Learning French can be broken up into a series of milestones.
One of them may be finally learning to pronounce French vowels correctly.
Another may be employing the French causative with confidence.
Some say a surefire sign that you’re fluent is dreaming in French.
Before you get to this level, though, a crucial milestone is being able to clearly and firmly express your opinion when interacting with other French speakers.
After all, you know your French is pretty darn rockin’ when you can hold your own in a verbal sparring match.
Now I am not recommending that you pick a fight with the first person you meet in a bar while on vacation in Paris.
What I am recommending is that you learn what the French call des phrases toutes faites (literally “ready-made sentences”), which are standard sentences that can be built upon to fit your needs and the subject at hand. Think of them as building blocks for your vocabulary.
If you want to engage in healthy (or not-so-healthy—no judgment here!) debates, phrases toutes faites are a must when you want to express agreement or disagreement.
Also, if the situation is a bit…delicate (sometimes it’s not the best idea to tell your boss how you really feel), you may need to know how to avoid expressing an opinion altogether.
We’ll cover all of that in this post.
What Argument Phrases Can Do for Your Debating Skills
- Slow things down a bit. This is key when you’re in conversation with native speakers, who tend to speak rather quickly. Using standard debate phrases allows you to buy yourself a bit of time to think of your next sentence or idea to fire back with. After all, it’s easy to get flustered when you’re speaking another language. Sometimes silences can be interpreted as incomprehension. So you know what they say: Fake it ’till you make it!
- Make you sound more fluent. Speaking of silences, by using pre-formulated phrases, not only will you fill awkward silences, but your French will sound more fluent because you will convey a familiarity with the common language toolbox. Some tools in this box are best used in certain contexts and avoided in others. Indeed, different contexts call for different tools.
Resources to Up Your Debating Game
In a moment, we’ll get to some phrases you can use to hold your own, but first, here are some resources that are great for learning to argue, French-style.
Listening to French radio shows in the form of podcasts is great for French learners of all stripes, but advanced learners especially will benefit from picking up phrases to punctuate their own debates and discussions. Listening to political debates is especially good for this. I recommend checking out Radio France Politique.
French cinema is full of people squabbling with one another, so watching films is a great way to pick up argument phrases.
Here are a few recommendations:
- “Verdict” (1974). This film is about a woman who kidnaps a judge’s wife because the judge is about to try her son for murder.
- “Je vais bien ne t’en fais pas” (Don’t worry, I’m fine) (2006). This one is about a teenage girl looking for her twin brother, who disappeared after fighting with their dad.
- “La Haine” (Hate) (1995). This cult classic chronicles the aftermath of the arrest and beating of a teenager in a violent Parisian suburb.
- “9 Mois Ferme” (9 month stretch) (2013). This film tells the story of an uptight lawyer who becomes pregnant with a criminal’s baby.
Here’s another great resource to see how native speakers argue with each other in the real life.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Because FluentU offers authentic French content, you’ll find a ton of phrases and colloquial terms to help you through any altercations.
Print media (ok, probably online media) is also a great way to pick up debate phrases, particularly if you peruse the op-ed section. I recommend checking out these publications:
Win All Your Arguments with These 30 Powerful French Phrases
Argument Phrases for Formal Discussions
In more formal contexts—such as discussing foreign policy with a superior at the office, debating the merits of academic freedom with a university professor or pondering the state of the environment with a colleague you don’t know so well—measured, polite and inoffensive language is required. In such contexts, one tends to avoid getting too emotional. If things do start getting heated, there are times you may have to downplay what you really think through evasive language. Let’s take a look.
1. Je suis du même avis (I am of the same opinion)
Think of this as a tried-and-true way of formally saying, “Yeah, dude. Totally.”
Je suis du même avis, l’échauffement climatique est un problème. (I am of the same opinion, global warming is a problem.)
2. Nous sommes convenu que (We have established that)
This sentence builder, which contains the passé composé (perfect past), is appropriate to use as a way of making sure that everyone is on the same page regarding the conversation so far before proceeding.
Nous sommes convenu que recycler est une nécéssité. (We have agreed that recycling is a necessity.)
3. Oui, je dois bien le reconnaître (Yes, I must agree)
Here, the pronoun le can refer to votre avis (your opinion) or votre point de vue (your point of view). This is a good phrase to use as a concession.
— La terre n’est pas une ressource inépuisable. (Earth is not an endless resource.)
— Oui, je dois bien le reconnaître. (Yes, I must agree.)
4. Être [fermement] opposé à (to be [firmly] opposed to)
Since you can’t say “No, that’s stupid” in a formal setting, this sentence builder is useful for those situations when someone says something that makes your ears bleed.
Je suis fermement opposé à l’augmentation des impôts. (I am firmly opposed to the increasing of taxes.)
5. Se prononcer contre (literally translates to “to pronounce oneself against” and means “to be against”)
In a similar vein, this is another useful phrase to use when you feel your blood pressure beginning to rise. Also, pronominal verbs feel fancy.
Je me prononce contre le référendum. (I am against the referendum.)
6. Il est illusoire de s’imaginer que (It is fanciful/ridiculous to believe that)
Think of this as a more formal way of saying, tu rêves ! (This literally translates to “you’re dreaming!” and means “in your dreams!”)
Il est illusoire de s’imaginer que le gouvernement va baisser les impôts. (It is ridiculous to believe that the government will lower taxes.)
7. Ce serait une erreur de croire que (It would be an error to believe that)
Ah, the good ol’ conditional! This is a great phrase to use when you want to convey the negative consequences of your interlocutor’s point of view.
Ce serait une erreur de croire que les choses vont changer avec un nouveau gouvernement. (It would be an error to think that things will change with a new government.)
8. Rien ne sert de (There is no point in)
Rien ne sert de voter dans la prochaine éléction. (There is no point in voting in the next election.)
9. Sans vouloir vous contredire (literally translates to “without wanting to contradict you” but is understood to mean “I don’t want to contradict but”)
While the previous phrases could be interpreted as a bit blunt, this sentence builder is a way of more delicately expressing your opinion, with your point of disagreement expressed in a second clause.
Sans vouloir vous contredire, les impôts augmentent chaque année. (I don’t want to contradict you, but taxes increase every year.)
Avoiding Expressing an Opinion
10. Il m’est impossible de donner un avis [définitif] sur (I can’t give a [definite] opinion on)
Talk about avoidance! This is a great phrase to keep in your pocket when you feel like it would be best to keep your opinion to yourself.
Il m’est impossible de donner un avis [définitif] sur la crise economique. (I can’t give a [definite] opinion on the economic crisis.)
11. Je n’ai jamais vraiment réfléchi à (I have never really thought about)
Sometimes a situation calls for a little white lie.
Je n’ai jamais vraiment réléchi à la dette nationale. (I have never really thought about the national debt.)
12. Je n’ai pas d’opinion bien précise sur (literally translates to “I don’t have a very precise opinion about” but is understood to mean “I don’t have strong feelings about”)
Je n’ai pas d’opinion bien précise sur son mandat. (I don’t have strong feelings about his term.)
Argument Phrases for Casual (and Polite) Debates
When you’re sitting around a dinner table with people you know (maybe even love!), things don’t have to be so serious. The formalities can be dropped and offering one’s opinion is often just as good as citing established facts. Still, it’s usually best to keep things friendly (even if you’re convinced your opinion is more legitimate!).
Offering an Opinion
13. Selon moi (literally “according to me” but is understood to mean “in my opinion”)
Selon moi, habiter en ville présente des opportunités aussi bien que des inconvénients. (In my opinion, living in the city offers advantages as well as disadvantages.)
14. À mon avis (In my opinion)
A mon avis, les tickets de métro coûtent trop cher. (In my opinion, the metro tickets are too expensive.)
15. Personellement (Personally)
Personellement, je trouve son comportement immoral. (Personally, I find his behavior immoral.)
16. Je ne peux pas m’empêcher de penser que (literally translates to “I cannot prevent myself from thinking that” but is understood to mean “I can’t help but think that”)
Je ne peux pas m’empêcher de penser que ses propos ne sont pas sincères. (I can’t help but think that his words are not sincere.)
17. En ce qui me concerne (As far as I’m concerned)
En ce qui me concerne Marielle est malhonnête. (As far as I’m concerned Marielle is dishonest.)
18. Je suis totalement d’accord (I completely agree)
Je suis totalement d’accord ; l’économie entre en récession. (I completely agree; the economy is going into a recession.)
19. Sans doute (Probably)
Tu as sans doute raison. (You are probably right.)
20. À cent pourcent (literally translates to “at 100 percent” but is understood to mean “I agree 100 percent”)
Je suis d’accord à cent pourcent. (I agree 100 percent.)
21. Ça sert à rien de (It’s useless to)
Ça sert à rien de manger les produits biologiques. (It’s useless to eat organic products.)
22. Ne t’énerve pas mais (Don’t get upset but)
Ne t’enerve pas mais ton point de vue est illogique. (Don’t get upset but your point of view is illogical.)
23. J’espère que tu ne le prendras pas mal si je (I hope you won’t take it badly if)
J’espère que tu ne le prendras pas mal si je ne suis pas d’accord. (I hope you won’t take it badly if I disagree.)
24. Je suis contre (I am against)
Je suis contre le référendum. (I am against the referendum.)
Really Casual Spats or Engueulades (Disputes)
Sometimes people stop being nice and start getting real, meaning screaming matches are preferred to calm tête-à-tête (one-on-one discussions) and cheeky one-liners to well-reasoned arguments.
Use these expressions with serious discretion.
25. Ta gueule ! (Shut up!)
Literally translating to “your face,” this phrase is a truncated version of ferme ta gueule (literally “close your face”). Gueule is slang for face.
26. C’est à moi que tu parles ? (Are you talking to me?)
This phrase is perfect if you’re the confrontational type.
27. T’occupe ! (Mind your own business!)
This literally translates to “take care of yourself.” This is a great expression to use when a third party tries to play the role of peacemaker.
28. Tu me prends la tête ! (You’re driving me crazy!)
This literally translates to “you’re taking my head.”
29. Tu rêves ! (In your dreams!)
30. Casse-toi pauvre con ! (Get lost, you idiot!)
This one is to be used with extreme caution. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! To use it you have to be either a) a really fast runner or b) certain that the person you’re talking to has a really, really good sense of humor (and really good cultural literacy).
You see, this phrase was uttered by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008 when, during a visit to an agricultural convention, a farmer refused to shake his hand, saying “Ah non, touche-moi pas! Tu me salis.” (Oh no, don’t touch me! You’ll get me dirty.)
Now go out there and engage in a healthy debate with your neighbor.
Just don’t blame us if you’re feeling saucy and end up picking a fight with the next person who cuts you off in the check-out line!
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 FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.