So, you consider yourself an expert of sorts, do you?
Think you can sniff out all the subtle nuances of French conversation?
Think you’ve finally mastered French speaking?
I decided that, too, once a couple years ago when I finished my university degree in French. I mean, I had studied French for 16 years, four of those in a university setting. I should have been a conversation master.
But then I went to French-speaking countries. I traveled to Paris, Brussels and Luxembourg.
If I tried hard, I could understand the main idea of the conversations I had with natives, but quickly I learned that the French I learned at school was not the French they spoke every day. I needed not one, but many lessons in that elusive informal French they spoke on the streets.
I needed to master slang, especially if I wanted to understand people my age and understand millennial popular culture, including social media and vlogs.
Most of all, I needed to learn those filler words that occupied the dead spaces of everyday French conversation.
Um, What’s the Big Deal with Using Filler Words?
While the topic of filler words may seem like small potatoes in comparison to topics such as the past tense or the subjunctive, in fact, these words are very important and they play a bigger role in French than you might imagine. In spoken and even in formal written French, filler words make up a surprising amount of the language in terms of frequency.
Filler words correspond to the English words “uh” or “um” or “like,” and while their functions generally correspond to their English equivalents, sometimes their meanings are slightly different.
Furthermore, some filler words are also “real” French words, meaning that these words can be used in formal, academic French as well as in their informal, filler word role. Knowing the meanings of these words and the context of the situation will help avoid any confusion.
For example, the word fin (end) is a word that is an actual French word, but it is used as a filler word, as seen in this video from FluentU’s YouTube channel.
Check out videos about learning the French that real native speakers use on FluentU’s YouTube channel!
Lastly and most importantly, using filler words will allow you to better your French conversation skills. Despite getting a reputation for being substandard, informal French, filler words are used by French people every day! In order to speak like a native, learn French filler words!
10 French Filler Words to Make You a French Conversation Master
How often are these words used? You can get a sense of their frequency and usage by listening to real French speech on FluentU.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
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 FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% 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.
Check out these 10 filler words to, like, uh… fill up your French and sound like a real French native in no time!
Our first word is none other than the French word alors, or “well” in English. Alors is probably the most common filler word, and in fact, it’s so common that it can be heard in French classrooms all around the world—and not just from students.
The best thing about alors is that it’s often not regarded as an “informal” filler word. Along with teachers, this word can be heard in speeches, business presentations and even in political proceedings. In fact, you can even use it in formal writing!
Translated as “so” or “well,” alors is often used as a transition word at the beginning of a sentence to draw attention to a topic or a change of topic. Check out this example:
Alors, comment ça va ? (So, how’s it going?)
Ça va bien, merci. Et toi ? (It’s going well, thanks. And you?)
Alors can also be used in place of the English expression “So what?” In this sense, it asks for clarification of a previous statement, often in a rude or sarcastic way:
J’ai déjà lu ce livre. (I already read that book.)
Et alors ? (So what?)
Euh is the French equivalent of the English word “uh” or “um,” and the good news is that it’s used pretty much the same way. Like in English, euh is generally used as a pause or a moment to think. Along with alors, euh is extremely common, but unlike alors, it’s very informal:
Est-ce que je peux avoir, euh… un stylo ? (Can I have, uh… a pen?)
Euh, oui. (Uh, yes.)
Quoi is perhaps the most confusing filler word to beginner French learners. Technically, it translates to “what” in English, and it’s used to ask questions:
Tu as fait quoi ? (You did what?)
As a filler word, quoi better translates as “you know?” or the British “innit?” In fact, it’s used to give weight or highlight what you’re saying:
C’est une belle tour, quoi ? (It’s a beautiful tower, you know?)
Related to quoi, hein is another popular French filler word. Hein translates to the English word “huh,” and it can be used in many ways. Firstly, it can be used to indicate that you don’t understand something that has been previously said. However, be aware that this is regarded as very rude:
Dépêche-toi ! Tu vas rater le train ! (Hurry up! You’re going to miss the train!)
Hein ? (Huh?)
J’ai dit que tu vas rater le train ! (I said that you’re going to miss the train!)
Secondly, you can use hein to mean “right?” or in place of the French n’est-ce pas ? (Isn’t that right?):
C’est un bon livre, hein ? (It’s a good book, right?)
Euh, oui. (Uh, yes.)
The filler word bref translates to “brief” in English, and its function as a filler word is pretty self-explanatory. It’s the English equivalent of “basically” or “long story short,” and it’s generally used to sum up a long explanation and give the “low-down” on a particular topic:
Bref, j’ai raté l’interro de chimie. (Basically, I failed the chemistry test.)
Pronunciation tip: While you might be tempted to not pronounce the “f” at the end of the word bref, it actually is pronounced. In theory, the French word bref should rhyme with the English name “Steph.”
6 & 7. Ben oui, ben non
The next filler words on our list, ben oui and ben non, are a little bit confusing and there is some debate as to their exact meaning and function. We know the word oui means “yes,”and non means “no,” but the word ben can be seen as an informal version of the French word bien (well).
Together, these two expressions translate to “well, yes” or “well, no.” Basically, they’re used as an affirmation or negation of a previously stated topic:
Est-ce que tu veux un boisson ? (Do you want a drink?)
Ben, oui. (Well, yes.)
Et un croissant ? (And a croissant?)
Ben, non. (Well, no.)
8. En fait
En fait literally translates to the English “in fact,” and like alors, its use in different social contexts is quite flexible. In fact, it can be used in formal French speech as well as in formal French writing. In the informal way, en fait means “actually.” It can be used when changing your mind or trying to clarify what you’re trying to say:
J’ai conduit pendant cinq heures. En fait, c’était six ! (I drove for five hours. Actually, it was six!)
Pronunciation tip: Like bref, the “t” at the end of the expression en fait is pronounced to rhyme with the other French word fête (party).
Perhaps the most confused filler word for beginners is genre. First of all, it technically means “type” or “gender,” but in informal French, it translates more to the English filler word “like.” In fact, it’s used in the same way “uh” or “like” is used in, like, English.
Pronunciation tip: Keep in mind that this filler word is often pronounced very quickly in informal situations, so it can sound like jor instead of what we’d expect: jen-ruh.
Je voudrais, genre, un autre crayon. (I want, like, another pencil.)
10. Quand même
Last but not least, the expression quand même is a filler word with two meanings in French. First of all, it has a formal meaning of “even though” or “still,” but as a filler word, it can translate as “Wow!” or “No way!” In this sense, it’s used to show surprise or excitement about a given topic or revelation.
J’ai eu l’examen ! (I passed the exam!)
Quand même ! (Wow!)
Perhaps the best way to understand these French filler words and to use them naturally is to hear them used regularly by speakers. First of all, check out this great video to hear these filler words further broken down for English speakers. Next, see if you can find the filler words in action with native French speakers and YouTubers, Cyprien and Natoo!
So, like, get out there and, uh, master French filler words, you know?
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