Top 10 most useful French words and phrases

Disclaimer: This is my opinion only – I take no responsibility if you try to get a visa or try to trade on the stock market using only these words and phrases. They’re my ten most used bits of vocabulary though, and I really wish I’d known some of them (see #7) before I’d arrived!

10 Bonjour (Hello) – But of course!

9  Un peu (A bit) – Everyone we’ve met so far has asked us how much French we know already. The answer is inevitably ‘un peu’, and maybe always will be. It gets a laugh about 80% of the time though!

8  Lentement (Slowly) – Because inevitably a native French speaker is too fast for my tiny English mind to process at a reasonable pace.

7  Récupérer (To recover, or to recoup) – This one is mainly useful when collecting your bank card from your local branch after opening a new account. You might think that you can go in and say ‘Je voudrais collecter ma carte’, which translates to ‘I would like to collect my card’, but this almost resulted in us closing down the account we’d just opened! The cashier assumed we wanted to collect all the money from our account in order to close it, whoops!

6  Non, je ne fume pas (No, I don’t smoke) – The folks in Paris seem to smoke like chimneys, but do they ever have a light? No! I’ve been asked a few times whether I have a light (un feu*), so this line is handy.

5  On prend… (We’ll take…) – As a British person this one feels quite unnatural; I’m inclined to say ‘I’d like…’, or ‘please could I have…’ rather than ‘I’ll take’, but this is what everyone in Paris seems to say, so I’m trying to blend in. No-one has seemed shocked yet!

4  Bonne journée (Have a good day) – I don’t remember ever being taught this in school, but it’s a sure fire way to feel like a local really quickly. Instead of the standard ‘au revoir’ when you exit a lift or leave a shop, wishing someone a ‘bonne journée’ will make you feel super fancy. At least, it works for me. Also see ‘bonne soirée’ for night time pleasantries.

3  Présure (Rennet) – As a vegetarian in Paris, this is what I’m looking for when I read the back of every cheese packet. If it says ‘présure’, it’s a no-go. Some packets now say ‘convenient aux végétariens’ which is great, but most require you to read the small print.

2  Merci (Thank you) – So far in Paris we’ve met lots of very polite people; some hold the door open for you, some show you where the yoghurt is in the supermarket. It’s nice to be polite back.

1  Quoi? (What?) – Probably the thing I say most in French, ha! Be careful though, because there are a few different words for ‘what’ depending on the context. Click here to read an awesome article about the subtleties.

There you have it – nearly everything you need to survive in France, for at least a day or two! Have I missed anything you’ve found useful?

Bonus photo of the back of Notre Dame – just look at those flying buttresses!

*Beware: Un feu is a light, but un fou is a crazy person. Tread carefully.



3 thoughts on “Top 10 most useful French words and phrases”

  1. As a vegetarian, I choose to ignore rennet most of the time. The terminology can be very uncertain since in the United States they use both “vegetable rennet” and “animal rennet”. If something explicitly identifies animal rennet, I’ll usually pass on it. After more than 30 years of being a vegetarian in the middle of cheese country (Minnesota and Wisconsin) I wave my white flag of surrender and just go with it.

    The most basic French words I couldn’t live without in Paris:
    une carafe d’eau = A carafe of tap water – I drink mostly water and paying for weird tasting bottled water is just more than I can bear
    L’addition s’il vous plait = Please bring the bill – At least in the United States, it’s really rude to have to ask for your bill so my gut instinct is to keep waiting…..
    Où sont les toilettes, s’il vous plait = Where is the toilet – See above about the water….


    1. Oh wow, I had no idea it was rude to ask for the bill in the US – such a subtle cultural difference. And I definitely agree with the tap water thing – unless I’m somewhere where it’s unsafe to drink the water, I’m a tap gal all the way 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve been ruminating on “rude”. Maybe not rude, but one of two things: “I’m in a hurry (show tickets, etc.) and need to have things hurry along.” Or “you’re clearly not paying attention to me and you need me to remind you to do your proper job of pacing the service.” They probably won’t be horribly offended with the latter, but it does presume that you know better.


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