You sometimes spend years trying to perfect your grammar, speak textbook French, master the most intelligent vocabulary, sound sophisticated, and yet suddenly all of that can be thrown up in the air when you encounter a French person speaking slang. Being able to understang or using French slang will help you to communicate more effectively in French.
As a private French tutor, I obviously try to teach the most correct and sophisticated French. However, language is alive and in constant evolution, exactly the opposite of something that is set forever “gravé dans le marbre pour toujours” (indelibly printed). A language has something to do with the richness, the complexity, the diversity, and the creativity that is beyond the established linguistic norms. This is the reason why, as a teacher of French, I always strive to teach the most authentic French, including slang “argot”. To me it is almost as important to be able to understand a common idiomatic expression as to be able to employ the correct conjugations. To be able to do so is essential to learning how to be chatty, informal and friendly in French.
There’s a whole host of new words and terms that are used by native speakers. I have collected some of the most commonly used French slang terms that will make you sound like a local. It is obviously not an exhaustive list, with some words and expressions being colloquial and potentially can insult someone (which I obviously do not recommend to test in a real situation !). Obviously it is not my main aim, but it might be helpful to be aware of some of them.
My mini French Slang Dictionary
A la mode: in fashion, fashionable, current
Une bagnole: car
La bouffe: food, grub
Bouffer: to eat; wolf down; gobble up
Un boulot: job, work
Un bouquin: book
Une clope: cigarette
Connard!: ass! (n.b.: used only in reference to men)
Conasse!: bitch!, bitchy woman (n.b.: used only in reference to women)
Une connerie: stupid words or actions
Costaud: strong, sturdy, tough
Déconner: to act like a jerk; lose it; kid
Dingue: crazy, nuts
Draguer: to flirt; pick up
Un dragueur: seducer
Engueuler: to tell off
Un flic: cop, police, copper, pig
Le fric: money
Un frigo: refrigerator
Un gamin(e): child, kid; little boy/girl
Merde !: shit!
Môme: kid, child, boy
Nul(le): dumb, bad, weak, poor
Le pognon: cash, money
Radin(e): stingy, miserly, miser
Rigolo: fun, amusing
Un salaud: bastard, swine, pig
Une salope: bitch
Se marrer: to have a good laugh
Snob: snobby, stuck up
Sympa: sympathetic, pleasant, enjoyable (abbreviated form). e.g. C’est très sympa d’échanger avec les autres
Un truc: trick, means
Ta gueule ! idiom: shut up !
Zut: damn, drat, darn (mild imprecation), Zut alors! (Damn it)
Long words sometimes have a shorter version
You might often hear restau instead of restaurant. Don’t be surprised, when French people speak they will often shorten the version of words that contain more than three syllables. For instance, cinéma becomes ciné. Here is a short list of the most frequently employed examples:
Sympa (for sympathique): sympathetic
Une télé (for une television): TV
Un frigo (for un frigidaire ): fridge
Un petit-dèj (for un petit-déjeuner): breakfast (you might often hear : ptit dèj)
Une rando (for une randonnée): hike
The Verlan, an argot in the French language, features inversion of syllables in a word. The name verlan is an example: it is derived from inverting the sounds of the syllables in l’envers (“the inverse,” pronounced lan-ver). Teenagers in the suburbs mainly use this type of French slang. Let’s look at some examples of the most frequently used examples:
Beur: arab (verlan for arabe)
Ouf: crazy (verlan for fou) you might hear : un truc de ouf (something crazy)
Keuf: cop; to pig (verlan for flic)
Kiffer: to like
Meuf: woman (verlan for femme) girl, woman
Reum : mother (verlan for mother)
Zarbi: weird (verlan for bizarre)
On instead of Nous
This one might not exactly fall into the category of French slang, but if you want to sound authentic, using on instead of nous will avoid immediately classifying you in the category of “Foreigners”.
You probably spent hours reviewing all the conjugation of nous, but trust me, you will rarely hear a French person use nous.
Get rid of the Ne at the negation
To make a verb negative, you have all learned to put Ne before the verb and Pas after the verb. For instance: Je ne veux pas (I don’t want). No native French speaker would ever use it in this way. In a formal situation, a native speaker would say: Jeun sais pas, gliding the je et the ne together. In an everyday situation, the je would disappear and become a sh sound, which would start the verb. You will then hear Shsais pas.
Je ne comprends pas: shcomprends pas: I don’t understand
Je ne sais pas: shsais pas: I don’t know
Je ne crois pas: shcrois pas: I don’t think
Je ne veux pas: shveux pas: I don’t want
Looking for more French slang?
For more of this useful, colloquial, type of French slang, check out the French Slang Dictionary in the event you do come across a phrase that you’re uncertain about. But beware: while this is an excellent resource, it doesn’t shy away from the slightly more insulting instances of French slang.
You’ll be fluent in French slang before you know it!