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Use silence instead of French filler words like ‘du coup’, says expert

Baby boomers to Gen Z have all introduced their filler words to the French language - which phrases does your generation use?

Young people in France litter their conversations with words that don’t mean much - the same as every generation Pic: oneinchpunch / Shutterstock

Young people in France are often criticised for using a lot of filler words but this has more to do with the words they choose than the amount, a public speaking coach told The Connexion

Du coup, en fait, grave… These terms are littered throughout spoken French yet are difficult to translate, as they can mean everything and nothing.

Every generation has its filler words

The language guardians at the Académie française, for example, warn that du coup should not be used to mean ‘as a result’, as it often is, but that it denotes an instant impact.

While du coup is “clearly associated with Generation Z” – those born from 1997 onwards – older cohorts are not completely innocent when it comes to fillers, says Laura Sibony, creator of Ecole de la Parole.

“People in their thirties are more likely to use genre (like), or au fait (by the way). 

“Baby boomers will say pour ainsi dire (so to speak), d’une certaine manière (in a way) – expressions which are longer but do not have any more content.”

Read more: Really speak like a local… use these French filler words

French is a very written language

She says the prevalence of filler words may be due to the fact that “French is spoken relatively fast and does not allow you to invent words however you like”.

Other fillers are used to add nuance, she said, including un peu, assez, plutôt… As in: Je suis assez d’accord (I quite agree). 

“This comes from the fact French is a very written language, and we like to form beautiful sentences with precision, even when speaking, but it doesn’t work as well orally.”

Use silence instead of filler words

Ms Sibony often works with high school students to prepare them for their oral exams.

“I start by getting them to bang on the table when they hear du coup, just so they realise they are doing it. 

“We can become slaves to our speech – students often say ‘Oh, I didn’t do it deliberately’. We don’t always control what we are saying, but try to escape from all the people looking at us.”

Silence is usually more impactful, she says. 

“For du coup, it works well, as it rarely means anything. Replacing it with silence allows you to add rhythm to the sentence, and give the listener time to pause and better understand.”

New words for 2024

Le Petit Robert dictionary has revealed the 150 words added to its 2024 edition, including anglicisms such as ghoster, crush, greenwashing, and spoiler

Many of the terms reflect societal changes, such as mégenrer (to misgender someone).

Related articles

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Why use anglicisms when we have perfectly good French words?

‘How to think like a French person and speak better French’

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