Widen your vocabulary with 10 alternatives to common French phrases

If you find yourself using the same old phrases you learned at school, here is how to elevate your language

Finding a new way to say common phrases differently is a key way of improving your French
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It is completely normal when learning a language to find yourself repeating the same phrases over and over again, but sometimes this can feel frustrating.

Speaking a new language often involves a lot of problem-solving and figuring out how to say what you want with the vocabulary you already have.

Someone once told me that you are truly fluent in a language when you have multiple means of expressing the same opinion.

Whether this is true or not, it is sound thinking and will generally make your life a little bit simpler.

Here are some ways to mix up your most frequently used French phrases…

1. ‘Je voudrais’ - ‘Je prends [...] s’il vous plaît’

This is a school classic, it is one of the first things every child learns in their early French classes and always gets whipped out on holiday when you inevitably find yourself in a boulangerie ordering a baguette.

A very simple alternative and one you are more likely to hear Francophones actually use is “Je prends [insert bakery item of choice here], s’il vous plait”. This literally translates to “I’ll take [boulangerie item of choice], please.”

2. ‘Il fait froid’ - ‘Ça caille’

If how to order a baguette is the first thing we learn at school, how to talk about the weather is a close second - especially if you are British!

When the weather turns and your native urge to express this to other people overcomes you, replace “il fait froid” with “ça caille”. This comes from the verb “cailler”, which translates as “to be freezing/frozen” in this context.

3. Je suis paresseux (eusse)’ - ‘j’ai la flemme’

We all have days where we cannot be bothered. Obviously, honesty is the best policy, so when you want to own up to your laziness, you can explain that you “avoir la flemme”, which translates as “to have the laziness”.

Read also: 14 words that change dependent on where you are in France

4. C’est très difficile’ - ‘c’est galère’

Whether it is learning a new language or trying to understand the French bureaucratic system, sometimes starting a new life in another country can be très difficile.

If this is a phrase you find yourself uttering daily, mix it up with “c’est galère”, which translates to “it is a struggle” or “it is a pain”.

5.C’est inutile’ - ‘ça sert à rien’

While we are on a roll with the less optimistic expressions together (sunny positivity up next), c’est inutile (it is useless) is a phrase I have found myself using whenever I try to renew my visa (c’est galere).

If you, like me, need a new way to express your frustration, “ça sert à rien” literally translates to “it serves for nothing” but means “it is pointless” or “it is useless.”

6. Comprendre’ - ‘capter/piger’

It is a great feeling when you start to understand French and the people around you. If you really want to show just how much you understand, you can use “capter” or “piger” instead of “comprendre” which both in this context mean to understand.

7. Ça me convient’ - ‘ça me va’

“Ça me convient is quite a formal way of saying “that suits me”. Instead, “ça me va” is a much simpler way of telling someone the plan sounds good. You can also flip it and use it as a question if you want someone’s thoughts on a proposal - ça te va?” “Oui, ça me va.”

8. ‘Complètement’ - ‘carrément’

Sometimes the hardest thing about speaking a new language is realising you do not have a wide vocabulary range for the little agreements you make when listening to someone’s story.

In this context, carrément means “totally” or “for sure”.

Read also: 12 phrases to show why ‘cul’ is a pillar of the French language

9. Je me suis trompé(e)’ -‘je me suis planté(e)’

Learning a language means making mistakes so “je me suis trompé(e)” might be a frequent phrase in your vocabulary.

To mix it up, you can employ “je me suis planté(e)” which comes from the verb se planter, meaning “to get it wrong” or “to mess up”.

10. Je suis fatigué(e)’ - ‘je suis crevé(e) / je suis mort(e)’

After a long day of trying to change up your French vocabulary, you will likely find yourself très fatigué(e).

If you really want to hammer home the point of just how tired you are, “je suis crevé(e)” translates to “I’m shattered” or “I’m knackered”, while “je suis mort(e)” takes it up a notch and means “I’m dead”.

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