An interjection is a word or expression that you use to give some emotional context to what you’re saying. In English, you probably use interjections like wow, damn, meh, or shoot very often. If the rest of the sentence is the cake, the interjection is the icing. In this post we’ll look at 10 French interjections that you should know, and show you how to use them.
1. Oh là là !
Oh là là ! (oh lah lah) shows surprise, amazement, or exasperation. It’s equivalent to a whole range of English expressions, for example: Oh boy! Wow! Holy cow! and so on. This is the first of the 10 French interjections that you should know, since it’s probably the most famous!
- T’as mangé tout ça ? Oh là là tu auras une indigestion !
- You ate all that? Oh boy, you’re going to have indigestion.
Next we have ben/bah… (buh(n)) well…um…er… Usually followed by oui or non, this one is a real French classic! It’s really a flavor word used to buy time or gather your thoughts.
- Ça te plaît ? Ben, pas vraiment…
- You like that? Well, not really…
3. Ouf !
The third of the 10 French interjections that you should know is ouf ! (oof) phew! Use this one when narrowly escaping an embarrassing or sticky situation, or finishing a laborious task.
- Ouf! J’ai failli me cogner sur ce truc là !
- Phew! I almost hit myself on this thing here!
4. Aïe !
Number four is aïe ! (ah-y(uh)) ouch! ow! You can use this one to show pain. Note that you may hear Aïe-euh (ay-uh), especially from kids or people who want to draw attention to the fact that they’re hurt.
- Aïe ! Ça fait mal !
- Ouch! That hurts!
5. Hein ?
Hein ? (uh(n)) Eh? What? Number 5 is a familiar or conversational synonym of Quoi ? (What?).
- Hein ? Qu’est-ce que tu dis ?
- What? What are you saying?
6. Beurk/Berk !
Beurk/Berk ! (buhrk/behrk) Yuk! Blech! French speakers use this to show that something smells, looks, or tastes bad.
- Beurk ! Ce n’est pas bon du tout !
- Berk! It’s really not good at all!
7. Mince/Zut (alors) !
Mince/Zut (alors) ! (muh(n)-s (ah-lohr)) Damn! Darn! Mince literally means thin. It can denote admiration, anger or astonishment.
- Zut alors ! J’ai oublié mon porte-monnaie à la maison.
- Damn! I forgot my wallet at home.
By the way, most English speakers know the expression sacrebleu, which is actually not used in common language anymore, but is pretty much the equivalent of mince or zut. That expressions is an alteration of sacre (holy) and Dieu (God), where bleu was used instead to avoid blasphemy, kind of like gosh instead of God.
8. Ça alors !
Moving along we have ça alors ! (sah ah-lohr) wow! or well really! This is another very common, typically French interjection that shows mild surprise.
- Ça alors ! Tu as vu ça ?
- Wow! Did you see this?
9. (Mais) Enfin !
(Mais) Enfin ! (may ah(n) fuh(n). Come on! Literally: (But) At last! It is used when one is outraged, annoyed but also as in: What do you think you’re doing?! It can be quite funny for the recipient and cause of the indignation if he/she is mischievous, mocking or downright scandalous.
- (Mais) Enfin ! Ça suffit maintenant !
- Come on! That’s enough now!
Finally we have bof… (bohf) meh… Another French classic which is hard to nail down in translation, this interjection expresses to perfection a sort of laisser-aller (slackness/sloppiness) or depressed indifference that some people think might be – ahem! – a French characteristic! Another close equivalent is Mouais which is mixture of Mhhh and Ouais (yeah), a weak, indecisive or unconvinced acceptance of a proposition.
- Ça t’intéresse d’aller au cinéma ? Bof… pas vraiment.
- Are you interested in going to the movies? Meh… not really.
If you use these expressions, you’re sure to sound more natural. And even if you don’t, be sure to listen for them when you speak with French friends or coworkers. That will really help you zero in on meaning and usage.
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