|| Learning French
is a list of terms or phrases you won't find in an ordinary French
- English dictionary, nuances obligent! Even if you've
learned perfect grammatical French in school, you still may not
know the REAL meanings of these phrases which are used in everyday
life in France. However, do not take it too seriously !
This is just to give you an idea of the French humor : second
degree and exageration ! Here goes!
Some of these expressions come
from a hilarious book, The Parisians, by French journalist
Alain Schifres published by J.C. Lattes, 1990, Paris and from
Sky my Husband-Ciel mon mari by Jean-Loup Chiflet (John-Wolf
Whistle), Hermé 1985, Paris (Guide de l'Anglais courant-Guide
of the Running English!).
| when they say ...
|| its literal meaning is...
|| but in fact it means...
ne fait pas chaud"
is not hot
is terribly cold
n'est pas grand"
is not big
is small and cute (for a baby)
|| dear friend
|| drop dead,
|| "an atmosphere
|| "a fantastic
(or : hot) atmosphere"
| "à très bientôt"
|| see you very
|| I hope I'll
never see you again
| "ce n'est
|| it's not bad
| "elle n'est pas épaisse"
|| she's not
|| she's skinny
as a rail
| "il est
|| he is courageous
|| he is totally
| "au plaisir"
be happy to see you again
time, I'll cross the street
not very smart
l'ai lu, il y a des choses"
read it, there are some interesting things in it
read it, it's really bad
| "Non" (typically
shopkeepers according to Polly Platt)
|| try to convince me or : tell me something less boring
| "ça n'existe pas" (same source)
|| it doesn't exist
|| it's down
in the storeroom
| "impossible" (same source)
|| I'm tired
or I'm busy or the way you put your request doesn't intrigue
me enough to bother with it
|| with a shrugging
of shoulders, raising of elbows and a scowl
|| I don't know
| "j'ai mal au coeur"
|| I have a pain
in my heart
|| I am going
ne mange pas de pain"
|| it doesn't
|| it is not
| "flanquer un pain"
|| to hit with
|| to punch out
DID YOU KNOW
THAT....? Between French and English, one word, two meanings : built on the same word (to do = faire), a " doer "
is positive in English (somebody who gets things done) and "un
faiseur " is negative in French (somebody who shows off)
few useful links :
- Alliance Française
has a very comprehensive
site in English, with many useful tips on life in Paris ;
Alliance Française, 101 blvd Raspail 75006 Paris, tel.
01 45 44 38 28 , or 2819 Ordway Street NW Washington DC 20008
tel 202-966 9740 www.afusa.org (read a funny piece about it in
Barrie Kerper's book).
More about Alliance Française and the French cultural
- Frenchplanations is an educational French-related website with information on French grammar, French vocabulary, French culture and more created from the point of view of an American who has lived in Paris.
||Private French lessons in Paris : our blog provides insights about French language, French culture and Paris.
- Join a conversation group
- Learn French at home
- And more :
- Frantastique provides daily, fun, personalized French lessons which adapt to your level and interests. 10-15 minutes a day is all it takes to improve your French over the long-term. Sign up for our 7-day free trial and laugh while you learn!
- an informative and cultural audio E-magazine for French learners and expatriates
- Click here for a glossary
of French words
- More to come....
TIPS : Frequently used acronyms : AOC (Appelation d'Origine
Contrôlée = certified wine or food), ASSEDIC (unemployment
insurance scheme), CDI or CDD (Contrat à Durée
Indéterminée/Déterminée = unlimited
time/limited time job contract), CRS (Compagnie Républicaine
de Sécurité = riot police), DOM-TOM (Département/Territoire
d'Outre-mer = French overseas regions), EDF (French electricity
company), ENA (Ecole Nationale d'Administration
= school for public administration), HLM (Habitation à
Loyer Modéré = public housing, which houses 25% of French households), HS (Hors Service=Out
of Order, IVG (Interruption Volontaire
de grossesse = legal abortion), ISF (impot sur la fortune = tax on wealth),
PJ (police judiciaire = state police), RATP (Paris public transport
system), RIB (relevé d'identité bancaire = bank
account number document), RMI (Revenu Minimum d'Insertion, the minimum
allocation of around 400 Euros/month for anybody who does not
qualify for anything else, now called RSA), RTT (Réduction du Temps de
Travail = additional days off resulting from the legal constraint of the
35-hour week), SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe = homeless), SMIC (Salaire
Minimum Interprofessionnel de Croissance = minimum salary), SECU (Social Security), SNCF (Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais = national train company), SVP (s'il vous plait = please), TGV (Train
à Grande Vitesse = high-speed train), TVA (value added
tax), etc... For political parties : LR (gaullist, center right),
PS (socialist, center left), UDI & Modem (Christian democrat), PC (communist),
FN & MPF (extreme right), LO & LCR (trotskyist), etc..
|Dangerous mistakes !
||In France, animals speak
| when you (American) say...
|| a literal translation of ...
|| the French understand...
suis plein" (or : "je suis pleine")
|| I am full
- I am drunk (if you are a man)
- I am pregnant (if you are a
suis excité" (or : je suis excitée")
|| I am horny
moi vous introduire"
|| let me introduce
|| let me sodomize
In France, animals do not
speak English and may be hard to understand :
- Cats do miaou (mee-aow)
- Dogs bark with Ouah Ouah
- Donkeys say Hi Han (Hee
- Roosters say Cocorico
, chicken cot cot , ducks coin-coin and birds Cui
Cui (quee quee, a sound which has nothing to do with the
- Cows go Meuh
- Sheeps say bèèèè
- More to come
| Strange French expressions
(if translated literally...)
|| French phonetics...
|when they say ...
|| its literal meaning is...
|| but in fact it means...
pas gardé les cochons ensemble
never kept the pigs together
be too familiar with me
que je te demande si ta grand-mère fait du vélo
I ask you if you granma rides a bike
| Il m'a tiré
les vers du nez
|| he pulled
the worms out of my nose
|| he led me
Le jour où
les cons voleront,tu seras chef d'escadrille
| if one day
assholes can fly, you'll be squadron leader
|| you are really
| J'ai pris
|| I took my
|| I had a great
| Entre chien
|| between dog
|| at dusk
DID YOU KNOW THAT … ? In French, three French words are transgender ! They are masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural. And, in addition to that, the three of them are somehow poetic ! What are these magic words ? Amour, delice et orgue (love, delight and organ). You must say "Un grand amour" (one = masculine) and "Des grandes amours" (several = feminine) and so on. Weird, isnt it ?
The (kind of) English they speak….
Although they have the reputation of not being very gifted for foreign languages, the French love to use English words, in a way sometimes mysterious to American ears. Here are a few examples :
- Wrong pronunciation : « a sweat-shirt » is pronounced « un sweet », a « low cost » flight sounds like « low coast », etc…
- Made-up words : girlie means something like « young and cheerful », streeteuse seems to mean « someone who likes to walk, etc…
- Words with another meaning : « c’est trash » means « it’s a mess », « c’est rock’n roll » means complicated or animated, « je suis cash » means "I am frank", etc…
- More to come
If you want to express your feelings
phonetically, it may also be different :
- In French, yum-yum is
- Ouch is "aïe" (like eye)
- knock-knock is 'toc-toc" and tick-tock is "tic-tac"
- Yuk is pouah or "beurk"
- Wow is "Oh-La-La"
- Whatever is "bof"
- Whew is "ouf" (like oof)
- More to come
DID YOU KNOW
that the French Academy was founded by Richelieu in 1635
as the protector of the French language? It's still going strong
- even though French has definitely been supplanted by English
as the universal language. It is one of the five "academies"
which constitute the Institut de France (with Académie
des Sciences, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Académie
des Sciences Morales et Politiques, Académie des Inscriptions
et Belles Lettres). The Académie Française has forty members, known
as "les Immortels". They meet every Thursday morning
to give the "correct definition" of words and review
the Dictionnary of the Académie, which is published every
50 or 60 years ! They are currently working on the letter "p"...
YOU KNOW THAT .....? The longest word in French is the adverb
"anticonstitutionnellement" (against the Constitution).
Since 1905, every year in fall, before school starts, the new
edition of the most popular dictionary, the Petit Larousse Illustré
is largely discussed in the medias. Sociologists and linguists
comment the newly admitted and newly eliminated words.
Help us complete this page and
see Harriet Welty Rochefort's chapter on Politesse in French Toast for more examples
of the unwritten codes and nuances of the French language. Do
you know what "mot de
Cambronne" means ? Have you made any major booboos in
our page on intercultural differences
DID YOU KNOWTHAT.....?
Some "faux amis" in politics : in French, a
"liberal" is a right-wing supporter of the market (as opposed
to a "dirigiste" who supports state-owned companies),
a "radical" or a "radical-socialiste" belongs
to a center-right party (which was a left-wing party a century
|To related pages : The French language (#1), French literature, education, etc...
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Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French.
Order her books:
- "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
- "French Toast, An American in Paris
Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press,
New York, 1999
- "French Fried, The Culinary Capers
of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001
More on Harriet's
(excerpts, upcoming events, testimonials, etc..)
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