French has its own fillers that, um, er, uh, like, you know… make speech sound more natural. These little words add emotional flavor, they soften or reinforce an arguments, or they just plain buy time to find le mot juste.
Language courses don’t usually focus on filler words, but learning how to use them can really help you sound less formal. Here’s a taste of seven of the really common ones, with examples to show how you can use them. Practice with your instructor, and listen for them in French movies or TV. Play with context and tone to convey different nuances.
Euh… er/um/uh …
The most common of all, euh is used just like English um or uh. Use it when you need some time to think before speaking, when you’re looking for a word, or when you want to cover an embarrassing pause.
Euh, il s’appelle comment déjà… ? (Um, what’s his name again…?)
Hein ? Huh?
This is a lot like Quoi ? (What?) Either one are used if you didn’t understand something, or if you want to convey surprise. However, be aware that both are familiar and considered rude in formal situations. In this case, you should use Comment ? (pardon me, lit. how).
Hein? Qu’est-ce que t’as dit ? (Huh? What did you say?)
Tu sais/Vous savez…
This is exactly like its English counterpart filler You know. You may also hear Tu sais in a quicker form, T’sais (‘Tsay’).
Tu sais, tu ne devrais pas laisser ta voiture ici. (You know, you shouldn’t leave your car here.)
Literally in short, bref is used when you want to move on in your story or argument, or if you’re trying to change the subject altogether.
Bref, je ne sais pas si c’est vrai, mais c’est ce qu’ils m’ont dit. (Anyway, I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s what they told me.)
Quand même! Really?
This phrases usually means something like still or even so or all the same. But as a filler exclamation, quand même ! expresses surprise, like really?
Quand même! Il t’a dit ça? (Really? He told you that!)
Bon ben… OK, all right…
Ben is a sort of lazy bien (well), and you can say bon ben where you’d say okay or so in English.
Bon ben on va au café oui ? (OK, so we’re going to the coffee shop, right?)
Eh bien… Well/So...
Use this filler to reinforce or put some focus on what you say next. Eh bien/ben ! can show surprise or even slight amazement.
Eh bien, quel temps ! (Well, what’s up with this weather?)
Enfin! Come on!
Enfin usually means finally or at last. But as a filler with an exclamation enfin ! shows impatience, exasperation or dismay. If you want to add a bit more oomph, use mais enfin !
Mais enfin , on est en retard! (Come on, we’re late!)