As a teacher of people of all ages who want to learn to speak French, I am never surprised when my students ask me about bad words in French. In fact, even adults will ask me to teach them some basic French phrases, and then little French slang to sound cool.
It can be amusing, of course, to be a bit naughty in a foreign language, since slang doesn’t carry the same effect in another language as it does in your own.
Then again, not all French slang is bad, though. In fact, slang can even just mean that you’re using colloquialisms, or words that are popular in conversation, but may not be super formal. Which brings me to my next point…
When Using French Slang, Know Your Audience
One thing to keep in mind is that you have to know who your audience is when using French slang. How you address your mom or dad is different than how you address a potential employer. Can you imagine if you said to a friend’s parents, upon meeting them for the first time, “Yo dog, what’s up?” It’s important to be selective when choosing which French vocabulary words you use.
And...Know Your Register With French Slang
Register is a fancy-pants term to describe the formality (or informality) of your spoken and written speech. You could seriously offend someone if you use the wrong register of speech. So reader, beware! The list below contains words that should be reserved for friends you know well, and usually younger people (or at least those who are very open-minded!). The French can be more formal than Americans, so it's also important to keep cultural differences in mind.
Don’t Forget: French Translation Is Tricky!
Selecting the right word goes beyond slang—sometimes words are just lost in translation. This happens when goes from English to French, as you may be doing, or French to English, too.
And Onwards, With Our Top 20 French Slang List!
Now that you know to think about with whom you're using these words and in which situations (formal or informal), let's get right down to it! Here's my top 20 French slang words for French learners!
If you’ve ever played cards or watched a sporting event, you may have heard the term “nil.” This fancy term comes from Latin for “zero.” As it has made its way into French, its become “nul” in the masculine form or “nulle.” If you have any French friends or have practiced learning even basic French phrases, you’ve definitely heard this one to mean stupid, dumb or worthless. You can even hear in French songs, “Il est trop nul!” when a girl is trashing her ex. Master using “nul” and you will definitely sound like a native!
- Casse-toi, je me casse
This example can sound like you are on the verge of being rude, but it’s typical French slang for “get out of here!” or “I’m getting the heck outta here!” The verb “casser” literally means “to break,” but when we put it in the reflexive form (see the little “me” in front of it?) it means “to break oneself.” Of course, the slang meaning is lost, which is why we suggest avoiding translating literally!
“Il est trop cool, ce mec!” Think of how many slang words we have for “man.” Dude, bro, guy…mec replaces all of these. It’s informal, of course, just like “dude” is, even though the origins of the two words are quite different. Mec may come from maquereau, meaning a panderer, while “dude” was allegedly a 19th century French slang word for men who wore extravagant clothing!
France is basically synonymous with clothing…who can forget about French fashion!? Whether you’re talking about French clothing, fashion or just plan old shopping, this French slang word can definitely come in handy! After all, French shopping is in and of itself a unique experience.
Not to be confused with a buffet (but is there a connection??), la bouffe is good ole food. Bouffer as a verb means to eat. As important as fashion is to French culture, food also represents a major French cultural institution, so know this one!
This is one of my favorite French slang words. It’s such a great way to express annoyance with someone by saying the French equivalent of “Whatever!” It can be used by saying, “N’importe quoi” as in “Whatever!” to someone in an annoyed fashion, but it can also be used such as, “You’re doing whatever/a bunch of nonsense” (Tu fais beaucoup de n’importe quoi!”)
This multi-vowel French slang word means disgusting. It can be a bit vulgar and is extremely informal, so be careful using it. It’s basically a great way of saying, “Yuck!”
Baigner may be to bathe, but ça baigne isn’t quite talking about taking a bath. It’s more of a way to say things are chill or everything is just going swimmingly.
Avoir la flemme
While this French slang expression is, like most of the others, very informal, it’s not inappropriate—it’s just a way of saying that you’re feeling lazy.
Une balle is technically a bullet, but just as we have words like cash, mula and bucks to describe what we pay with, the French have balle for money.
Pop culture always produces a ton of fun ways of talking about beautiful people. Beau gosse, or beautiful kid, is actually a way of talking about a hot guy.
Je te kiffe
Kiffer is to like or love, so je te kiffe is I like you or I love you.
This is a cutesy word for a kid or a child. The feminine is gamine, and the masculine is gamin.
Whether this word comes from the English word “boss” is unlikely, but the two are connected—bosser is to work hard. J’ai bossé toute la nuit sur ma redaction would be a great way to talk about working hard on a paper.
Literally meaning to burst or to puncture, this amazing word can also be used with “être crevé(e)” to sum up the feeling of being dead tired. “Je suis crevé, moi!” is a great informal but super common expressions.
The French have a history of being big smokers, which is why this synonym for une cigarette is such a great one to know.
While draguer literally means to drag through the water, it’s now familiarly used to mean “to hit on.” An example might be, “Il essaie de draguer a femme,” he is trying to hit on the woman.
Piquer is what a mosquito does when it stings you, but it also means in French slang “to steal.” “Il m’a piqué mon portefeuille!” (He stole my wallet!)
I absolutely love verlan, French slang from the banlieue. They love to reverse words, like relou for lourd, or heavy.
This is a new one to me, but I thought it showed a great example of appropriating an English word to mean something that is really great.
Now that you have all of these amazing French slang words under your belt, it's time to go out and practice them! That means you need to not only speak, but listen, too!! To really capture the context of slang, it's best to watch TV, watch French movies, read pop literature, find a French penpal, and of course, use Speechling's amazing coaches who will help you to get the pronunciation of slang words right. Throw some of these slang words out in a conversation, and at best, you'll surely be taken as a native. At worst, you'll get a laugh from your listener and have a fun conversation. That's the goal, right?