Common Expressions

Even if you aren't of a French-speaking persuasion, you ought to be familiar with a few common expressions. The terms below have phonetic pronunciations attached. I lack special characters for many sounds, so the phonetic renditions are VERY approximate.

Some prononciation notes

Note that French is an unaccented language, so generally speaking no syllable is stressed over another. French spelling and French prononciation have little in common any more -- it sometimes seems like three-fourths of the letters are silent (and during the sixteenth century it was a sign of erudition to add even more of them). There are a great many special rules, especially about letters in combination, and like English, there are plenty of exceptions. Most final consonants are silent. The combinations "er", "ez", "et" at the end of a word all sound like "ay". "eau" sounds like "oh", "oi" and "oy" sound like "wah", "eu" sounds like "er". Hardly any letter in French sounds exactly like its most common equivalent in English. A few of interest are:



like "ah" in "father"


like "er" in "pert"

è, ê

like "eh" in "met"


like "ay" in "pay"


like "ee" in "she"


like "oh" in "ghost"


lips are rounded to say "u" (as in "rude"),
but the sound "i" (as in "she") is pronounced

nasals: A vowel before an "n" or "m" (unless it is followed by another vowel or n/m) has a nasal sound, in which the "n" or "m" is not actually pronounced but "sound is emitted through the nose and mouth by means of a lowering of the velum." I have represented them in the prononciation hints by [a], [o], [i]. The nasal "en" sounds a lot like "an", and nowadays the nasal "un" sounds a lot like "in". The table gives some clues to approximating those sounds.

[a] [e]

like English "long", but without pronouncing the "g" at the end

[i] [u]

like English "sang", but without pronouncing the "g" at the end.


at a loss for now...



soft like "cell" before "e" or "i", hard like "cut" before "a", "o", or "u". The cedille accent (ç) is added to make it soft before these letters (e.g. François)


soft like "gesture" before "e" or "i", hard like "guess" before "a", "o", or "u". A "u" following a "g" is silent if it precedes an "e" or "i" (i.e. the "u" just serves to make the "g" hard in front of those letters. For example, the word "guet" is pronounced like "gay")


never pronounced


like "zh" in "measure"


like "y" when following an "i". A notable exception is "ville", which sounds like it is written.

m, n

see nasals.


pronounced as if you were gargling. Keep the tip of the tongue flat against the back of your bottom teeth and you'll be close. The further north you are in France, the more it sounds like a German "ch". The further south, the more is starts to approximate the rolling "r" of Spanish.


bonjour (b[o]-zhur) "good day"
bonsoir (b[o]-swahr) "good evening"
d'accord (dah-kor) "okay"
d'accord patron (dah-kor pah-tr[o]) "okay boss"
denier (der-nyay) the coin we use for money, a small denomination
monsieur (m'syur) "my lord", suitable for any gentleman
monseigneur (m[o]-seh-nyer) "my lord", but with extra emphasis for a higher ranking gentleman, like a peer
madame (mah-dahm) "my lady", suitable for any adult gentlewoman
merci (mair-see) "thank you"
pas de quoi (pah der kwa) equivalent to "it s nothing", what you can say in response to "merci"
de rien (der ry[i]) another thing you can say in response to "merci"
non (n[o]) "no"
oui (wee) "yes"
bien entendu! (by[i] [e]t[e]doo) "of course!"
soyez le bienvenu - (swa-yay ler by[i]-ver-noo) "you are welcome", as a greeting (sometimes just "bienvenu")
qu est-ce que vous voulez? (kes ker voo voolay) "what do you want?", as from barmaid to customer
je voudrais <whatver>... (zher voo-dray) "I would like <whatever>..."

    ...du vin (doo v[i])

"some wine"

    ...du cidre (doo seedr)

"some cider" la bière (der lah bee-air)

"some beer"

    ...des saucisses (day saw-sees)

"some sausages"

    ...du potage (doo poh-tahzh)

"some soup"

    ...du pain (doo p[i])

"some bread"

    ...du fromage (doo froh-mahzh)

"some cheese"

    ...du sel (doo sehl)

"some salt" où est <whatever>
ou est...? (oo ay) "where is <whatever>..."

    ...le vin (ler v[i])

"the wine" fille (lah feey)

"the girl"

    ...le garçon (ler gar-s[o])

"the boy"

    ...le garderobe (ler gahrd-robe)

literally, "the wardrobe", euphemism for the latrine
combien? (c[o]-by[i]) "how much?"
donnez-vous le démenti à moi? (don-nay voo ler day-m[e]-tee ah mwa?) "are you giving me the lie?", a good way to start a duel
j'ai affaire à vous dehors (zhay ah-fair ah voo deh-or) "I have business with you outside", e.g. an invitation to a duel
assez! (ah-say) "enough!"
allons-y (ah-l[o]-zee) "let s go"

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