Let’s take a look at French slang.
First, a quick caveat: Slang is hard to teach in any language. It varies a lot by region and age group. Consider the following English slang words. Depending where you live and how old you are, you may have never heard many of these before:
- hella (“extremely”)
- gobshite (“foolish person”)
- pooched (“broken,” “messed up”)
- keener (“an eager person”)
- chesterfield (“sofa/couch”…or a type of cigarette)
- fag (“cigarette”…or a homophobic slur)
- double-double (“Tim Horton’s coffee with two creams and two sugars”)
- flat chat (“operating at top speed or maximum capacity”)
- breaking bad (“going wild,” “raising hell”)
French slang is as varied as English. The French-speaking world is vast. French holds official status in 29 countries and many more smaller territories and overseas departments. Naturally, the slang is going to be as diverse as the people in these different countries.
Even within France, a country of 66 million people, the argot (slang) changes from region to region.
Understanding the slang used in your target language is a very important step toward sounding more like a native speaker. So I wrote this article to introduce you to the various slang, including swear words, used throughout the French-speaking world. You can start studying French slang at any point in your French learning project. You don’t have to be an intermediate or advanced speaker.
In this article, as far as possible, I’ll try to specify the region where each slang expression is used most. I’ll also try my best to only include REAL French slang, not the kind you might read in a textbook but which nobody actually says. (I still regularly hear from English students who learned in the classroom that “raining cats and dogs” is a popular slang expression in English. Almost no one says this anymore!)
Finally, as this can’t possibly be an exhaustive list of all modern French slang words, I’ll link to other resources around the web so you can see many more slang words used in each region.
Warning: before you proceed, be aware that this article contains quite a few bad words. I didn’t censor them because I wanted you to be able to find this page online if you’re doing a search for specific swear words in French. Also keep in mind, whether or not you’re prone to swearing yourself, you’ll definitely hear them in French-speaking countries, so it’s still worth knowing what they mean.
Before we get started, if you’re looking for an online French course, here’s the course I recommend: French Uncovered – Learn French Through the Power of Story, a course with a fascinating new method by my friend Olly.
SMS Messages: French Text Slang
Slang used in French textos is a lot like English. It’s mostly used to abbreviate common words and expressions. French slang in text messages tends to be universal, not regional.
Here are some common ways you can expect to see French words written in your text messages with French speakers:
- slt (salut), bjr (bonjour)
- stp (s’il te plaît), svp (s’il vous plaît)
- cad (c’est-à-dire)
- A+ (à plus tard)
- pq (pourquoi)
- wétu (où es-tu)
- je t’m (je t’aime)
Everyday French Slang
French speakers often replace everyday words with slang words. We do this in English too. We might call a man a “guy”, “bloke” or “dude”. In some regions, a home is called a “crib”, and in others, it’s called “digs”.
Here are some ways French speakers use everyday slang:
General Everyday Slang (understood throughout the French-speaking world)
- bouffer (to eat)
- draguer (to flirt)
- piquer (to steal)
- une arnaque (a scam)
- un truc (a thing)
- déboussolé (disorientated)
Everyday Slang from France
- un type, un mec (a guy)
- une meuf (a woman, a chick)
- un mail (short for “un email”, which is the unofficial way to say un courriel, the “proper” French word for email)
- gerber (to vomit)
- c’est nul (“that sucks”)
- nickel! (“perfect!”)
- c’est top (“that’s great”)
- flasher sur quelqu’un (to have a crush on someone)
Find hundreds more slang vocab and expressions used in France at ielanguages.com.
Everyday Slang from Quebec
- un gars (a guy)
- un char (a car)
- une blonde (a girlfriend – even if her hair isn’t blonde)
- un chum (a boyfriend)
- niaiseux (stupid or boring)
- une piastre (pronounced “piasse” – a dollar, “a buck”)
- les bas (socks)
Everyday Slang from Abidjan, Ivory Coast
- une go (a girl or girlfriend)
- un bra-môgô (a guy – a loan word from the West African Mandinka language)
- le pia (money)
- être calé (to be “chilling” – you might recognize this verb from a line in the famous song “Magic in the Air” by the Ivoirian band Magic System
Petit Fute has an in-depth article (in French) about many other slang words and expressions used in Côte d’Ivoire.
Everyday Slang from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
- merci mingi (“thank you very much”)
- un zibolateur (a bottle opener – a modified loan word from the Lingala language)
- cadavéré (broken down or dead – modified from the standard word cadavre, meaning “corpse”)
Find tons more slang from French-speaking Africa on this subject’s Wikipedia page. The International Organization of the Francophonie has estimated that by 2050, around 80% of the world’s French speakers will be from Africa. So it’s certainly worth knowing some of the slang that the majority of French speakers will be using!
French Slang Insults
We all have close friends or siblings with whom we like to exchange insults. My Irish friends and I are partial to the term gobshite to address one another 🙂 .
French speakers have their own insult terms to address good friends, or to use when they’re really angry at someone.
Obviously this section comes with a warning: don’t use these insults with anyone if you think they might be offended! They can be fine used jokingly in certain company, or maybe to complain about your boss in private.
General French Insults (from all over the French-speaking world)
- bête (dumb)
- Un con (an idiot)
- Un connard (shithead)
- Une pute, une putain (whore)
- Une salope (bitch)
- Un beauf (rude, vulgar man)
- Un fils de pute (son of a bitch)
Insults from Quebec
- Une petite nature (literally: “a little nature” – a wimp or weakling)
- Un mononcle/Une matante (literally: a “my-uncle”/”my-aunt” – a loud, obnoxious man (mononcle) or a finicky, gossipy woman (matante))
- Mon p’tit Chriss (literally: “my li’l Christ” – “You stupid bastard”)
French Swear Words
It goes without saying that the following jurons (French swear words) should only be used in rare cases. Treat them like you would English swear words.
It’s easy to take foreign swear words lightly because they don’t evoke the same reaction in you as they would in a native speaker. But trust me, you can cause a lot of harm and offence by using them with a native speaker. The basic guideline here is that if you wouldn’t shout the F word somewhere in English, don’t say the equivalent in French!
General French Swear Words
- merde (shit…or “break a leg!” if said to a theatre actor before a performance)
- ferme ta gueule (shut the fuck up)
- je m’en fous (I don’t give a shit)
- dégage, dégage-toi (piss off)
- putain (in addition to a personal insult, you can simply shout putain! as an interjection. Roughly used like “fuck” or “shit” in English.)
- la vache (“oh crap”, “oh my God”)
Youswear.com has a much longer list of French swear words and translations, each one of which has an accuracy rating based on votes by the community of readers.
Swear Words (sacres) from Quebec
- osti (literally: mispronunciation of hostie, a Catholic communion host. Roughly used like “Oh God” or “Jesus!” in English – often pronounced as a whispered sssstie)
- câlise (literally: mispronunciation of calice, the wine chalice in Catholic communion. Roughly used like “Jesus Christ!” in English)
- tabarnak (literally: mispronunciation of tabernacle, the receptacle behind the church altar where communion hosts and chalice are located. Basically means “fuck” in English)
- a combo of the above: Osti de câlise de tabarnak (could translate as “goddamn motherfucking shit”, or just about any string of vulgar words)
- tabarouette, tabarnouche (“darn” or “frig”)
- mon Chriss + noun (fucking [noun])
- maudit (damned)
You’ll have noticed that québécois swear words are very often religious in nature. Check out the Wikipedia page for more detail on the history of these types of sacres in Quebec.
French Slang Phrases
These are expressions where the individual words in the sentence aren’t slang, but they combine into a sentence that is used slangily.
General Slang Phrases
- T’inquiète (a short version of Ne t’inquiète pas – “Don’t worry”)
- T’en fais pas or Ne t’en fais pas (literally: “Don’t make any” – “Don’t worry”)
- Un coup de téléphone (literally: “a hit of telephone” – a phone call)
- C’est n’importe quoi (literally: “It’s anything” – “It’s nonsense”)
- Il a ma peau (literally: “He has my skin” – “He’s out to get me”)
- Perdre la tête (to lose one’s head – used just like the same phrase in English)
For many more French slang phrases, check out the Fi3M French Idioms Crash Course article to sound more like a local in everyday French.
Slang Phrases from Quebec
- Avoir de la misère à + verb (literally: “to have misery [doing something]” – “To have a lot of difficulty [doing something]”)
- Avoir la chienne (literally: “to have the dog” – to be terrified)
- Pas pire (literally: “no worse” – but in response to Comment ça va ?, means “not bad”)
- Faire un téléphone (literally: “to make a telephone” – to make a phone call)
Regional French Vocab
Here are some vocab words that are used only in certain smaller French-speaking regions:
- un crayon gris (in southern France)
- un crayon de bois (in northern France)
- un crayon (everywhere else)
- un Bic (Belgium and Kinshasa, DRC)
- un crayon (commonly used in Quebec for “pen” although it also means “pencil”)
A Chocolate Croissant
- une chocolatine (in Quebec and in the Toulouse region of France)
- un petit pain (in northern France)
- un pain au chocolat (in the rest of France)
A Plastic Grocery Bag
- une poche (in southwestern France)
- un pochon (in small regions of central and western France)
- un sachet (near the French-German border)
- un cornet (in Switzerland)
- un sac en plastique (understood throughout France)
A Restaurant Bill/Check
- une addition (in France)
- une facture (in Quebec)
- les baskets (in France – refers only to trainers/running shoes)
- souliers (in Quebec – refers only to everyday shoes. Considered an old-fashioned word in France)
- les chaussures (understood throughout the French-speaking world)
Over to You
As I said at the beginning of this article, slang is notoriously hard to teach correctly. So much of it depends on shared experiences and pop culture references in different regions. So if I’ve missed any important French slang please let me know in the comments. And if you live in a French-speaking region that has unique argot words, I’d love to hear them! So comment away!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.