French Shopping Vocabulary

Instructor: Elizabeth Mayfield

Elizabeth has taught French on all levels and has a master's degree in French.

When you think of visiting a foreign country, is buying gifts for yourself and for loved ones on your list? Check out this lesson and you'll learn the basics of navigating French stores and boutiques.

Let's Go Shopping!

The monuments and museums of the places we visit are important, but let's admit it--we all love having an excuse to visit the local shops and boutiques, too. In France, especially in Paris, shopping is almost an art form.

Un grand magasin
Department Store

In this lesson, you will learn some vital terms and phrases that will help you to become a polite and savvy French shopper. Depending on the specific type of shopping you will be doing (like a book store versus a clothing store), you will need additional vocabulary in order to fill in the blanks of some of the general phrases below. For now, though, let's conquer some questions and phrases that will put you on your way to shopping like a native.

Types of Stores

If you're going to shop, it's important to know where you'll be browsing. In France, there do exist big box stores and one-stop shopping, but there are still many, many specialty stores. The most important term for store in France, however, is un magasin (uhn mah-gah-zan). This is a catch-all term that will cover just about anything, but if you want to get more specific, often you simply add a de (duh) behind magasin and fill in the blank with the type of store.

Un magasin de disques

  • un magasin de disques (uhn mah-gah-zan duh deesk) = music store
  • un magasin de chaussures (uhn mah-gah-zan duh sho-ssür) = shoe store

Other types of stores important to recognize are:

  • un grand magasin (uhn gron mah-gah-zan) = a department store
  • une boutique (ün boo-teek) = a small, specialty shop
  • une librairie (ün lee-bray-ree) = a bookstore
  • un centre commercial (uhn sahn-truh coh-mehr-cee-ahl) = a shopping center or mall

What's in the Store and What You'll Need

Whether you are shopping at the French equivalent of a big-box chain store or at the swankiest of boutiques, the general set-up will follow similar patterns. Here are some basics you'll find in any shopping experience:

  • un vendeur or une vendeuse (uhn vahn-dör) or (ün vahn-döz)= salesman/saleswoman
  • une caisse (ün kehs) = cash register
  • un caissier or une caissière (uhn kehs-ee-ay) or (ün kehs-ee-ehr) = cashier
  • un rayon (uhn ray-ahn) = department/aisle
  • un caddie (uhn cah-dee) = shopping cart, buggy
  • un panier (uhn pah-nee-ay) = shopping basket

When you are ready to make your purchase, you'll need to know whether you are paying en espèces (ah-nay-spehs), which is good 'ole cash, or by the more common credit or bank card, known as une carte de crédit (ün kahrt duh kray-dee) or une carte bancaire (ün kahrt bon-kehr). The cashier will most likely ask you about this when you check out.

Phrases to Pay Attention To

If you're like me, you love a great bargain, and also don't enjoy being told that your credit card has been declined. In this case, look for the following words and phrases to be posted in the store, both on the windows and in individual sections. Note that these terms and phrases, when used in advertising, do not take an article like most words in French:

  • Soldes (sohld) = Sale (usually the seasonal sales where all inventory is on markdown)
  • Offre Spéciale (oh-fruh spay-cee-ahl) = Special Offer (usually on a specific item)
  • Promotion (proh-moh-syen) = Promotional Offer (similar to the Offre Spéciale)
  • À Prix Réduit (ah pree ray-dwee) = Reduced Prices (usually on several items or select sections in a store)
  • À Prix Bas (ah pree bah) = Low Prices (Similar to Reduced Prices, but could indicate a store--like a big box chain--where prices are always low)

If you are lucky enough to have unlimited funds, feel free to look for items that are haut de gamme (o duh gahm) or 'high-end.'


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