have compiled a list of 21 unique and cool French words for you to add to your vocabulary to sound like a native speaker!

1. Débrouillard

A rough translation of this word would be “resourceful” or “wily,” but it really doesn’t have a true English equivalent. 

In French, a débrouillard is a person who is able to take care of things for themselves. When life gets tough, they can overcome 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!)

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

2. 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 the night of 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 ! (Stop this nonsense!) 

3. Bêtise

This word 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).

4. Bon vivant

Bon vivant literally translates to “good liver” in English, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, although we would refer to a bon vivant as someone who “lives it up.”

How it’s used:

The French use this as a way to describe someone who enjoys the finer things in life.

An example would be: 

Tu sais que Depardieu boit 14 bouteilles d’alcool par jour ? (Did you know Depardieu drinks 14 bottles of alcohol per day?)

N’importe quoi ! Mais c’est vrai que c’est un bon vivant ! (No way! Although it’s true that he’s living it up!)

5. Astre

Astre translates to “celestial body” and is often used as another word for étoile  (star) but the difference is that astre doesn’t mean star. It’s an unspecific term that can signify anything from “star” to “planet” to “angel.”

La nuit j’adore regarder les astres. (At night I love looking at the stars.)

How it’s used:

Astre is basically used to describe something luminary and otherworldly, and can even be used in reference to people. For example:

T’es belle comme un astre !  (You’re as beautiful as an angel!)

6. Regard

Aside from being a verb form that comes from the infinitive regarder (to look/watch), regard can also be used as a noun in French.

How it’s used:

It alludes to the expression of someone’s eyes, so in that sense regard is comparable to the English word “gaze.” For example, someone might say:

Quel regard !  (What expressive eyes!)

But it signifies so much more than that. It also refers to a look and a presence that’s expressed solely through the eyes.

For example, when you hear something like, avec son très beau regard il va avoir du succès dans sa carrière de comédien , in English we could translate it to something along the lines of “with such a piercing gaze he will be successful in his acting career.”

7. 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 is 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…).

8. La grasse matinée

You’ve woken up later than usual 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 lie there while the coffee brews, scrolling on social media 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).

9. L’embouteillage

Translated in English to “bottling,” this word is used to describe slow or congested traffic. 

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.)

10. Avocat

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.

11. L’ennui

You may have 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).

12. 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 !

13. Gueule

In French, gueule can be used various contexts. On its own, this word literally translates to “the mouth of an animal.”

How it’s used:

Gueule is commonly used in French to refer to someone’s face or head.

The word gueule generally has a negative connotation:

Avec une gueule comme ça il va surement avoir le rôle du criminel. (With a face like that he’s surely going to get the role of a criminal.)

The French also use it to tell someone to ferme ta gueule !  “Shut your mouth!” (You can drop the ferme for the more colloquial ta gueule ! )

14. Gueule de bois

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.)

15. Nostalgie de la boue

Nostalgie de la boue literally translates to “longing for the mud” and was coined by Émile Augier, a French dramatist and poet. In English, we don’t have an expression that conveys the exact meaning of this, so naturally we adopted the French phrase.

How it’s used:

This expression can be used to refer to various situations, but generally it’s used to refer to people who desire something lower than what they’re accustomed to.

For all you literature fans out there, an example of this can be found in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” When Constance (Lady Chatterley) confesses that she’s pregnant with Mellors’ child (Mellors is a working-class man), her husband, an upper-class man, responds to this by saying she’s insane and has nostalgie de la boue.

16. Cartonner

This verb has various meanings, so it can be translated into different things in English including “to crash,” “to bind” and “to attack.”

How it’s used:

With the surge of French slang making its way into everyday vocabulary, it’s now more often used to express the success or greatness of something.

You may come across the word cartonner in the discussion of successful films, music and books. Did you just watch a really great movie at the cinema? You could say ce film a cartonné !  “This film smashed it!”

Cartonner can also be used in regard to people. If you think someone is awesome you can simply say tu cartonnes !  or “you’re the bomb!”

17. Ras-le-bol

The term ras-le-bol literally translates to “bowl full of it” in English, although this isn’t a foodie term!

How it’s used:

Ras-le-bol is generally used to emphasize frustration and agitation, kind of like when you’ve had enough of something and you’re now reaching the point where you can’t take any more.

It can be used in the following way: J’en ai ras-le-bol !  which basically translates to something along the lines of “I’m fed up!” or “I’m sick and tired of it!” in English.

18. L’appel du vide

This literally translates into English as “the call of the void.” Even though we can translate this word for word, we don’t have an exact expression for what l’appel du vide conveys.

How it’s used:  

L’appel du vide is used to refer to that inexplicable and uncontrollable urge to jump that even perfectly level-headed people with no desire to really jump may experience when standing on the edge of a cliff:

J’ai gravi la montagne et lorsque j’ai regardé la vue autour de moi, j’ai senti l’appel du vide ! (I climbed the mountain and when I looked at the view around me, for a moment I had an instinctive urge to jump!)

In French, l’appel du vide refers to all of those indescribable instinctive urges to do something unimaginable that appear almost out of nowhere. It’s a phrase perfectly coined to express those existential crises in life. So, next time you feel like doing something crazy, remember this phrase.

19. Jolie Laide

What could be more French than seeing beauty in everything? Being attracted to unconventional beauty of course! Thanks to the likes of Serge Gainsbourg (and his song titled: “Laide Jolie Laide”) there’s a term for those unconventional beauties, and that term is jolie laide.

How it’s used:

Jolie laide directly translates to “pretty ugly” in English. The term conveys the uniqueness of someone’s beauty, something atypical that challenges or isn’t aligned with conventional beauty standards.

While jolie laide isn’t a popular expression that pops up in day-to-day conversation, it’s something you may come across in fashion publications and blogs thanks to the online world; and of course it’s a term the English speaking world has adopted.

Charlotte Gainsbourg est vraiment une jolie laide  would translate to something like “Charlotte Gainsbourg is strangely attractive.”

20. Contresens

Contresens is the French word for “misinterpretation” so if you’ve ever made an error in your French translation, you may remember your teacher saying: Ce n’est pas correct, c’est un contresens  (This isn’t right, it’s a mistranslation.)

How it’s used:

Contresens isn’t just reserved for those things lost in translation, it’s kind of lost in translation itself as the word is literally made up of two other French words: contre which means “against” and sens which means “direction.” So contresens can also be used to mean “reverse,” “opposed,” “opposite” and “the wrong way.”

Nous avons descendu la rue à contresens !  (We went down the road the wrong way!)

21. Empêchement

In English, the word empêchement would translate to unforeseen difficulties, hold-ups or last minute changes.

How it’s used:

It’s used to insinuate that something unexpected has popped up that can ultimately ruin an arrangement or a rendez-vous , so there’s no need for any further explanation as this one word really says it all:

Je suis vraiment désolé mais j’ai un empêchement  (I’m really sorry but I’m going to have to cancel what we planned as something has come up!)

It’s the most common and convenient way a French person will get out of a plan or a commitment, and all this is without having to explain anything!

J’ai un empêchement pour ce rendez-vous.  (I can’t make it to the meeting because of unforeseen difficulties.)

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What’s So Useful About These Cool and Unique French Words?

Learning some fun, cool French words won’t just expand your vocabulary and help you communicate, 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 have felt a deep sense of awe at how beautiful the language sounded.

There are many cool French words, like the ones we’ve discussed above, 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!).

Finding More Unique Words for Your Vocabulary

The words listed above 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:


Now that you’ve learned 21 cool and unique French words, start using them in your French conversations and get them ingrained in your vocabulary.

They’ll soon become second nature to you and your French will sound more fluent!

And one more thing...

If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.

FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:


FluentU brings native French videos with reach. With interactive captions, you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.


For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:


Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with learn mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning, and play the mini-games found in our dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."


All throughout, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a totally personalized experience. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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