Skip to content

Unleash Your French with these 7 Essential Phrases

    Make a “big noise” with these French phrases in France

    Traveling to France can be an exciting venture, filled with historical sights, world-renowned cuisine, and a cultural extravaganza. Yadda yadda yadda, we all know that. But, like any foreign country, it can feel overwhelming if you’re not familiar with the language. Even with a basic grasp of French, you may find yourself in situations where common phrases like ‘Bonjour’, ‘Merci’, ‘SVP’, or ‘Au Revoir’ aren’t going to cut it.

    I want to dive beneath the surface of the French language and unearth a few lesser-known, yet crucial phrases that every beginner French learner should know to maximize their experience in France. Let’s add a touch of authenticity to your language journey and make you sound like a local in no time!

    “C’est pas terrible.”

    Directly translated, this phrase means “it’s not terrible,” but in the French context, it means “it’s not great.” It’s a subtle example of the French propensity for understatement.

    “C’est pas terrible” is a phrase used by the French people when they want to say something isn’t very good. When you translate it word for word into English, it means “it’s not terrible.” But in French, it’s a way to say “it’s not great.”

    The French people like to say things in a softer way. They don’t like to be too negative or harsh. So, when they don’t like something, instead of saying “it’s bad,” they might say “c’est pas terrible.” This way, they’re still honest but not too harsh. It’s perfect for casual chats, like talking about a movie you didn’t like, or a meal that was just okay.

    But be careful not to use it in formal situations or when talking to someone important. In these cases, it’s better to use a more formal phrase, like “ce n’est pas exceptionnel” which means “it’s not exceptional.”

    This phrase also shows a fun part of French culture. The French often use language in a clever and funny way, even when they’re not happy with something. So when you use “c’est pas terrible,” you’re not just learning a new phrase, you’re also getting a small taste of the French way of life.

    Hear “c’est pas” in real life French:

    Hear it!
    Hear it!
    Hear it!


    It means “it’s not great.” Use this phrase when you want to express mild dissatisfaction with something without being too harsh. This will show off your aptitude for understatement and level up your French-ness.

    “On n’est pas sorti de l’auberge!”

    Literally meaning “we haven’t left the inn yet,” this phrase is an idiom that French people use to communicate that they are in a tricky or difficult situation and are far from finding a solution. Its origin is believed to be from the 19th century, referencing travelers at inns who were having such a good time that they never left. It’s a playful, roundabout way of acknowledging a problem, showcasing the French love for humor even in challenging situations.

    “In casual French, “On n’est pas” is like saying “We’re not” in English. It’s used a lot and can mean different things based on what comes next. It’s a go-to phrase when you want to disagree or say no to something.

    For instance, “On n’est pas d’accord” means “We don’t agree,” or “On n’est pas prêts” means “We’re not ready.” This phrase is perfect for relaxed chats with friends or family.

    “On” is a casual way to say “we,” and “n’est pas” is a short way to say “we are not.” Here are some examples:

    • “On n’est pas prêts, on va être en retard !” (We’re not ready, we’re going to be late!)
    • “On n’est pas fans de cette série, on préfère autre chose” (We’re not fans of this series, we prefer something else).
    • “On n’est pas du tout d’humeur à sortir ce soir” (We’re really not in the mood to go out tonight).

    In the end, “On n’est pas” is a super handy phrase that can add a casual vibe to your French chats. It’s all about saying no in a friendly way.”

    Hear “on n’est pas” in real life:

    On n’est pas … Hear it in two clips from an SNCF advertisement, here and here.


    “We haven’t left the inn yet”, use this idiom like French people use it, to communicate that you are in a tricky or difficult situation and are far from finding a solution.

    C’est n’importe quoi!”

    “C’est n’importe quoi” is a phrase that shows you how the French use language to really express their feelings. While it means “it’s whatever” when you translate it straight into English, it packs a lot more punch in French. It’s used when you don’t believe something or are annoyed about something, much like saying “that’s nonsense!” or “that’s ridiculous!” in English.

    Let’s dive a little deeper into when and how to use “c’est n’importe quoi.” Imagine you’re watching a football match with your French friends, and a player from the opposing team takes a dive. A French person might say, “C’est n’importe quoi, ce joueur!” meaning, “This player is ridiculous!” Or, maybe you’ve just been told a story that you find hard to believe. You can show your disbelief by shaking your head and saying, “C’est n’importe quoi!” Keep in mind, though, that it’s a pretty strong phrase, so use it wisely.

    Now, a fun fact about this phrase: it’s a great example of how French people often say things indirectly. You might think the French are all about elegance and reserve, but they also value honesty and aren’t afraid to speak their minds. However, they often do so in a roundabout way. Instead of outright calling something or someone ridiculous or absurd, they might say, “C’est n’importe quoi.” It’s a gentler way of showing their annoyance or disbelief without causing too much offense.

    All in all, “c’est n’importe quoi” is a useful phrase that can help you blend in better with the locals during your French adventure. Just remember to use it when the situation calls for it, and not as a general response to everything you disagree with!

    Hear “c’est n’importe quoi” in real life French:


    “C’est n’importe quoi” has a nuanced meaning in French, conveying strong disbelief or annoyance, exceeding the straightforward translation of “it’s whatever” in English. It carries a sense of something being nonsensical or absurd.

    “Pas mal.”

    “Pas mal” is a simple, two-word phrase you’ll hear a lot in French chats. Directly translated, it means “not bad,” but the French use it to show they kind of like something. The cool thing about “pas mal” is how it reflects a typical French attitude: being modest and not going overboard with compliments.

    Here’s a bit more on how and when to use “pas mal.” Let’s say you’ve just had a decent meal at a French café. When the waiter asks how everything was, you could respond with, “Pas mal!” It’s like saying, “It was good” in a more low-key way. Or maybe you’ve just seen a film that you liked, but didn’t love. If your French friend asks what you thought, you could say, “C’était pas mal,” meaning, “It was not bad.” It’s a good phrase to use when something is okay or good, but not amazing.

    A cool thing about “pas mal” is how it shows a big part of French culture. The French don’t usually heap on the praise like some people do. Instead, they like to play things cool and not seem too excited. This is why “pas mal” is so common. It’s a way of giving a compliment without sounding too enthusiastic. So, when you use “pas mal,” you’re not just speaking French, you’re also getting into the French mindset.

    In short, “pas mal” is a phrase that’s worth knowing. It can help you fit in better when you’re hanging out with French people. Plus, it’s a small but cool way to get a feel for the French way of thinking. Just remember, when in France, it’s often cooler to understate than to overstate!

    Hear “pas mal” in real life French:

    Hear it!
    Hear it!


    “Pas mal” translates to “not bad” but in French, it is commonly used to express a mild appreciation for something. It reflects the French attitude of modesty and not excessively praising or going overboard with compliments.

    “Je suis crevé(e).”

    “Je suis crevé(e)” is a casual French phrase you might find handy after a long, tiring day. It directly translates to “I’m flattened,” but what you’re really saying is “I’m very tired” or “I’m wiped out.” It’s a more expressive and colorful way to convey your exhaustion, making it a favorite among French speakers.

    Using “Je suis crevé(e)” is a nod to the French way of life. France is famous for its relaxed pace and the importance it places on rest and leisure. While some cultures might frown upon admitting you’re tired, in France, it’s perfectly okay to acknowledge your fatigue. In fact, it’s a part of their work-life balance philosophy. French people believe in working hard, but also in the importance of rest and recovery. So, saying “Je suis crevé(e)” is simply a part of embracing this balance.

    But, there’s more to “Je suis crevé(e)” than just saying you’re tired. This phrase shows how the French like to use vivid and dramatic language. Instead of just saying “I’m tired,” which is quite straightforward, saying “I’m flattened” gives a more impactful picture of your exhaustion. It’s like saying the day was so long and tiring, you feel as if you’ve been flattened!

    In a nutshell, “Je suis crevé(e)” is more than just a phrase—it’s a cultural lesson in a nutshell. By using it, you’re not only fitting in with the French way of speaking, but also showing that you understand their way of life. So, next time you’re feeling tired in France, try saying “Je suis crevé(e)” and see how it resonates with the locals!


    “Je suis crevé(e),” translating to “I’m flattened,” is a casual, colorful French phrase expressing extreme tiredness, reflecting the French culture’s acceptance of fatigue and their flair for vivid language.

    “Il fait une chaleur étouffante”

    Just perfect for your French holiday in August…

    “Il fait une chaleur étouffante” is a phrase you’ll hear often during a hot French summer. It literally translates to “It’s stiflingly hot.” It’s a vivid way of saying the heat is intense, so intense that it feels like it’s choking or suffocating you. The French use it during a “canicule” or heatwave, when the temperatures are sky high and the air feels thick and heavy.

    The phrase isn’t just about the weather, though. It’s also about how the French people react to the heat. In many parts of France, especially in the south, summer temperatures can get incredibly high. And when that happens, life slows down. Shops close in the afternoon, people take long, lazy lunches in the shade, and everyone talks about the heat. Using “Il fait une chaleur étouffante” shows that you’re feeling the heat just like everyone else and that you’re part of the community.

    A fun fact about this phrase is that it also shows a key part of French culture: the love of dramatic expressions. While an English speaker might simply say, “It’s hot,” a French person will use a phrase that paints a picture of how overwhelming the heat is. It’s not just hot—it’s stifling!

    So when you’re in France during a heatwave, try dropping “Il fait une chaleur étouffante” into the conversation. It’s a great way to connect with the locals and show that you’re feeling the same heat they are. And who knows? It might even lead to an invite to cool off with a glass of rosé in the shade!


    TL;DR: “Il fait une chaleur étouffante” means “It’s stiflingly hot,” a common phrase used in France during a heatwave to describe the intense, suffocating heat. It reflects the French culture’s way of life in slowing down activities during high temperatures and their love for dramatic expressions.

    “Ça marche.”

    “Ça marche” is one of those nifty French phrases that gets a lot of mileage. Though it literally means “it walks,” you can use it in a bunch of different situations to mean “it works” or “that works for me.” It’s a casual, easy way to agree with a plan or confirm that something’s working right.

    Let’s dive a little deeper into when and how to use “Ça marche.” Suppose a friend suggests meeting at a café at noon. Instead of saying “d’accord” (okay) or “c’est bon” (that’s good), you can reply with “Ça marche.” It’s a friendly, informal way to say you’re on board with the plan. Similarly, if you’re trying to fix a glitch on your phone and it suddenly starts working, you might exclaim “Ça marche!” to express your relief.

    One cool thing about “Ça marche” is how it captures the French love for expressions that are a little quirky. After all, the phrase’s literal meaning—”it walks”—has nothing to do with agreeing or things working! Yet, in its figurative sense, the phrase perfectly conveys the idea of something proceeding well or as expected.

    Moreover, “Ça marche” is a great example of the French language’s versatility. It can be used in a wide variety of contexts, from casual chats with friends to more professional settings. Whether you’re at a Parisian bistro or a business meeting, “Ça marche” is universally understood and widely accepted.

    So, the next time you find yourself nodding in agreement or excited that something is working in France, remember the phrase “Ça marche.” Not only will you sound more like a local, but you’ll also be embracing the French love for expressions that are a bit out of the ordinary!

    Hear “ça marche” in real life:

    Hear it!
    Hear it!
    Hear it!


    “Ça marche,” literally meaning “it walks,” is a versatile French phrase used to express agreement or confirm functionality, highlighting the French penchant for quirky, universally understood expressions.

    By learning and using these seven essential French phrases, you can take your French language skills to new heights and navigate French society with a bit more ease. Understanding the cultural context and nuances of these phrases also provides a deeper appreciation of French society’s subtleties, enhancing your overall experience. Remember, language is not just about vocabulary and grammar; it’s also about embracing the culture and mindset of its people. So, arm yourself with these phrases, embark on your French adventure, and make every interaction a truly Gallic experience!

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *