Last Updated on 30th November 2018 by Sophie Nadeau
Home to the language of love, France has one of the most beautiful sounding vocabularies in the world. Here are my top 20 useful French words and phrases that everyone should know before visiting the City of Light!
Origins of the French language
‘Old’ French was a Romance language, directly descended from Latin. The earliest records of written French come in the form of the Strasbourg Oaths in 842 AD. It is literally impossible to read this French without proper tuition, even if you are fluent in modern French.
It wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that modern French was born. Cardinal Richelieu (yep, the same one as in the Three Musketeers) found the Académie Française in 1634 in order to preserve the French language.
The chief job of the 40 immortals who work for this academy (a role in which they are appointed to for life) is to regulate the French language. They began to regulate French grammar and pronunciation rules; producing pamphlets and dictionaries to aid in this ‘revamp’. The Académie still exists to this day.
20 Useful French Words and Phrases:
#1 Exploratrice (Female adventurer)
I’ve spoken about my love of the word ‘exploratrice’ before. Literally used to mean a female explorer or adventurer; how many languages have a word specifically for a female adventurer? If you’re in search of more magical travel words that aren’t in English, then here are some pretty special German travel words.
#2 Bisous (Kisses)
The City of Love is Paris. The language of love is French. Need I say more? This French word is generally used when writing letters between lovers or is used by parents to children. For talking between friends, you’ll want to use ‘bises’. Incidentally, here’s a guide to bise etiquette in Europe!
#3 Laisse tomber (Let it go)
Frozen vibes much? Casual French at its very best, laisser tomber can mean any number of things. In the physical sense, it means to drop something, while in a more metaphorical meaning, it can mean to leave, to forget about, or to give up.
#4 La Barbe à Papa (Candyfloss)
This French phrase makes me smile every single time. And how could it not? After all, while the word candyfloss is pretty boring in English, its French counterpart can quite literally be translated as ‘the beard of daddy’. For those who are interested in fairgrounds, here’s a guide to carousels in Paris!
#5 Pantoufle (Slipper)
Hahahahahah this word! Just try saying it…
#6 Dépaysement (The feeling of being in another country)
HOW I FEEL RIGHT NOW.
#7 Salut (Hello/ Goodbye)
This French greeting is a direct descendant of the Latin word ‘salve’. Used to mean both hello and goodbye, this handy little word can be used in a variety of circumstances! The Italian equivalent of this French salutation would be ‘ciao’.
#8 L’hexagone (France)
The French have their own word for France. Supposedly reminiscent of the shape of the landmass of France, I’m not entirely convinced myself. What do you think?
#9 Vin (Wine (Rosé (rosé), Rouge (red), Blanc (white))
What is more French than sitting down with a nice glass of wine and philosophising :).
#10 Gendarmerie (Police)
The word for Police actually comes from the old French ‘Gens d’armes’ (men at arms).
#11 Pardon (Sorry)
As an English person, I feel that this is one of the most important words you could possibly learn! While Pardon can be used in a wide variety of situations, excusez-moi is another good ‘sorry’ type phrase to have in your vocabulary.
#12 Bonne Journée (Good day)
While in English people may use the phrase ‘Good day’ to meet someone, in French it can solely be used when departing from a situtation. For example, after you’ve finished grocery shopping or paying for a bill in a restaurant. If you’re saying goodbye to friends, then you’re more likely to say ‘salut!’
#13 Avocat (Avocado and Lawyer)
This is a funny one; because in French, ‘avocat’ means both avocado and lawyer. This could get confusing in court; imagine if someone was killed with an avocado?
#14 S’il vous plait (Please)
One of the top four first words you should learn in any language is how to say please, and French is no exception (no matter how hard it might be to get to grips with the Romance language!)
#15 Quinze jours (A fortnight)
Of all my favourite useful French words and phrases, this is probably it. I mean, how can 15 days make a fortnight. All I can say is: I KNOW… don’t ask.
#16 Amour (to Love)
Obviously, this word is integral to the list of 20! The other
#17 La Ville Lumière (City of Light)
Paris is the City of Light! However, what you may not know is that it acquired this nickname thanks to its great role in the Age of Enlightenment.
#18 L’appel du Vide (Call of the void)
You know that feeling you get when you’re standing at the top of a cliff and get the urge to jump? The French have a word for that!
#19 Parlez vous Anglais? (Do you speak English?)
If all else fails, this is the phrase to use!
#20 À vous… (Over to you)
Got any favourite French words? Comment below!