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Top 10 French Filler Words: Maximum Frenchness!

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Have you ever started a conversation in a foreign language, believing you could handle it, only to end up puzzled and confused with the abundance of mysterious and seemingly unnecessary sounds that no academic learning could have prepared you for?

Like all languages, real-life spoken French is quite different from what you learn in grammar books. It’s littered with weird “filler words” that easily get in the way when you’re trying to follow a complicated conversation.

French filler words are short and meaningless words or sounds we use to fill the gaps. They can get rather irritating, but on the bright side, mastering these filler words in French will allow you to sound even ‘Frencher’ than locals.

In this article, you’ll learn how to use the most common French filler words and phrases. We’ll also discuss why you should consider using them (within reason). Get your Uh and your Um ready, and let’s dive in.

A Man with a Very Confused and Frustrated Look on His Face

The first time you hear: “Alors, euh…tu vois, quoi.”

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in French Table of Contents
  1. Why Do We Use Filler Words?
  2. Top 10 French Filler Words
  3. Pros and Cons of Filler Words
  4. Le mot de la fin

1. Why Do We Use Filler Words?

We’ve all met like…that person that…like…uses filler words, like…at least twice per sentence. Are they looking for the right word or thinking about what to say next? And why does it sound so bad when used in excess?

Filler words add no meaning to a sentence. They are trivial sounds or pieces of speech—the “um” and “uh” of most conversations—but that doesn’t mean they serve no purpose and should be removed entirely.

French filler words can have various functions:

  • To give you a moment to think about what you want to say or how you want to phrase it
  • To let others know that you’re not finished yet, and that even if you’ve paused for a second, you have more to say
  • To emphasize something, or to stress the importance of what you’ve just said

Some filler words can be used in any situation, while others should be avoided in formal contexts. In the following section, I’ll add a note when that’s the case.

2. Top 10 French Filler Words

#1

FrenchLiterallyEnglish equivalent
Euh…“Uh…”

Euh is possibly the most overused filler sound in French, and I can guarantee that you’ll hear a LOT of it when talking with locals, in informal and formal settings alike.

Just like its English equivalent, you can use it to mark a pause and reflect on life for a moment, as your companions patiently wait for what’s coming next, hanging on your every word.

Je voudrais acheter du lait et, euh…des œufs. (“I would like to buy some milk and, uh…eggs.”)
Euh…je sais pas quoi dire. (“Uh…I don’t know what to say.”)
C’est euh…la première porte à droite. (“It’s, uh…the first door on your right.”)

    → Are you spending too much time looking for the right word when you’re in a shop? Stop by our Shopping vocabulary list, or learn essential words for Shopping Downtown.
A Couple and Their Child Standing at a Counter in the Deli Section of a Grocery Store

Je voudrais des œufs et…euh… (“I would like some eggs and…uh…”)

#2

FrenchLiterallyEnglish equivalent
Quoi“What”“You know”

Although quoi literally means “what,” it has a whole different meaning when it’s not used as a question word. We use it at the end of a sentence to emphasize what we’re saying and make it sound like an obvious truth.

This is especially ubiquitous in northern France, but you could hear it pretty much anywhere. It’s better to avoid it in very formal settings such as a job interview, as it sounds a bit too laid back (even if most people wouldn’t even notice it on a conscious level).

Cette équipe gagne à chaque fois. C’est les meilleurs, quoi. (“This team wins every time. They are the best, you know.”)
1000€ pour ça ? C’est trop cher, quoi.
(“1000€ for that? It’s too expensive, you know.”)
J’étais fatigué. J’en avais marre, quoi. (“I was tired. I had enough of it, you know.”)

#3

FrenchLiterallyEnglish equivalent
Hein ?“What?”“Right?” / “Isn’t it?”

Outside of its function as a filler word, hein is a very informal version of quoi (“what”) that you can use when you don’t understand something or can’t believe what you’ve heard.

– On part dans dix minutes. (“We’re leaving in ten minutes.”)
– Hein ? (“What?”)

As a filler word, it’s used to emphasize a question, making it sound like something you believe is correct. You’re asking the other person for confirmation. 

Tu pars bientôt, hein ? (“You’re leaving soon, aren’t you?”)
C’était une bonne soirée, hein ? (“That was a nice evening, right?”)

#4

FrenchLiterallyEnglish equivalent
Ben / Bah / Beh“Well”

Ben is a shortened version of bien (“well” / “good”) and can be used as a filler word at the beginning of a sentence, or somewhere in the middle, just like euh (“uh”).

There are a few variations of this common French filler—ben, bah, beh—that can all serve the same two functions:
  • To emphasize the meaning of something (sort of like saying “duh” to express that you believe something is obvious)
  • To express indecision, just like euh or a reluctant “well”

– Tu aimes le fromage ? (“Do you like cheese?”)
– Bah bien sûr ! (“Duh, of course!”)

– Tu aimes le vin ? (“Do you like wine?”)
– Bah… je sais pas. (“Well, I don’t know.”)

– Le film, beh…c’était pas terrible. (“The movie, well…it wasn’t amazing.”)
– Ben non, c’était mauvais ! (“Well no, it was bad!”)

#5

FrenchLiterallyEnglish equivalent
En fait“In fact”“Actually”

This is literally “in fact,” and it can be used in a similar fashion. I’m personally guilty of overusing it, even though I’m well aware it’s not bringing anything meaningful to the table. 

It can be used in various places within a sentence and it’s very close to the English filler “actually.”

Mais, en fait, j’en achète tout le temps. (“But, actually, I buy it all the time.”)
En fait, je préfère manger dehors. (“In fact, I prefer to eat outside.”)
Je suis venu mais en fait, il n’y avait personne. (“I came, but actually, there was nobody.”)

A Woman Ordering from the Meat Section of a Store

Je vais prendre des saucisses, en fait. (“I’ll take some sausages, actually.”)

#6

FrenchLiterallyEnglish equivalent
Bon“Well”“Well” / “So”

Bon is a close equivalent of the English “well.” It can be used either to emphasize a sentence or, less commonly, to express impatience like “so” does in English. 

Bon, ça t’a plu ? (“Well, did you like it?”)
Bon, on commence quand ? (“So, when do we start?”)
Bon, je ne suis pas vraiment convaincu. (“Well, I’m not really convinced.”)

#7

FrenchLiterallyEnglish equivalent
Genre“Type” / “Kind”“Like”

Literally, genre means “kind” as in: “It’s a kind of cake.” (C’est un genre de gâteau.

As a filler word, it does not convey any specific meaning but rather expresses some sort of indecision.

Ça se mange, genre…avec une sauce. (“It’s eaten, like…with a sauce.”)
Il faudrait partir, genre…vers 20h. (“We should go, like…around 8 p.m.”)

#8

FrenchLiterallyEnglish equivalent
Enfin“Finally” / “At last”“Well”

Enfin is the literal combination of en and fin (“in end”):

J’ai enfin vu ce film. (“I have finally watched that movie.”)

As a filler word, it’s closer to “anyway” or “well,” and it stresses the phrase it’s attached to.

It can also be combined with bref (“anyway”), and the result enfin bref would roughly translate to “long story short.”

Enfin, tu vois ce que je veux dire. (“Well, you know what I mean.”)
Il y avait de la bonne bouffe et de la bonne musique. Enfin bref, c’était une super soirée. (“There was great food and good music. Long story short, it was a great night!”)

#9

FrenchLiterally and English equivalent
Tu sais / Tu vois“You know” / “You see”

This is generally used at the end of the sentence as a question, even though it’s not necessarily pronounced as such and can be said like a statement. Also, this is a rhetorical question and the speaker does not expect to get an answer.

It’s quite casual, though it wouldn’t be considered rude to say the formal variations vous voyez (“you see”) and vous savez (“you know”) in a formal setting.

C’est vraiment difficile, tu vois. (“It’s really difficult, you see.”)
J’aimerais beaucoup venir, tu sais. (“I would love to come, you know.”)
C’est un produit très efficace, vous savez. (“It’s a very effective product, you know.”)

A Man at a Coffee Shop Flirting with a Woman Sitting Across from Him

T’es mignonne, tu sais. (“You’re cute, you know.”)

#10

FrenchLiterallyEnglish equivalent
Alors“Then”“So” / “Well”

Alors is a very common filler word in French that’s often used to draw attention to your next sentence. You can use it to get the other person’s attention or before changing the topic.

You can use it in formal or informal situations, and as opposed to euh, quoi, or ben, it will not sound like you’re slow or indecisive. Rather, it will sound like you’re giving your speech some structure.

Alors, quoi de neuf ? (“So, what’s up?”)
Alors, qu’est-ce vous voulez commander ? (“So, what do you want to order?”)
Alors, voyons voir qui est arrivé. (“Well, let’s see who has arrived.”)

3. Pros and Cons of Filler Words

As you can see, this was a fairly short list and lots of these basic French filler words have a similar function. It makes filler words quite easy to pick up once you wrap your head around their very concept. Should you really use them, though?

1 – Sound Like a Local

When you start using filler words, it will instantly boost how “authentic” you sound. Most people might not even realize it, but it will have an effect on how they perceive you and your speech. 

If you’ve attained a beginner or intermediate level of French, using filler words correctly will make you sound a bit cooler and might boost your confidence.

As an advanced learner, you’re getting one step closer to truly blending in. If your pronunciation is good enough, you could even start fooling your new local friends by sounding just like a native French speaker.

2 – Why You Shouldn’t Overuse Them

However, this is a double-edged sword and if you overdo it, it might make you sound too hesitant or less confident. I’ve been on the hiring side of job interviews, and hearing a candidate constantly mumble Euh… in every single sentence doesn’t make for a good impression.

Conveniently, you don’t have to substitute filler words with anything, because they don’t add any meaning to begin with. You can simply cut them from your speech and you’ll be just fine. 

There are also a few tricks that will buy you some time to gather your thoughts while making you sound smarter than using euh or genre would. 

  • Euh…. je crois que c’est là bas. (“Uh… I think it’s over there.”)
    • Mmmh… je crois que c’est par là. (“Mmh… I think it’s over there.”)
    • Voyons voir… je crois que c’est par là. (“Let’s see… I think it’s over there.”)
    • Laissez-moi réfléchir… je crois que c’est par là. (“Let me think… I think it’s over there.”)

As long as you’re relaxed enough, you can just embrace the pause and build some suspense while pausing to collect your thoughts. Great public speakers often pause for several seconds, to great effect. You won’t hear them dragging on an “Uh….” as they carefully think about their next words.

A Woman Thinking in Front of a Blackboard that Has a Thought Bubble Drawn on It

Voyons voir… (“Let’s see…”)

4. Le mot de la fin

In this guide, you’ve learned everything about French filler words: what they are, how to use them in a sentence, and what the most popular filler words in French are. We’ve also discussed why you might want to use them and how to refrain from overdoing it.

Did any of these filler words catch you by surprise? Let us know which ones in the comments!

A couple of good ways to practice French filler words are to focus on one or two words at a time and to start paying attention to how locals use them. You can do this during a conversation or by watching videos or listening to podcasts. Then, once you feel like you’ve got the hang of it, you could try using them yourself and let the magic happen.

FrenchPod101 also has tons of vocabulary lists with audio recordings as well as other free resources to boost your studies and keep your French learning fresh and entertaining! 

Remember that you can also use our Premium PLUS service, MyTeacher, to get personal 1-on-1 coaching with a private teacher who can help you practice filler words and so much more. In addition to giving you personalized assignments and exercises, your teacher will record audio samples just for you and review your work to help you improve every day. 

Happy learning on FrenchPod101.com!

About the Author: Born and bred in the rainy north of France, Cyril Danon had been bouncing off various jobs before he left everything behind to wander around the wonders of the World. Now, after quenching his wanderlust over the last few years, he’s eager to share his passion for languages.

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