french exclamations

Oh là là ! 25 French Exclamations to Add Flair to Your Conversations

Oh là là !

This well-known phrase is an example of a French exclamation: a word, sound or noise that we make to express an extreme emotion such as excitement, anger or happiness.

But what does oh là là mean? And have you been using it correctly when learning how to speak French?

Let’s check out the top 25 French exclamations, explore their meanings and learn to use them correctly.


1. Ah bon ? (Really?)

Our first exclamation contains a common sound from English: Ah.

Just as in English, this word expresses surprise. Combined with the French word bon meaning “good”, the expression has the non-literal meaning of “really?”

In this way, the speaker can express surprise at some learned fact and ask the listener to clarify. Take a look at the following example.

François: Marie s’est enfuie avec son amant pour se marier ! (Marie eloped with her lover!)
Delphine: Ah bon ? Je n’y crois pas. (Really? I don’t believe it.)

2. Aïe ! (Ouch!)

Getting injured is something that can happen no matter what language you speak. The French use the word Aïe to say “ouch.” Here’s an example of it in use!

Jacques: Aïe ! Je me suis cogné l’orteil contre le pied de la chaise. (Ouch! I stubbed my toe against the leg of the chair.)

3. Ouf (Phew)

In recent years, I’ve noticed English-speaking youths using a new exclamation: oof. It’s a way of expressing discomfort. There is actually an expression in French pronounced the same way, though it does not have the same meaning.

Instead, ouf in French translates more to the English word “phew!” In that sense, it expresses relief after some stressful or uncertain situation.

Amélie: Ouf ! J’ai fini le projet avant la date limite. (Phew! I finished the project before the deadline.)

4. Miam miam (Yum yum)

Who doesn’t love yummy food?

Well, in French, there is also a way to express that something tastes amazing. While we might say “yum yum” in English, the French say miam miam instead. Now you have the perfect caption for all your Instagram pictures of scrumptious French food!

François: Miam miam ! Cette soupe à l’oignon est délicieuse ! (Yum yum! This French onion soup is delicious.)

5. La vache ! (Holy cow!)

Sometimes French and English exclamations translate between each other almost perfectly. This is the case with la vache. It literally means “the cow,” and it expresses the same surprise and awe as the English exclamation “holy cow!” Not to mention, it is a pretty fun exclamation to say!

Delphine: La vache ! Cette femme court très vite. (Holy cow! That woman runs very quickly.)

6. Oups (Whoops / Oops)

Like la vache, our next exclamation has pretty much the same meaning as its English counterpart. The French exclamation oups means the same thing as the English words “whoops” or “oops.” This exclamation is used to express remorse after a mistake.

Amélie: Jacques ! Tu as oublié ton sac à dos pour l’école. (Jacques! You forgot your backpack for school.)
Jacques: Oups ! Je viens. (Whoops! I’m coming.)

7. Chut ! (Shh!)

What better way to get someone to be quiet than a universally-understood exclamation?

In English, we say “shh!” The sound is similar in French: the word chut starts with a “sh” sound followed by an “u” sound. Keep in mind: the final t in the word chut is silent.

Delphine: Chut ! Ne parle pas. J’essaie de lire et tu me distrais. (Shh! Don’t speak. I’m trying to read and you’re distracting me.)

8. Oh là là ! (Oh my!)

Are you still wondering about the phrase oh là là ? Well, this exclamation is actually a little more strange than it appears.

While in context the phrase means “oh my!” it literally translates to “oh there there.” But rather than having the same meaning of “there, there” in English, this exclamation instead expresses surprise or awe of something.

François: Oh là là ! Cette robe est belle. (Oh my! That dress is beautiful.)

9. Zut (alors) ! (Darn!)

Perhaps one of the more stereotypical and imitated French exclamations, zut is a way to express discontent or regret without using a French swear word. In that sense, it translates most closely to the English word “darn!”

The word alors (then, so) adds emphasis to this exclamation, and it is optional.

Jacques: J’ai laissé mon portable tomber. Zut alors ! (I dropped my phone. Darn!)

10. Hein ? (Huh?)

As in English, the French word hein ? isn’t the most polite way to express confusion, but in informal situations, it gets the point across.

Meaning the same thing as the English exclamation “huh?” it is a way to ask for repetition or clarification of something that is not quite understood. Be cautious, however. Using hein ? in a formal situation is seen as rude, so I would use the word pardon ? in its place in those types of situations.

Amélie: Hein ? Je n’ai pas entendu ce que tu as dit. (Huh? I didn’t hear what you said.)

11. Quoi ? (What?)

Quoi literally translates to English as “what.” When it’s used as an exclamation (just as in English), it becomes an expression of surprise, anger or disbelief. Check out an example.

Delphine: Je suis désolée, mais Jacques ne vient pas au restaurant ce soir. (I’m sorry, but Jacques is not coming to the restaurant this evening.)
Amélie: Quoi ? Il vient toujours au restaurant avec nous.
(What? He always comes with us to the restaurant.)

12. Quel + noun (What a + noun)

Our next exclamation doesn’t have any meaning on its own. Quel means “which” or “what”, and it needs a noun in order to complete the exclamation. For example, the sentence quel garçon ! translates to “what a boy!” This phrase could be used to express amazement or surprise at a particular person. You can also use inanimate objects in this construction.

Keep in mind, however, that quel must agree with the noun that follows it. That means that feminine nouns use quelle as in quelle femme ! (what a lady!), masculine plural nouns are paired with quels as in quels livres ! (what books!) and feminine plural nouns use quelles as in quelles montagnes ! (what mountains!)

In addition to nouns, adjectives can also follow quel before the noun. These need to agree in gender and plurality as well. An example would be quel grand lac ! (what a big lake!)

13. Quelle horreur ! (How horrible!)

While you can put quel with just about any noun (and adjective), there are some fixed French exclamations that pretty much everyone uses.

For starters, quelle horreur is a pretty well-known exclamation that means “how horrible!” It is used to express disgust, anger and sorrow. Notice that quel has become quelle because the noun horreur is feminine.

François: Le chien de Jacques est mort. (Jacques’ dog is dead.)
Amélie: Quelle horreur ! J’espère que Jacques va bien. (How horrible! I hope that Jacques is okay.)

14. Quel soulagement ! (What a relief!)

Quel soulagement means “what a relief” in French, and it is used to express just that: relief. Speakers can use this exclamation to express that a certain stress has lifted or that an outcome is not so terrible after all.

Delphine: Je suis navrée, mais j’ai commis une erreur. Le chien de Jacques est en vie. (I’m sorry, but I made a mistake. Jacques’ dog is alive.)
François: Quel soulagement ! (What a relief!)

15. Quel désastre ! (What a disaster!)

Quel désastre is the polar opposite of our preceding exclamation. Instead, it expresses regret, anger or sorrow in reaction to a certain situation. It means “what a disaster!”

Jacques: J’ai oublié mes clés chez moi, et maintenant je ne peux pas ouvrir la porte de mon bureau. Quel désastre ! (I forgot my keys at home, and now I can’t open my office door. What a disaster!)

16. Quel imbécile ! (What an idiot!)

Popularized by Hermione Granger in the first Harry Potter film, quel imbécile has the same meaning as Hermione’s signature line: “what an idiot!” This exclamation can be used to express frustration at someone who makes a mistake or who is disliked. It can also be used in jest.

Amélie: Jacques a oublié ses clés chez lui, et personne ne peut entrer. Quel imbécile ! (Jacques forgot his keys at home, and no one can get in. What an idiot!)

17. Quelle barbe ! (What a bore!)

Our next exclamation has a kind of silly translation. It literally means “what a beard,” and it’s used to express something along the lines of “what a bore!” It is used to convey displeasure at something or someone who is boring.

François: La réunion au bureau a duré trois heures cet après-midi. Quelle barbe ! (The meeting at the office lasted three hours this afternoon. What a bore!)

18. Quelle chance ! (What luck!)

While the word “chance” in English means that something has the possibility of happening, the word chance in French means “luck.” As such, the expression quelle chance means “what luck!” in English, and it is used to express surprise and pleasure at the way something has turned out.

Jacques: Mes clés étaient dans ma voiture après tout. Quelle chance ! (The keys were in my car after all. What luck!)

19. Quelle malchance ! (What bad luck!)

Conversely, the word malchance means “bad luck” in French. Combined with quelle, this exclamation means “what bad luck,” and it’s used to express displeasure at the way things have turned out.

Delphine: J’ai perdu 200 euros au casino samedi. Quelle malchance ! (I lost 200 euro at the casino on Saturday. What bad luck!)

20. Que c’est + adjective (How + adjective)

Que c’est is another common construction used to create French exclamations. When preceding an adjective, it means “how”. In that sense, the phrase que c’est grand ! means “how big!” in English.

Unlike the exclamations with quel, the accompanying adjectives are always masculine. In other words, they do not need to agree with the thing that is being talked about even if that thing is feminine or plural.

21. C’est pas vrai ! (No way!)

There are two things to note about this exclamation. The first is that it uses the negative without the ne. This is positive (and used quite frequently) in informal situations.

The second thing is that the word vrai means “true,” so this sentence literally means “it’s not true.” Despite that, it’s used in French the same way we use the exclamation “no way!” in English to express disbelief about something.

Amélie: Delphine a perdu 200 euros au casino samedi. (Delphine lost 200 euro at the casino on Saturday.)
François: C’est pas vrai ! Elle gagne toujours. (No way! She always wins.)

22. Comme c’est + adjective (How + adjective)

Even though this exclamation is new, it may seem pretty familiar to you. In fact, it behaves exactly like que c’est and it means the exact same thing. And as with que c’est, it is followed by an adjective which is always in the masculine form to give the meaning of “how…”

François: J’aime beaucoup cette robe. Comme c’est joli ! (I like this dress a lot. How pretty!)

23. Comme c’est triste ! (How sad!)

While comme c’est can be used with any adjective to create a myriad of meanings, it is commonly used with the adjective triste (sad). This translates to “how sad!” in English. As expected, this is used to express sadness about a certain thing.

Delphine: Mais la robe est déjà vendu. (But the dress is already sold.)
François: Comme c’est triste ! (How sad!)

24. Comme c’est gentil à vous/à toi ! (How kind of you!)

Our next exclamation is another common one starting with comme c’est. Regardless of what form is used, it means “how kind of you.” Keep in mind that the version with à vous is for formal situations and the version with à toi is for informal situations.

Jacques: J’ai apporté un bouquet de fleurs pour toi, Amélie. (I brought a bouquet of flowers for you, Amelie.)
Amélie: Comme c’est gentil à toi ! (How kind of you!)

25. C’est beaucoup ! (That’s a lot!)

C’est beaucoup literally translates to “that’s a lot,” and that is the actual meaning of this exclamation as it’s used. It is spoken to express surprise at the amount of something.

François: Regarde les bouteilles de vin pour la fête. C’est beaucoup ! (Look at the bottles of wine for the party. That’s a lot!)


Comme c’est triste ! We’ve come to the end of our list.

At least now you know the real meaning of oh là là, and you have 25 other exclamations to add to your repertoire!


Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe