Fluent French speakers have various words or expressions to refer to their friends that can prove difficult for non-native speakers to understand. We explain some you may have heard.
1. Words you learn in language books
The most straightforward and common word is ‘ami’ (friend).
However, ami can refer to any type of friendship, from the someone you went to school with but have lost touch with, to the closest friends.
Ami is typically a word that most people would understand even if they do not know newer expressions.
Another common word is copain or copine. The word is typically used by French children, but usually avoided when adolescence starts as it could be misunderstood for a love relationship. (Because mon copain or mon petit ami can mean 'my boyfriend'.)
2. Keeping a distance
The ‘lowest level’ of friendship words are often linked to professional settings. For example:
Confrère or consoeur (another way of saying colleague, but in a more ‘brotherly’ or ‘sisterly’ way). Can also mean ‘fellow colleague’ or ‘partner’.
These words are typically used to refer to people working with you or from the same industry.
However, the word collègue does not carry the same intensity throughout France.
One person from Marseille told The Connexion the word is used to mean ‘friends’ or people you hang out with.
Other terms include:
Relation (relation, but not necessarily a family member)
Camarade (comrade) are words that show that you may be friends with your colleague as well as working together. This may mean that you connect over shared hobbies or friendly chit-chat.
The director of my journalism school used to sign his French-language emails and SMSs with the word camarades in his signature. He may have meant this satirically, as some still see the word ‘camarade’ as being heavily attached to the Communist definition of ‘comrade’.
He could also have been using it ironically to set himself apart from the typical ‘tyrannical’ director figure.
3. Slang words
- Pote or poto is a slang term for ami. Similarly, it does not reveal much about the level of friendship. The term is used by people of all generations.
Soss (pronounced ‘sauce’ in English) is a term employed by younger generations and means ‘close friends’.
4. Blood is thicker than water?
Le sang (blood) refers to friends you consider to share the same blood, meaning that they could be considered as close as your family members.
Le sang can be shortened to Le S. Several French rappers such as Kaaris and Kalash have songs called Le Sang.
For example, Kaaris has a lyric that says: 'La famille c'est le sang, tout c'qui nous manque c'est le temps (family is blood, the only thing missing is time)'.
La veine (the vein) is similar, and can be used alongside le sang to put more emphasis on the friendship. For example: “Camille, c’est le sang de la veine.”
However, you would not say “Camille, c’est le S de la veine”, because it sounds odd.
5. The case for ‘mon/ma gaté/e’
People in France were also able to add one more word to their vocabulary thanks to Bande organisée, a rap song featuring eight rappers from Marseille.
The song spread like wildfire around winter 2020, and was known particularly for its opening lyric: “Oui ma gatée”, by rapper SCH.
In a local Marseille dialect, the word gaté means ‘cuddle’, but the word has also taken on a more sentimental meaning. It now describes a bond or friendship shared among family members.
SCH says ma gatée in a seductive way, implying that he is referring to a woman towards whom he has expectations or interest, but who is not officially his girlfriend.
He has also used mon gaté to refer to some of his closest friends in various interviews.
The expression is very definitely from Marseille and its residents. It would be strange if anyone not from Marseille used it.
6. More words from rap culture
Mon gars sûr is another expression used to refer to friends whose truthfulness cannot be questioned. It literally means ‘the person I can always count on’.
The expression was popularised by the rap band Sexion d’Assaut in a song of the same name. The expression is fairly outdated today, however.
Rho is another word taken from the Arabic word which means ‘friends’. Booba, one of France’s most popular rappers, used the word extensively in his first early-2000s albums.