12 essential French filler words for when you don’t know what to say

Posted by Josh on 1st Sep 2022 in the blog in the learning french category

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Intro

Filler words are an indispensable part of any language, especially for learners. They are a useful way to signal that you have not finished speaking, and can buy you time to think how best to express your next sentence, or to search for that word on the tip of your tongue.

For these reasons, you're likely to be using filler words quite a lot when you speak French. It's therefore a good idea to learn a range of them, so that you don't have to resort to using the same word every time you find yourself hesitating.

Below are 12 common filler words that you're likely to hear — and should try to use — in everyday French conversation.

Genre

You probably know ‘genre’ as the word for ‘gender’ or ‘type’, as well as its usage in English as a synonym for ‘category’. But in French you can also use it as another way of saying ‘like’ when you want to clarify something.

‘J’ai besoin d’un nouvel appartement. Genre, un avec plus d’espace.’

‘I need a new apartment. Like, one with more space.’

Enfin Bref

When you want to get to the point of something, say ‘enfin bref’. It’s similar to ‘basically’, or ‘in short’, in English, and conveys the sense that you’re about to summarise what would otherwise be a longer statement.

'C’était horrible hier. Enfin bref, j’ai eu un accident de voiture.’

‘Yesterday was horrible. Long story short, I got into a car crash.’

Enfin Quoi

The closest English equivalent to 'enfin quoi' is probably 'I mean'. It's handy to clarify — or qualify — the point you're trying to make.

'J’aime ce restaurant. Enfin quoi, la nourriture est vraiment bonne.'

'I like this restaurant, I mean, the food is really good.'

En Fait

The French have their own version of ‘in fact’: ‘en fait’. It’s used in the same way, to clarify a statement you’ve just made.

‘Je ne sais pas où se trouve le café. En fait, je ne suis pas allé dans cette rue depuis des années.’

‘I don’t know where the café is. In fact, I haven’t been to that street in years.’

Tu Vois

‘Tu vois’ literally translates as ‘You see?’, as in ‘Do you see what I mean?’ You can tack it onto the end of a sentence to check that whoever is listening to you has understood what you’re saying.

‘Ma télévision ne s’allume pas. Elle est cassée, tu vois?’

‘My television won’t turn on. It’s broken, you see?’

Quoi

Besides its literal translation as ‘what’, there isn’t really an English equivalent for ‘quoi’ when it’s used as a filler word — which makes it all the more impressive when you can smuggle it into a sentence. ‘Quoi’ can be put at the end of a statement to add a little emphasis, or at the end of a command to add a sense of immediacy.

‘Close the door behind you!’

‘Fermez la porte derrière vous, quoi!’

Hein

‘Hein’ is useful for when you want to turn a statement into a question, especially if it’s something you’re a little unsure about. It works the same way as ‘right?’ in English.

‘Tu viens chez moi demain, hein?’

‘You’re coming to my house tomorrow, right?’

Alors

One of the most common words in French, ‘alors’ can be variously translated as ‘so’, ‘well’ and ‘then’. It’s a good way to signal that you’re moving on to a new subject, or a slight shift in the direction of your conversation. ‘Alors’ is usually placed at the beginning of a sentence, but can also sometimes appear at the end.

'Alors, on va se prendre quelque chose à manger ?'

‘So should we get something to eat?’

J'avoue

When you want to express that you agree with something, you can do worse than 'J'avoue'. It means, literally, 'I confess', but has far more casual connotations as 'I agree' or 'I know, right?'

'Ces billets sont beaucoup trop chers !' 'Ouais, j'avoue'

'These tickets are far too expensive.' 'Yeah, I know right?'

Bof

'Bof', on its own, is a way of saying you're not sure, although it's often used before the phrase "je ne sais pas" ('I don't know') as a way of emphasising it.

'Que voulez-vous faire demain?' 'Bof...je ne sais pas.'

'What do you want to do tomorrow?' 'Oh, I don't know.'

Bah

Not unlike ‘beh’ in Italian, ‘bah’ in French has a meaning that’s difficult to communicate in English. You could normally translate it as ‘well’. It indicates a moment of hesitation while the speaker thinks of what to say, often in response to a question.

‘Bah, je ne sais pas quoi te dire.’

‘Well, I don’t know what to tell you.’

T'sais

We’ve covered how to say ‘you see’, but how do you say ‘you know’? The answer is, of course ‘tu sais’, but the difference here is that the two words are often elided to become ‘t’sais’. ‘T’sais’ is another indispensable filler word for when you want to turn a statement into a rhetorical question.

‘T’sais, c'est compliqué en ce moment.’

‘It's complicated right now, you know?’

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