Money in French: L’argent and How to Talk About It
There are so many words for dough, bucks and bills.
So you can bank on the fact that knowing how to talk about money in French can help you with everything from traveling in the French-speaking world to getting extra value out of French pop culture.
In this post, we’ll cover different ways to say “money” in French, plus learn important vocabulary about banking, economics and everything in between.
Let’s get current with currency—à la française (French style).
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- How to Say “Money” in French
- French Slang Terms for Money
- Financial States and Status in French
- French Banking Terms
- Advanced Finance and Economics
- When Will You Need to Talk About Money in French?
- How to Practice French Money Words
How to Say “Money” in French
Before we get to the slang and advanced French money terms, let’s get the basics down.
How do you say “money” in French?
“Money” in French is l’argent.
This is the general masculine noun to use for any kind of currency, from bills and coins all the way to silver.
In fact, you may recognize the word argent from the Latin name for the silver element, argentum!
French Slang Terms for Money
Depending on your conversation partner, you may get mileage out of both the standard French and slang terms for money.
- L’argent liquide — cash
In English, a similar term would be “liquid assets,” although that belongs more to the world of high finance than everyday conversation.
- Le billet — paper money, bank note
Mnemonic: The word billet in French looks a bit like “bill” in English… as in “a dollar bill,” a “billfold” or a “wad of bills.”
Be careful because billet is also a word for “ticket”—as in trains, plains, automobiles and the lottery.
- La monnaie — loose change, currency
The word monnaie sounds like a mock-French pronunciation of the English word “money.”
- Une pièce de monnaie — a single coin
- La thune — money
This slang term for money derives from an old word for a five-franc piece, hearkening back to the days before the Euro.
- Poigner des poissons — to make money
Poigner is a colloquialism for “to catch” or “to grab,” coming from either la poignée (handful or fistful) or la poigne (the grip of one’s hand).
Poigner des poissons means “to make money”—literally, “to catch some fish.”
- Le pognon — money (used similarly to “bread” or “dough” in English).
Pognon seems to be related to the French words for “fistful,” “grip” and “grab.” According to Wordsense, it comes from pogner.
If it’s related to la poignée, le pognon could refer (figuratively) to a fistful of Euros.
- Le blé — money (literally, “wheat”).
French uses blé (wheat) as a slang term for money in the same way “bread” is used to mean “money” in English. In both cases, something essential that money can buy is used to represent money.
- Une balle — a Euro.
Just like “buck” means “dollar” in American English, une balle is an informal French word for a Euro. (Back in the old, pre-Millennium days, it used to refer to a franc.)
The standard French word balle means both a “bullet” and a “ball” (used in sports). However, it can also mean “chaff,” which is probably what led to its use referring to a single Euro, since blé (wheat) is slang for “money.”
Chaff is considered the worthless part of the grain. What with inflation, some folks might see a single franc or Euro out of a whole bunch of money (the wheat) as small and valueless. In other words, it’s extremely petty cash.
Le billet et la monnaie sont tous les deux des genres de l’argent liquide. (Paper money and coins are both types of cash.)
Pour avoir le pognon, il faut poigner les poissons. (To have dough, you have to make money.)
Financial States and Status in French
When people talk about money, it’s usually with an awareness of cost, value and the ability to pay.
This is certainly true in French, as these expressions and slang terms demonstrate.
Free and Cheap
- C’est gratuit — free of charge, on the house, gratis.
- Une réduction — a discount.
This one’s close to its English counterpart, une réduction is a reduction in cost… or, put another way, a discount.
- C’est cadeaux — free, a gift
- Radin — cheap or stingy, tight with the purse-strings.
Radin, an adjective that came into use around 1710, can also be used as a noun (le radin or la radine), meaning “skinflint” or “miser.”
Circa 1837, the related word la radinerie (stinginess) came into use.
L’homme radin, qui voulait avant tout entendre les mots “c’est gratuit,” a demandé une réduction du prix. (The stingy man, who more than anything else wanted to hear the words “it’s free,” asked for a discount.)
Costly and Pricey
For more ways to bemoan costliness than the expressions below, try this list that’s rich with figurative language, hyperbole and style.
- C’est pas donné ! — It’s expensive — literally, “It’s not given (away)!”
In textbook French, of course, the negation would be ce n’est pas donné .
- Ça coûte les yeux de la tête — This costs a lot.
In English, we might say, “It costs an arm and a leg.” Our French friends render this as, “It costs the eyes from out of one’s head.”
- Ça douille — it’s costly, expensive.
La douille was an archaic French word for “money.” It’s possible that the expression originally contained a verb, such as coûter (as in, ça coûte douille , “it costs money”).
- Reuch — expensive.
Reuch is the Verlan slang word for the standard French term cher (expensive).
Here’s a mnemonic for reuch (it’s admittedly zippier in French than English): Tu dois être riche pour acheter une chose reuch. (You have to be rich to buy something expensive.)
Tu crois que ça douille? (Do you think that’s pricey?)
C’est pas donné, ça c’est sûr! (They’re not giving it away, that’s for sure!)
Debt and Poverty
- Le /la grippe-sou — scrounger or penny-pincher.
Used in both the masculine and feminine, this is literally someone who seizes a sou and won’t let go.
A sou was an old French coin of little value that was last in circulation about 200 years ago. The word is still used to refer to a paltry amount of money—similar to saying something is worth pennies.
A related expression, gripper les sous, can also mean “money-grubbing.”
- Avoir les dettes — to have debts.
Another way of saying this is être endetté (to be in debt).
The adjective endetté has a common root with la dette—which, although spelled differently, has a close pronunciation to its English counterpart, debt.
- Être fauché — to be broke.
This phrase comes from the expression fauché comme les blés (mown down like wheat).
Since, as we’ve noted, le blé is a slang French term for “money,” this expression basically means to be wiped out of cash.
- Être à sec — to be penniless or broke — literally, “to be dry.”
Le grippe-sou se croit mieux que ceux qui ont les dettes, et ceux qui sont fauchés. (The skinflint believes himself better than those who have debts, and those who are broke.)
- Salement riche — filthy rich
- Rouler sur l’or — to be rolling in money.
Rouler sur l’or is literally “to be rolling on gold.” Even though the word “money” in standard French is officially argent (literally, “silver”), gold is traditionally a metaphor for money.
- Bourré de fric — very rich — literally, “drunk with money.”
- Un richard — a wealthy man
- Être plein aux as — to be flush with cash, to be rich.
The word as in French means “ace,” referring to the playing card. Être plein aux as is “to be full of aces,” as in having lots of aces in one’s hand… a sure bet to win any kind of gamble, resulting in lots of cash.
Richard était un richard qui était salement riche. On peut dire qu’il roulait sur l’or, ou bien qu’il était bourré de fric. (Richard was a wealthy man who was filthy rich. One could say that he was rolling in money, or that he was drunk with riches.)
French Banking Terms
People don’t just talk about money. If you travel in a French-speaking country, you’ll need to spend money and perhaps withdraw some from your bank account.
If you live or work in the francophone world, you’ll also need to save and invest.
Here are some essential banking terms to help you navigate the world of French finance.
General Banking Terms
- Le caissier — bank teller.
Outside of the context of banking, le caissier is a “cashier,” the person who checks out your purchases in a grocery store or department store.
- Le guichet — window where the bank teller works, dispenses money, etc.
In addition to being the window where you get a ticket for something, like a train or a movie, un guichet is also the counter at which you’d transact business with a bank teller.
- Le guichet automatique — ATM
- Le code PIN — PIN code
- La carte bancaire — bank card/ATM card
- La banque sur internet — online banking
- L’agence bancaire — the bank branch
- Le compte bancaire — bank account.
Le compte en banque is another way you can say “bank account” in French.
Gérard a oublié son code PIN. Donc, il ne pouvait pas utiliser sa carte bancaire au guichet automatique. Il a dû aller directement à l’agence bancaire pour redresser la situation avec un cassier. (Gerard forgot his PIN code. Therefore, he couldn’t use his bank card at the ATM. He had to go directly to the bank branch to address the situation with a teller.)
- Un compte courant — checking account.
A checking account is often known as a “current account” in English-speaking parts of Europe. The French term reflects this usage.
- Un carnet de chèque — checkbook
- Le registre de vérification — check register
- Remplir un chèque — to write a check
- Le découvert bancaire — overdraft.
Découvert can mean “uncovered,” as in a debit that’s not covered by the amount of money in an account.
- Être à découvert — to be overdrawn
Chaque fois que tu remplis un chèque, il faut noter le montant au régistre de vérification afin d’éviter le découvert bancaire. (Each time you write a check, you must note the amount in the check register in order to avoid an overdraft.)
- Réaliser des économies — to save money
- Un compte épargne — savings account.
You may also hear the term une caisse d’épargne, which is a “savings bank.”
- Déposer d’argent — to deposit money
- Le relevé mensuel — monthly statement
- Le taux d’intérêt — interest rate
- Retirer — to withdraw (money)
Sur le relevé mensuel, on peut voir combien de fois qu’on a déposé d’argent au compte épargne, et même, chaque fois qu’on a retiré de l’argent. (On the monthly statement, we can see how many times we deposited money into the savings account, and also, each time we withdrew money.)
- Prêter — to lend (money)
- Un prêt — a loan
- Le prêt hypothécaire — mortgage loan.
A related word—“hypothecary”—exists in American English… in the civil law of Louisiana, a state where the French influence persists to this day.
- L’hypothèque — mortgage
Quand la banque prête de l’argent à payer l’hypothèque d’une maison, ce genre de prêt s’appelle “un prêt hypothécaire.” (When the bank loans money to pay the mortgage of a house, this type of loan is called a “mortgage loan.”)
Paying Bills and Spending
- La carte de débit — debit card
- La carte de crédit — credit card
- Payer comptant — to pay cash
- Le versement — a payment that settles an account, a remittance, an installment (in a series of payments).
Payer en versements mensuels means to pay off a debt in monthly installments.
- La paiement — payment (of interest or debt).
While sounding a lot like the English word “payment,” la paiement pertains specifically to paying interest or debt.
- Dépenser — to spend.
Did you know that an accent aigu (acute accent) usually means there was once an “s” after the vowel? Now you’ll see how similar dépenser is to the English word dispense. So you might think of dépenser as dispensing money.
- Débourser — to lay out, to fork out.
Une bourse is a purse (where money is kept). Débourser literally means “to take out of (the) purse.”
- Rembourser — to pay back
- Claquer — to blow money.
This is the kind of unbridled spending that you’ll normally want to avoid!
Claquer has many meanings in different contexts, including “to flap,” “to snap” (as in fingers), “to slam,” “to chatter” (as in teeth). You may have heard the expression je claque des dents , meaning “my teeth are chattering.”
- Claquer is also slang for dying, the way we’d say “to buy the farm” or “to kick the bucket” in English.
- La compte présente un arriéré — The account is overdue.
Like en retard (overdue) and impayé/es (unpaid), this isn’t a French financial term you’d want to experience first-hand.
- Le reçu — receipt.
The French word for “receipt” doesn’t sound much like the English word. Trust me on this.
The looks and laughs I got when I requested une recette (a recipe) to show that I’d paid for my student housing still make me cringe.
While the plural, recettes, can mean “takings”—as in recettes entrées (gate receipts) and recettes fiscales (tax receipts)—you really don’t want to ask for une recette for that new chemise (shirt) you just bought.
Steer clear of that false cognate and remember that un reçu—like the past participle for the verb recevoir (to receive)—is your proof that the seller received your money.
- Récupérer de l’argent /se faire rembourser — to get money back
Si je paie comptant, j’insiste que le caissier me donne un reçu, pour que je puisse récupérer de l’argent si je rendrais mon achat. (If I pay cash, I insist that the cashier gives me a receipt, so that I can get money back if I were to return my purchase.)
Quand vous dépensez à ce magasin, vous avez le choix d’utiliser votre carte de débit ou bien votre carte de crédit. (When you spend [money] at this store, you have the choice of using your debit card or your credit card.)
Advanced Finance and Economics
- Le marché boursier — stock market.
France’s equivalent of the New York Stock Exchange, Euronext Paris, was known as La Bourse until the turn of this century.
- Les services financiers — financial services
- Le conseil d’administration — board of directors
- Entrer en récession — to go into a recession
- Le ralentissement économique — economic slowdown.
Ralentissement comes from the verb ralentir , which means “to slow down.”
- La crise financière — financial crisis
- Le plan de sauvetage — bailout plan
- La banque d’investissement — investment bank
- Le placement — investment.
Un bon placement is “a good investment.”
Placement can also refer to the act of getting someone a job, as in bureau de placement (employment agency).
And, outside of an economic or career context, placement can mean the act of placing an object somewhere.
- Le retour sur investissement — return on investment (ROI)
- En souffrance — past due.
Unlike impayé (unpaid) and arriéré (past due), en souffrance is a formal expression that usually refers to an investment or financial instrument (rather than an invoice or a bill for services rendered).
Après le ralentissement économique causé par la crise financière, plusieurs pays étaient entrés en récession. (After the economic slowdown caused by the financial crisis, several countries entered into a recession.)
Les placements de la banque d’investissement étaient en souffrance avant que le plan de sauvetage ait implémenté par le gouvernement fédéral. (The investment bank’s investments were past due before the bailout plan was implemented by the federal government.)
When Will You Need to Talk About Money in French?
No matter who you are, where you go or what you do for a living, talking about money is inevitable. That’s why having a good grasp of French monetary terms will serve you well, whether you’re a tourist, a student or a globe-trotting tycoon.
- French money vocabulary is necessary for traveling, working or living in France or other francophone countries—from simple currency exchanges to payment documentation.
- If you’re a global entrepreneur (or just dabble in the international financial scene), French money terms will increase your understanding of business and economics in the 29 nations where French is an official language.
- Learning money words, especially slang and everyday terms, will help you better understand French media and pop culture.
Money is part of life, so French songs, TV shows and movies are rife with references to money.
How to Practice French Money Words
Here’s a bountiful grab-bag of resources for learning and practicing French money-related terms.
Money Slang Lists
Money-related jargon grows about as quickly as inflation! Keep up with the latest lingo using these resources:
- This list of slang and idiomatic expressions involving money casually covers the world of money as it relates to work. Give the audio player near the top of the page a click—you’ll hear all the French terms on the page pronounced in a little over a minute.
- You’ll find a list of over 90 French money expressions in this online English-French dictionary—ranging from standard French phrases, to colloquialisms, to proverbs such as l’argent fait la loi (money talks — literally, “money makes the law”).
- Converse more colorfully about your finances with this Cool French: Money primer from the BBC.
Money Vocabulary Online Study Tools
Use a combination of online flashcards, quizzes and games to help you learn money vocabulary:
- Break into discussions about banking and personal finance with this flashcard set of 25 useful words.
- The FluentU program is a way to learn money terms (and other vocabulary) in authentic usage. Watch short videos like movie trailers and news segments to see how native French speakers talk about money.
Dual-language subtitles, video-enhanced flashcards and a contextual dictionary all contribute to FluentU’s natural language learning process.
- Here are 40 French banking terms, with some detours into investment and purchasing.
Grow your commercial word interests with these two French business periodicals:
- A classic since 1908, Les Échos was the first daily French financial newspaper. You’ll find your fill of economic analyses, as well as newer features on tech, marketing and ecologically sustainable businesses.
- A relative newcomer, La Tribune was founded in 1985 as an economics-focused publication. It comes complete with a stock ticker and minute-by-minute news timeline.
No matter what the economy does, remember: L’apprentissage d’une langue est toujours un bon placement, et le retour sur investissement est excellent. (Learning a language is always a good investment, and the return on investment is excellent.)
Many happy returns!
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