8 ways to use French to your advantage

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Every language has its own useful expressions appropriate to the culture that has produced it. Here are some that can be particularly handy in French.

1.  The common use of the pronoun ‘on’ (meaning ‘one’, as in oneself).

This can be a very convenient way of making a point and implying fault or responsibility without actually apportioning blame. The French are experts at using this in everyday situations to put across a message without upsetting anyone. For example “Il faudrait qu’on fasse un peu de ménage” (One should do some housework) “On aurait dû le faire autrement!“ (One should have done that differently). ‘On’ is often conveniently responsible for everything that goes wrong!

2. ‘A la prochaine’ (Until next time).

This expression is a quick, polite and easy way to take your leave of someone, giving the impression that there may be another time you will meet again, but without committing to anything.

3. ‘Bref’ (In short)

With this simple syllable you can put an end to a long explanation, or curtail a commentary and go on to give a short summary of just what needs to be said.

4. ‘Bon appétit!’

Yes, other cultures have their equivalent, but English doesn’t. This is more than just a way to wish people a good meal, it is also a very handy signal to let others know they can start to eat – so much easier that hesitantly tucking in and then feeling bad if you are the only one who has.


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5. ‘Et patati et patata’ (And so on and so forth)

This can be useful when you don’t want to give all the details of something, but you want to imply that there is more that could be said. (It also feels good saying this!)

6. ’Revenons à nos moutons’

(No, this is not about herding sheep, it actually means ‘Let’s get back on topic’). This fun colloquialism tells a person that you or they should get back to the to the topic under discussion if they have been talking off subject for some time.

7 ‘On fait aller’ (One is making it alright).

An oft-used response to the question ‘Ça va?’ this implies that things probably aren’t going as well as you would like, but that you are putting up with it, and that you don’t necessarily want to give any further information.

8. ‘Putain’

(Literally meaning prostitute, this word has actually come to cover a whole range of meanings, depending on the context in which it is used). As many internet videos have so clearly shown already, this is the go-to word to express delight, disgust, amazement, anger, despair…In fact, you name it, ‘putain’ covers it! If you don’t know what to say about something, simply using this word with the appropriate facial expression is often enough.