French Filler Words

Instructor: Emily France

Emily has experience teaching English and French and has a master's degree in International Studies

In this lesson, we will be learning about some of the most common filler words in French and their meanings. We will also go over some sample sentences using these filler words in order to show how they are used.

Introduction to French Filler Words

Rachel is vacationing in Paris and is totally lost. She decides to try out some French on a passerby to ask for directions:

Rachel: Pouvez-vous me dire où se trouve la tour Eiffel? (Could you tell me where the Eiffel Tower is?)

Passerby: La tour Eiffel, hein? Euh, je pense que c'est proche mais, enfin, je ne suis pas d'ici. (The Eiffel Tower, eh? Uh, I think that it's close but, actually, I'm not from here.)

Rachel: Ah bon, c'est dommage. Alors, savez-vous où se trouve le métro? (I see, that's too bad. Well, do you know where the metro is?)

Passerby: Ben, oui, c'est juste là-bas. (Well, yes, it's just over there.)

Finding your way in a big city like Paris is difficult, you know!
parisskyline

Although Rachel's conversation with this passerby is probably a little more casual than your interactions with a stranger might be, you can see that everyday French is full of filler words, perhaps to an even greater extent than English. Learning a few of the most common filler words and their uses will thus help your French sound more natural and authentic.

Common French Filler Words and Phrases

Here are a handful of the most common filler words in French and their meanings:

Euh

Euh (uh) is a very common filler word and something that you'll hear regularly among the French, mostly in casual, everyday conversations. Euh is the equivalent of the English 'uh' or 'um,' and it has myriad uses in French. Like 'uh,' euh is often used to insert a slight pause into a statement. The passerby above said, for example, Euh, je pense que c'est proche (Uh, I think that it's close), because he wasn't too sure of his response.

Who will win the race? Uh, we do not know yet.
race

Hein

Hein (ehn) is similar to the English 'huh' and is often used when someone doesn't understand something or hasn't heard you. Using hein by itself is considered very casual though, so this is probably wouldn't be something you'd use with a stranger. Hein can also be used similarly to 'right' or 'eh' at the end of a sentence to clarify or repeat something, such as when the passerby in the above scenario says: La tour Eiffel, hein? (The Eiffel Tower, eh?)

Alors

Alors (ah-lohr) is a ubiquitous filler word in French that you'll hear in a wide variety of contexts, both formal and informal. Like 'so' and 'well' in English, alors is often used to indicate the introduction of a topic, as in: Alors, ça va? (So/well, how's it going?). Alors can also mean 'so what?' or 'and then?' when in the form of the question: Et alors?

Quoi

Quoi (kwah) literally translates as 'what' in English, and can be used in similar ways, for instance: Tu fais quoi? (What are you doing?). Quoi can also mean something similar to 'you know?' as a way of emphasizing something when used at the end of a sentence, such as in the phrase: pas de chance, quoi (no luck, you know/tough luck). Using quoi is a common way to punctuate a statement, and because it doesn't have a strict meaning, it's very versatile.

Ah Bon

Ah bon (ah bohn) is a useful expression/filler that is often used as a rough translation for I see, like Rachel's response when the passerby told her he was not from Paris, or 'really' when used as a question. For instance, if a friend told you she had decided to cut her hair really short, you might say ah bon? (really?) in response.

She says: I would like a very short haircut. The hairdresser responds: Oh, really?
haircut

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