top cx logo
cx logo
Explorearrow down
search icon
Explore
arrow down

Au pif: How many of these French estimation phrases do you know?

You may know the common phrase ‘à peu près’, meaning roughly, but how many of these other six similar phrases do you know?

Au pif literally means “in the nose” Pic: tativophotos / Shutterstock

A very handy little phrase to throw into everyday conversation in France is ‘au pif’, pronounced ‘oh peef’. 

Using it serves two purposes: firstly, it shows that you have a handle on a little bit of slang French, thereby convincing a neighbour or apéro guest that your language skills are coming along very nicely, thank you very much.

Secondly, it covers your back if you are guessing the answer to something and trusting your gut feeling. 

Here’s how: au pif literally means ‘in the nose’ (the word pif is translated into English as hooter, conk or schnoz, and can also refer to one’s sense of smell). However, in the context of providing a number, measurement or fact, it means you have been guided purely by instinct or evidence. ‘At a guess’ or ‘off the top of my head’ would be the best equivalents found in English.

For example: “Au pif, je dirais que ca pèse 20 kilos” (At a guess, I’d say that weighs 20 kilos). It is an informal phrase and certainly not one to use when with someone in authority – you wouldn’t tell the taxman your calculations were ‘au pif’.

Other words and phrases to imply an estimate in French include: à l’estime, à peu près, à vue de nez, au jugé and au pifomètre

Our favourite, though, is au doigt mouillé (with a wet finger) – a reference to sticking one’s index finger in your mouth and raising it vertically to see which way the ever-changing wind is blowing in that split second. 

Needless to say, as is often the case with phrases in this column, au pif also, confusingly, has another nuance to be aware of: it can also mean ‘randomly’.

Related articles

What does ‘de’ mean in a French surname: Is it a sign of nobility?

Gentille Alouette: True meaning of the not-so-gentle French kids’ song

Au revoir et bon vent: Nine ways to say goodbye in France

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
featured helpguide
Healthcare in France*
Featured Help Guide
- Understand the French healthcare system, how you access it and how you are reimbursed - Useful if you are new to the French healthcare system or want a more in-depth understanding - Reader question and answer section Aimed at non-French nationals living here, the guide gives an overview of what you are (and are not) covered for. There is also information for second-home owners and regular visitors.
Get news, views and information from France
You have 2 free subscriber articles left
Subscribe now to read unlimited articles and exclusive content
Already a subscriber? Log in now