More French words and phrases with no real equivalent in English

Do you know anyone who is insortable or un bon vivant ?

You do not want to be referred to as a seigneur-terrasse
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The French language is well-known for its sense of beauty and deep ties to the country’s literature and culture.

It has many words that are used to describe philosophical feelings or certain ideas, many of which have no direct English equivalents.

Even some fairly straightforward everyday expressions cannot be directly translated without losing a sense of the word.

The Connexion has already covered one list of words and expressions that are untranslatable, showing there is a real wealth of unique vocabulary in the language.

Read more: 10 French words and phrases that are untranslatable in English

Below, we cover 12 more.

Some of these words are so useful in French that they are sometimes used in other languages, especially English, because they describe something so well.

Do you use any of the words and expressions on our list below?


Profiter is a verb that you will hear all the time in French.

It is a concise way of telling someone to ‘make the most of something’ or to ‘take advantage of something’, but there is not really a word with the same sense in English.

For example, if you are going on holiday, or to a restaurant, someone may tell you ‘Profite !’

It is sometimes used in the same way we say ‘enjoy’ but the meaning behind it is slightly different.

Profiter suggests being in the moment and enjoying the simple things, and does not necessarily need a large activity attached to it.


This word is usually used in a negative sense to describe someone who is perhaps awkward or difficult.

It comes from the verb sortir meaning ‘to go out’, so when you hear someone described as insortable or pas sortable it implies that you cannot take them out in social situations due to a fear of them embarrassing you.

While you may jokingly call your friend a ‘liability’ when you go out together because they do certain things, insortable underlies a genuine sense of irritation at their actions


This one is so untranslatable that we use it in English.

You can use the expression ‘know-how’ to talk about having a specific, usually technical skill, but this does not encompass as much as savoir-faire.

Savoir-faire suggests not only having a skill or the competence to do something, but also the additional information or skills to really maximise it in numerous situations.

It also conjures up an idea of social grace and tact in dealing with other people, particularly when combined with a specific skill.

Read more: Tac, euh, bah: French language tics you hear every day


If we are talking about the romance of the French language, retrouvailles is certainly a word that fits the bill.

It refers to the feeling you get in the moment of meeting someone again after having not seen them in a long time, with these emotions sometimes being overwhelmingly strong.

Je ne sais quoi

This is another French phrase that has entered everyday spoken English.

It literally translates to ‘I don’t know what’ but is used to describe someone or something with an indescribable or ethereal quality.

It is usually used in a positive sense and suggests a person, object, or activity has a certain spark or charm that we cannot quite put our finger on.

French people are not usually aware that the expression is so common in English, and can be surprised to hear Anglophones use it.

Un bon vivant

This is another lovely expression to describe someone who lives life to the fullest.

It literally translates to a ‘good liver of life’ and gives the sense of someone who is the life and soul of the party.

It can also mean someone who gives their all, always ready to undertake new and exciting opportunities.


Chez is a word that you will hear dozens of times a day in France, but cannot be directly translated.

The closest translation is ‘at someone’s place’ or ‘at someone’s house’, and this is why lots of restaurants are named things like Chez Pierre – the rough equivalent would be ‘Pierre’s place.’

It denotes a sense of comfort and familiarity with the location, however, that ‘place’ does not convey in English.

Read more: Do you know the English equivalents of these 5 French expressions?

Jolie Laide

While this literally translates to ‘pretty-ugly’, it is actually used to describe someone with an unconventional beauty.

La rentrée

This means ‘the return’, but it is used in French to talk about the specific time of year when children go back to school after the summer holidays.

Many shops will temporarily put up displays at the end of summer for la rentrée selling supplies and books.

L’appel du vide

L’appel du vide refers to the inexplicable urge to jump some people feel when standing on a ledge or somewhere high up.

It literally translates to ‘the call of the void’.

La douleur exquise

Returning to the romantic side of the French language, this expression is used to refer to the pain and sadness of unrequited love.

‘An exquisite pain’ may be the most direct translation, but this does not fully explain the heartache of the French sentiment.


This is not something you want to be described as in France.

It suggests someone who spends a lot of time in a café, bar or bistrot without spending much money.

Although the French are generally more lenient about taking your time to drink a beverage in these locations, their patience may still wear thin.

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