Have you ever noticed how cheesy the dialogues in French textbooks sound?
They use the same words and grammar as French people do in real life, but something doesn’t sound quite right.
One of the reasons is that textbook dialogues forget to include a few important little words that French people use all the time, like “bon”, “ben” and “euh”. These are called French filler words – they don’t add meaning but they give French its characteristic sound.
The good news is, they’re very easy to learn and you can use them to instantly sound more French.
In this post, you’ll learn:
- 9 French filler words that will help you sound more fluent.
- An easy trick to stay in “French mode” even when you’re stuck for words.
- The little word you should avoid using.
- Bonus: How French people greet each other – which cheek should you kiss first?
What are French Filler Words?
Filler words are little words like “er”, “kind of”, “so” and “well”. They’re called “filler words” because we use them to “fill” the time while we gather our thoughts and decide what to say.
Every language has their own filler words. A few examples in French are:
Why should I use French Filler Words?
French filler words are great for a few reasons:
They buy you thinking time
When you start speaking French, you might feel worried about long silences while you try to find the words.
But even natives hesitate sometimes, that’s why they have filler words! If you can use the same words French people do when they’re thinking, this will help you stay in “French mode” while you decide what to say next. You’ll sound more French, even when you’re stuck for words!
They help you sound (and feel) more French
Filler words give your speech a French flavor – it’s like sprinkling your sentences with French condiments.
They improve your listening comprehension
French people use filler words all the time. If you can recognize them, this will help you understand spoken French better.
9 French Filler words (and how to use them)
I can’t think of anyone better to teach you how to sound natural in French than Carrie from French is beautiful, my favorite American in Paris who brings French to life by using real materials (like films and quotes) in her lessons.
So I invited her to give you a little lesson on French filler words, and luckily she said “oui!”.
Below the interview, you’ll find:
- An explanation of each word with example sentences.
- A bonus lesson about “la bise” (the French kiss on the cheek).
- A free PDF download with the notes from today’s lesson.
Voilà some notes from Carrie’s lesson. Here you can download the PDF version of these notes so you can take them with you and study them whenever you like (you’ll also find links to other handy French stuff inside).
1 – 3: Bon, fin, bref
Used in isolation, these filler words mean:
- Bon =good
- Fin = end
- Bref = anyway
Used together, they signal the end of a story, a bit like “so anyway” or “long story short”.
Imagine you were telling a story about how you lost your keys, at the end, you could say:
Bon, fin, bref… elles était dans mon sac.
Long story short… they were in my purse.
4 – 5: Bon, ben
- Bon = good
- Ben = uhm
Used together, these filler words mean: “OK, well…” or “so, then…”. They’re often used just before you’re about to wrap up a conversation. For example:
Bon, ben… on s’appelle ce week-end?
OK, well… shall we call each other this weekend?
6 – 7: Donc, Alors
- Donc = Then, therefore, so
- Alors = Then, so
“Donc” and “alors” are often interchangeable. They have a similar meaning to “bon, ben” (OK then, so then…) but they’re a little more sophisticated.
Donc… on s’appelle ce week-end?
Alors… on s’appelle ce week-end?
So then… shall we call each other this weekend?
This is the sound French people make when they’re thinking. It’s like the English “er” or “uhm”.
As Carrie mentioned, our ears like to stay in the same “sound universe”. If you’re speaking French and you suddenly pronounce “err” the English way, it breaks the flow of the conversation.
Learning to pronounce French sounds, like “euh” when you’re thinking keeps you in French mode – it’s an easy way to instantly sound more French.
You can also use “ben”, which has the same meaning, but sounds a little more sophisticated.
“Hein” is the French equivalent of “huh?”. This little word is great to understand, but best avoided in the beginning stages as it can be perceived as impolite in some contexts (just like “huh?” in English).
More polite versions are:
Bonus: “La bise”
In this lesson, Carrie talked about “la bise”, which is the French word for that kiss on the cheek that French people do when they meet each other. A couple of tips:
- French people don’t literally kiss the cheek, they just touch cheeks and make a kissing sound.
- If you both wear glasses, it can be a good idea to quickly take yours off so you don’t get tangled!
Et voilà, 9 little words that will instantly help you sound très French. Have you used French filler words before? Do you know any that we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments, s’il te plaît!
More from French is Beautiful
If you’d like to keep learning French with Carrie, you can find her here:
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