Useful French Expressions For Essays About Life

So, you’ve learned the basics of French and you’re ready to practice.

You’re going to have a real conversation by linking up with a language partner.

Congratulations! Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.

Having a conversation in French is much like having one in English, as parler de tout et de rien (small talk) is essentially the same all around the world.

But there are some basic words and phrases you should know before you say “bonjour” to your new acquaintance and get into the thick of conversation.

Here are 10 great, basic sentences to use during French conversation.
 

 

10 Must-know French Sentences for Basic Conversation

1. Comment vous appelez-vous? (What’s your name?)

The most common conversation starter: What’s your name? There’s a more informal way to say this (Comment t’appelles-tu?), but typically when you ask this question, it’s best to use the formal version of the phrase to show respect.

How can I continue the conversation?
Je m’appelle… (My name is…)

The best way to keep this conversation going? Introduce yourself, too. “Appeler” is actually the French verb meaning “to call,” so “Je m’appelle” literally translates to “I call myself.”

2. Enchanté(e)! (Pleased to meet you!)

This is the simplest and most common way to tell the person you just met, “I’m pleased to meet you.” Other options include, “Enchanté(e) de faire votre connaissance,” (Pleased to make your acquaintance), which is just as formal in French as it is in English, and “C’est un plaisir de vous rencontrer” (It’s a pleasure to meet you), which is formal, but not quite as formal as the former.

Note: The (e) that you see at the end of enchanté(e) is added when a woman is speaking. This of course only matters if you are corresponding through writing, since this extra does not affect pronunciation at all.

How do I continue theconversation?
There are a lot of ways to continue the initial introduction; you could choose to ask one of the other questions in this list, or say something kind about what they’re wearing, such as, “J’aime bien votre t-shirt” (I like your t-shirt).

3. Je viens de… (I’m from…)

This phrase, meaning “I’m from…” will come in handy after you’ve introduced yourself. You can use this to refer to both your country and your city. For example, I’m from Atlanta, Georgia in the United States, so I could say either “Je viens des Etats-Unis” or “Je viens d’Atlanta.”

Notice how the “de” changes depending on the noun used. Since the word for “United States” in French is plural, it uses “des” rather than “de.” Since “Atlanta” begins with a vowel, and “de” ends with an “e,” you drop the “e” in “de.” This rule applies only for words that end in “e” that are directly next to words beginning in a vowel; words ending in a, o, u and y are never connected in that fashion.

How can I continue the conversation?
D’où viens-tu/D’où venez-vous? (Where are you from?)

It’s possible your conversation partner will ask you this question first, but if they don’t, you can follow up your discussion about your home country or city by asking them where they are from.

There are two different phrases here; the first one that includes “tu” is the informal version of the phrase that should only be used with friends, family or peers. The second version, with the formal “vous,” is most appropriate with people that you have just met, and will probably be the best choice here.

4. J’habite à… (I live in…)

This sentence, meaning “I live in,” will likely follow the question “Where are you from?” For me, that answer is New York City, so I would say, “J’habite à New York.” Be careful, though, because the “à” is only used when you are talking about a city. When you want to refer to the country in which you live, things get a bit more complex.

As a general rule, if the country you live in ends with an “e” in French, it’s a feminine country and you’ll use en. If the country you live in ends with anything but “e” it’s most likely a masculine country and you’ll use au, unless of course the country is plural (like les États-Unis – the United States), in which case you’ll use aux. 

For example:

J’habiteà Paris. (I live in Paris).

But…

J’habite en France. (I live in France).
J’habite auCanada.(I live in Canada).
J’habite aux États-Unis. (I live in the United States).

Note: Remember how we dropped the “e” in “de” for the phrase “Je viens de…”? Here, we are doing the same with “Je” and “habite.” The “h” in “habite” is treated like a vowel because the pronunciation of the word actually drops the “h.” For this reason, many words beginning with “h” in French are treated like vowels.

How can I continue the conversation?
Où est-ce que tu habites?/Où est-ce que vous habitez?

This directs the same question back to the other person: “Where do you live?” This will give them a chance to share a little bit about themselves, and will surely bring up some great conversation points, like traveling (if you have visited their home country/city) and culture.

5. Qu’est-ce que vous faites? (What is your profession?)

The literal translation of this phrase is “what do you do,” but in conversation it means “What is your profession?” The informal version of the question is: Qu’est-ce que tu fais?

Asking this question will give you a chance to hear and use words like un professeur (a teacher), un homme d’affaires (a businessman), un écrivain (a writer) and other job words.

How can I continue the conversation?
Est-ce que ça te plaît?/Est-ce que ça vous plaît?

This phrase translates to “Do you enjoy it?,” and gives the speaker a chance to go into more depth about his/her job. This can be said even more informally with “Ça te plaît?” 

6. Qu’est-ce que vous aimez faire pendant votre temps libre? (What do you do in your free time?)

This phrase extends the small talk to what the person likes to do in their temps libre (free time), and it asks just that: “What do you like to do in your free time?” The informal question is: Qu’est-ce que tu aimes faire pendant ton temps libre? This opens up a world of potential conversation and will help you practice vocabulary like regarder les films (watch movies), écouter la radio (listen to the radio), faire du sport (play sports) and much, much more.

How can I continue the conversation?
J’aime faire…

This starts a sentence that will follow up your partner’s discussion with what you like to do. It means “I like to do…” but the word “faire,” which means “to make, do” can be replaced with any verb that describes what you enjoy doing. For example, I like to write, so I would say, “J’aime écrire.” (I like to write). Do some research beforehand to find out what vocabulary you can use to describe what you like to do for fun.

7. Quel temps fait-il? (How’s the weather?)

Ah, the weather. It is always a central part of conversation, even in French. This phrase means “What’s the weather like?,” and will give you a chance to put those weather words like le soleil (the sun), les nuages (the clouds), la pluie (the rain) and la neige (the snow) to good use – depending on the season, of course.

How can I continue the conversation?
Demain, il fait…

If you’d looked at tomorrow’s weather beforehand, you can talk about the expected weather for the next day using this sentence that means “Tomorrow, it will be…” Insert the word that best describes tomorrow’s weather. Looks like sun? Demain, il fait du soleil (It’ll be sunny tomorrow). Stormy? Demain, il fait du vent (It’ll be windy tomorrow).

8. Est-ce que vous avez des frères et sœurs? (Do you have siblings?)

This sentence, meaning “Do you have brothers and sisters?” will launch the conversation about family. In French, it’s more common to ask if you have any brothers and sisters rather than ask if you have siblings. Here’s the same question in the informal version: Est-ce que tu as des frères et sœurs?

How can I continue the conversation?
Et tes/vos parents? Qu’est-ce qu’ils font?

After asking about the siblings, the logical next question will be about the parents. This question asks, “And your parents? What do they do for a living?” You could also talk about your own family: J’ai deux sœurs (I have two sisters) or Mes parents sont des professeurs (My parents are teachers). Notice that you’ll use the possessive adjective tes (your) if you are speaking informally and vos (your) if you are speaking formally.

9. Quel est ton/votre film préféré? (What’s your favorite movie?)

This question, meaning “What’s your favorite film?,” will give you a chance to talk about that movie you saw with your best friend last weekend while practicing using adjectives to describe either un mauvais film (a bad film) or un bon film (a good film). You can also substitute “movie” for any other topic you’d like to discuss: un livre (a book), un chanteur (a singer), un groupe de musique (a band), or even back to the weather, une saison (a season).

How can I continue the conversation?
Mon film préféré est…

Here’s where you can talk about what film you really enjoyed recently with the response of “My favorite film is…” Use the French title so you can practice your pronunciation!

10. Est-ce que vous avez visité…? (Have you visited… ?)

This sentence is great for discussing the interesting musées (museums), parcs (parks) and other locations around your city that you find interesting. Simply insert the noun at the end of the sentence to ask, “Have you visited…?” With good friends and family, be sure to use the informal question:  Est-ce que tu as visité…?

For example, to ask if your boss has visited Paris, you would say, Est-ce que vous avez visité Paris? (Have you visited Paris?). Make sure to restrict this to talking about places you’ve visited. When visiting people, you’ll use the verb rendre visite à: Je rends visite à mes parents ce week-end (I’m visiting my parents this weekend). 

How can I continue thisconversation?
Récemment, j’ai visité le musée du Louvre. 

This sentence, meaning “Recently, I went to the Louvre,” introduces an entire conversation about the wonderful paintings you saw at your visit to Paris’s Louvre.

Helpful French Phrases to Keep the Conversation Flowing

There will definitely be times when either you don’t understand what was said, or you can’t remember how to say something in French.

When this happens, use one of these phrases to keep the conversation rolling:

  • Pourriez-vous répéter?(Can you please repeat that?)
  • Je ne comprends pas.(I don’t understand.)
  • Comment dit-on ~ en français?(How do you say ~ in French?)

Whether you are just beginning to learn French or perhaps you simply needed a refresher, these sentences will set you up for successful conversations with French speaking partners.

From a coffee shop chat to a quick catch-up on the subway, these quick conversations can happen anytime – and these phrases will help you succeed whenever they occur!
 

 

And One More Thing…

Learning to speak awesome French isn’t just about learning what to say, it’s about getting exposure to as much authentic French speech as possible.

To see and hear French being used in an everyday, real-life context as often as you’d like, just check out FluentU.

FluentU lets you learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks. Since this video content is stuff that native French speakers actually watch on the regular, you’ll get the opportunity to learn real French—the way it’s spoken in modern life.

One quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content found on FluentU:

Love the thought of learning French with native materials but afraid you won’t understand what’s being said? FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner. Interactive captions will guide you along the way, so you’ll never miss a word.

Tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then this is what appears on your screen:

Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU’s learn mode to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video with vocabulary lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”

As you continue advancing in your French studies, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve been learning. It uses your viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give you a 100% personalized experience. Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.

Experience French immersion online!

Want to impress your French friends?

Dreaming of the day when you’ll truly surprise a language exchange partner with your français?

If you’ve got the accent down, then it’s time to start whipping out some French idioms and phrases to make this happen.

Much like in English, the French love using a good metaphor to describe a situation. So much so, that it can seem like there are more phrases to learn than verb endings!

But never fear—we’re going to walk you through eleven phrases that will leave you sounding leaps and bounds more like a native.

All you need is a little time, a pad of paper (or printer) and this list of French phrases. Pretty soon, you’ll be blowing away native speakers with your know-how.
 

 

11 French Phrases You’ve Gotta Learn to Impress Natives

1. L’Appel du vide

Literally: Call of the void
Meaning: A sudden urge to do wild or reckless things

This French saying has no literal translation in English, and while it is fairly easy to translate, it doesn’t mean exactly what it seems to. The phrase translates literally to “call of the void” and is commonly used to describe people who have a sudden inclination to do reckless and dangerous activities.

It is the appel du vide that causes people to jump off mountains or to swim out to sea, despite the deadly consequences. The saying has been likened to the mythological song of the sirens, which caused sailors to crash into the rocks.

Example:

A: Pourquoi Jack disparut-il soudainement? (Why did Jack suddenly disappear?)

B: C’était l’appel du vide. (It was the call of the void.)

2. Mauvais quart d’heure

Literally: Bad 15 minutes
Meaning: Brief, embarrassing experience

We’ve all been there: coat stuck in the metro door, tripping over our feet, greeting someone we have never actually met before. While the feelings of embarrassment can stay around for hours, the French have contracted the experience of embarrassment to a 15-minute interval.

A mauvais quart d’heure is a brief but demoralizing experience that will leave you feeling bashful. Saying that l’homme a passé un mauvais quart d’heure means that, briefly, something was very embarrassing for the man in question.

Example: 

J’ai déchiré mon pantalon, brisé mon téléphone et perdu mes clés. C’était un mauvais quart d’heure! (I ripped my trousers, broke my phone and lost my keys. It was an embarrassing experience!)

3. Mauvaise honte

Literally: Bad shame
Meaning: False modesty

In English, this phrase is used to literally mean “extreme shyness” but in French, the connotations are somewhat different. We all know one person who talks down their work in the hope that you will build it back up.

While in France, mauvaise hontecan be used in a negative way to describe someone who has a false sense of modesty, though it’s not always a bad thing. Used mainly to describe a sense of false modesty, it can also be used to describe a quality that makes you do good things, out of a sort of shame. If used correctly, it can be commendable—but don’t always take this saying as a compliment.

Example:

A: Georges est si modeste. (Georges is so modest.)

B: Non, c’est une mauvaise honte. (No, it’s false modesty.)

4. Plus ça change…

Literally: The more things change…
Meaning: Things will never change

The full expression—plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose—is actually fairly common in France. Translating literally to “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” the saying can be used to describe a weary acceptance of the way things are.

You will often hear people just saying plus ça changeunder their breath and if that’s the case, they’re probably making a snide remark to something happening around them.

Example:

A: Le nouveau président est tout aussi mauvais que le dernier. (The new president is just as bad as the last.)

B: Plus ça change…. (The more things change…)

5. Tant bien que mal

Literally: As well as badly
Meaning: Anything partly or moderately successful; with some difficulty

Another saying which has no literal translation, tant bien que mal has been used in French since the 18th century. Similarly downbeat as previous sayings, the phrase is used to describe something that was carried out either partly or moderately successful.

This saying can be used also when people seem to be trying their best but are not necessarily reaping the rewards for their actions. If someone says that “J’y a réussi tant bien que mal,” it means you managed it with some difficulty and not necessarily with ringing success.

Example:

Aujourd’hui, six mois après cette terrible nouvelle, nous vivons tant bien que mal(Today, six months after this terrible news, we’re living as well as is possible.)

6. Ventre à terre 

Literally: Belly to the ground
Meaning: Doing something full speed

Translating ventre à terre might seem obvious, and while it can be used to literally describe something with its belly to the ground, the idiomatic meaning is a little different. The French saying came from French horse riding culture, and was used to describe a horse galloping so quickly that its front and back legs were thrown out, leaving its belly directly above the ground.

Ventre à terre, therefore, can be used to describe doing something at full speed. You can say that someone moves at full speed by using the phrase “Il courait ventre à terre.”

Example:

Il était tellement rapide! Il courait ventre à terre. (He was really fast! He ran belly to the ground.)

7. Violon d’Ingres

Literally: Ingres’s violin
Meaning: To have a hobby

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, the celebrated 18th/19th century painter, was also an exceptionally talented violinist. While he wasn’t creating impressive works of art, he could be found playing on his violin—which led writers to start referencing his second talent in their writing. If you describe something as mon violon d’Ingresyou talk about a talent or hobby that you like to do in your spare time.

Example:

J’aime bien le bricolage. C’est mon violon d’Ingres. (I like DIY, it’s my hobby).

8. Revenons à nos moutons

Literally: Return to our sheep
Meaning: Return to the matter at hand

If someone says in a French meeting that they must revenons à nos moutons, they are not saying entirely what it seems. While wanting to “return to our sheep” might seem like an odd way to get to the point, the saying has been used figuratively for over 400 years to remind speakers to return to the matter at hand.

Taken from 15th century comedy “La Farce de Maître Pierre Pathelin,” the saying took little time to catch on and has been used ever since.

Example:

A: Nous perdons du temps… (We are wasting time…)

B: Oui, revenons à nos moutons et retournons au travail. (Yes, let’s return to the matter at hand and get back to work.)

9. Le démon du midi

Literally: The midday demon
Meaning: To have a midlife crisis

If someone you know wakes up at 50, grows a ponytail, puts on their leather trousers and buys a Harley, you would be forgiven for assuming they’re suffering from a demonic possession. In France, anyway.

Having a mid-life crisis is truly terrifying to the French, and if you’re suffering from the démon du midi, you’re in trouble.

Example:

A: Mon père a acheté une nouvelle moto. (My dad bought a new motorbike.)

B: Il a vraiment le démon du midi. (He’s really having a midlife crisis.)

10. Cherchez la femme

Literally: Look for the woman
Meaning: Find the woman to put right a man’s bad behavior

This saying is a little more complicated than it might seem, and is saved for very specific situations. If someone demands that you chercher la femme, it is normally because there is a man somewhere acting out of character and in order to stop it, you need to find the woman who is the cause.

While it’s unclear as to the origins of the phrase, it can be located in the 1894 Alexandre Dumas drama “Les Mohicans de Paris,” in which women are blamed for being at the heart of most troubles.

Example:

A. Ilest devenu complètement fou! (He’s gone completely mad!)

B. Cherchez la femme… (Look for the woman…)

11. Amour fou

Literally: Insane love
Meaning: Uncontrollable passion

If stereotypes are anything to go by, anyone who moves to Paris suffers from amour fou; it is the city of love, after all. Translated literally as “insane love,” this saying describes a wild and uncontrollable passion that takes over when people fall in love.

Unlike other romantic sayings, however, an amour fou is normally a passion which has completely taken over the relationship and threatens to turn it into something unhealthy. From time to time, un amour fou can be one sided and if this is the case, then things tend to turn out very badly for one of the parties.

Example:

Ce mec, il souffre d’un amour fou; elle l’aime pas. (This guy suffers from a mad love; she doesn’t love him.)

Truly, the list of French sayings is endless and while these are a good introduction, you’ll find that there’s practically a specific phrase for every situation.

All you need to do now is find a French speaking partner, strike up a conversation and talk away! You might be surprised by how easily you remember the sayings and your partner might be surprised by how easily you are adapting to French culture.

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