Err, Well, and so… When you speak in a natural, unscripted way, you use little words, filler words, that really don’t mean much… They give you time to think, or translate in a short word an emotion you are feeling.
French filler words often combine together: “eh bien”, “et donc”, “enfin bref”, “bon ben”… Adding to the student’s confusion!!
So here is my list of 15 French filler words, with examples and audio recordings: you may not use them yourself (don’t force it – it has to be a natural thing or it will sound really weird) but you need to understand them… or rather “accept” their existence in modern spoken French and… mostly dismiss them!
This free French lesson – like many on French Today’s blog – features audio recordings. Click on the link next to the headphones to hear the French pronunciation.
1 – Voilà – so, here you go
“Voilà” has to be first French filler word in my list because I use it all the time. Really, it’s a bit embarrassing: when you watch my unscripted French practice videos, “voilà” pretty much punctuates or starts each one of my sentences!
Voilà, et donc, nous rentrons à travers les grilles du Palais-Royal.
Here we are, and so we enter through the gates of the Palais-Royal.
Voilà – as a filler word, “voilà” mostly reinforces a statement. It can also mean ‘here/there it is’ when “voilà” introduces a concept.
2 – Eh Bien – Well then
My second favorite French filler word it seems… “eh bien” really doesn’t translate in anything. It’s typically used when you are developing an idea, and need a little time to think…
Où suis-je ? Eh bien je suis devant le Palais-Royal !
Where am I? Well I’m in front of the Royal Palace!
Let’s see how many times I use “eh bien” in this unscripted live video… Write down the answer in the comments below if you’d like! I bet it’s more than 10 !(follow this link for the French transcript and English translation of my French practice video at the Paris Palais-Royal)
3 – Ben – Urrr, Duh!
“Ben” has to be the most confusing filler words for students, especially when they see it written. There’s no ‘Ben’ around!
“Ben” in French is used when hesitating, or on the contrary, stating something obvious.
Ben… Je ne sais pas !
Urrr… I don’t know!
Ben, tu vois bien, non!
Duh! You see it, don’t you?!
4 – Et alors – then, so
5 – Et puis – and then
“Et puis” is kind of the same thing as “et alors”… linking ideas together.
Nous sommes allés nous promener, et puis ensuite, nous sommes rentrés.
We went for a stroll, and then after, we came home.
6 – Hein – Right
Tu viens bien demain, hein ?
You do come tomorrow, right?
It can also be used as an interjection meaning ‘what’ ? As when you didn’t hear / understand the person.
Hein ? Qu’est-ce qu’il dit ?
What? What is-he saying?
7 – Bien – Very Much / Truly
“Bien” is not so much a filler word as something we use a lot in conversation to replace “beaucoup“(very much) or “vraiment” (really). I’ll throw it in there because it really confuses students who tend to translate it as ‘good’ and wonder what it is doing in that sentence. Examples? Just look at my examples above, I used it twice already!
To learn French language and culture in context, check out French Today’s downloadable French audiobooks: French Today’s bilingual novels are recorded at different speeds and enunciation, and focus on today’s modern glided French pronunciation… and are loaded with French filler words!
8 – Quoi – You Know
I personally don’t use “quoi” as a filler word much, but I know many people who do. It’s the French equivalent of ‘you know’. Since students mostly know “quoi” as a question word, it can be quite confusing.
Je ne savais pas quoi faire, quoi…
I didn’t know what to do, you know…
9 – Enfin – “…”
At the end of the sentence, “enfin” often means nothing… Really, it’s like saying out-loud the function of the “…” (called ‘ellipsis’ – “les points de suspension” in French : learn how to say and type French punctuation marks). It’s a bit like sighing in an expression of regret, melancholy…
Et puis il est parti… Enfin…
And then he left… Sigh…
At the beginning or inside a sentence, “enfin” as a French filler word really like saying ‘well’… it means nothing, just a sound to make as you gather your thoughts.
Et donc, enfin, je lui ai dit !
And so, well, I told her!
Note in both my example, “enfin” could also mean it’s orignal meaning : ‘at last’… Changing the meaning quite a lot!
And then he left… at last (LOL – that’s not the same emotion at all : regret ≠ relief !!!)
And so, at last, I told her…
Both translation are possible, it depends on the intent of the speaker and the pronunciation of “enfin” may not really change! Tricky, tricky!
10 – Enfin Quoi – Well Then
“Quoi” often paired with “enfin” to become “enfin quoi” which can have different meanings…
Enfin quoi, tu vois ce que je veux dire.
Well then, you see what I mean.
(Annoyed) Enfin quoi ! Qu’est-ce que tu fais !?
Well then! What are you doing!?
11 – Bref – In Short
I do use “bref” all the time because I tend to get lost in my stories – LOL! Saying “bref” cuts to the chase. It’s a perfect translation of “in short. I can also be paired with “enfin” to become “enfin bref“, meaning the same thing: in short.
12 – Bon – OK
“Bon” has so many used in French. Students know it as meaning ‘good’ or ‘delicious’, and we do use it a lot this way.
But “bon” has a French filler word mostly mean ‘OK’ as in when you are trying to make your – or someone else’s story – short.
Bon, et alors, qu’est-ce qui s’est passé ?
OK, and then, what happened?
It can convey a feeling of frustration, annoyance…
13 – Tu Vois – You See What I Mean?
Typically, “tu vois” translates as ‘you see’. But as a filler word, it has more to do with understanding/ following rather than seeing.
In English, you’d say ‘you see what I mean’.
14 – Quand Même – Wow
Donc, tu as payé combien ? Cinquante Euros !!! Ah quand même…
So, how much did you pay? Fifty Euros!!! Wow…
Surprise, indignation, annoyance… the filler word “quand même” can fit many emotions.
15 – En Fait – Actually
“En fait” is often used in French conversation. Most of the time, it translates as ‘in fact’ but as a filler word, it’s more used as ‘actually’.
Ben… en fait… je n’ai pas trop envie.
Well… actually… I don’t really feel like it.
Combining French Filler Words
As you saw in my many examples, French filler words often combine together, especially when someone is at a loss of word because they are feeling a strong emotion…
Enfin, bon, quoi… Tu vois ? Non ??
Well, err, so… You see? Don’t you??
How To Master French Filler Words
So, now you have a list… But that’s not enough. To master French filler words, you need to develop an ear for them.
The solution: train with a French text featuring them in context, but a text that is actually reachable for students of French. Studying with French people speaking full blast in the street is likely to destroy your self-confidence in French. You need real-life like French conversations, written just at the right level to boost your understanding, vocabulary and confidence in speaking French!
If you enjoy learning French language and culture in context, check out French Today’s downloadable French audiobooks: French Today’s bilingual novels are recorded at different speeds and enunciation, and focus on today’s modern glided French pronunciation.