8 Common Pop Culture French Phrases Used in English

Author: Nicole

French words are often used in English, sometimes even expressions. Do you know these 8 pop culture French quotes? Let see what they mean and how to use them.

French is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful languages in the world. So much so that in English we have adopted several common pop culture French phrases. We don’t even bother to translate them because they sound great in French!

If you’re wondering what a pop culture quote even is, think along the lines of “May the Force be with you” from Star Wars. It’s a memorable phrase that pretty much everyone is familiar with (even if you’re not a Star Wars fan).

I have put together a list of 8 very popular pop culture French quotes used in English along with their meanings and usages. You will probably be familiar with most (if not all of them), but if not, that’s perfectly fine – we’re always learning new things. Let’s take a look:

1 – Au contraire mon frère

Alternative spellings: Oh contraire mon frair

Any Simpsons fans here? This popular expression was used in a commercial starring Bart Simpson in 1988, and has since then made it to the English pop culture.

“Au contraire, mon frère” translates in English as: “on the contrary, my brother”. This phrase is catchy in French because the words ‘contraire’ and ‘frère’ rhyme.

In English, this is your go-to expression if you want to contradict something that has been said.

2 – C’est la vie

Alternative spellings: Ce la vi, Celavi, Se la vi, Say la vie, Cie la vie

This is of course a very well-known French expression. It literally means “that’s life”. The funny thing is it’s probably used more in English than in France itself, where they may say “c’est comme ça” – “it’s the way things are”- more often than “c’est la vie”.

This phrase is usually used in a slightly fatalistic tone. It gives a sense of “oh well, that’s just the way life is, what can you do”.

3 – Voulez vous coucher avec moi

Pronounced: “voo-lay voo koo-shay ah-vehk mwa”

Come on, admit it … you actually sang that one as you read it? The French line in the well-known song “Lady Marmalade” gained massive popularity worldwide.

For some reason, English speakers think this is a catchy sentence that is a bit sexy, but has to do with sleeping… Like “would you like to have a sleep over”… And they drop it as a pick-up line.

Yet, its literal translation of this French pop culture phrase is “do you want to sleep (make love) with me?”

So if you thought it was a good French pick-up line to use without knowing its actual meaning, maybe think twice…

Pink, Christina Aguilera, Lil Kim & Mýa- Lady Marmalade -Voulez vous coucher avec moi.

4 – C’est bon

Alternative spellings: Ce bon, Say bon, Se bon

C’est bon literally means “that’s good”. The French use this phrase to describe things that are good, such as food. But, it can also mean “that works for me”.
For example: “Dîner ce soir à 8 heures ? C’est bon pour moi”
(Joining you for) dinner tonight at 8 o’clock – works for me.

Strangely enough, in French “c’est bon” also means, ‘stop, I’ve had enough’. You’d then pronounce it with a frown and a stop motion with your hand.
For example:
“Tu veux plus de café ? Non… c’est bon, merci.”
Would you like more coffee? No, it’s alright, thanks.

In English it is mainly used to express contentment with a situation.

I guess “that’s good” just sounds a lot nicer in French.

5 – Oh là là

Alternative spellings: Ow la la , Ooh la la

I guess this expression doesn’t need an introduction. “Oh là là” usually means one of the following when used: “oh dear”, “oh no” or even a positive “wow”.
An example is when you forget something at home you can drop in an “oh là là… I forgot my purse.”

However, I feel as though this phrase has been misspelled and misrepresented in the English language as it is often turned into an “ooh la la”. When it is said in this way, it is rather used as a compliment for someone looking good, or to react to someone saying something a bit daring.

6 – Je ne sais quoi

Alternative spellings: jenesequa

The literal translation of “je ne sais quoi” is “I don’t know what”. It’s not very used in French at all. If you don’t know what something is, you would say: “Je ne sais pas ce que c’est” – “I don’t know what it is”.

In English and in French it’s mainly used to describe a distinctive and usually positive quality about someone or something.
For example:
Il a un certain “je ne sais quoi”.
He has a certain “je ne sais quoi”.
When you can’t quite pinpoint what exactly is special about a person, “je ne sais quoi” is the expression to turn to.

7 – Touché

Alternative spellings: touchay, tushay

“Touché” is another French word that has managed to work its way into the English vocabulary. Although it comes from the French verb “to touch” this expression is not very used in French conversation, unless you are fencing (it is a fencing term).

In English , “touché” is used to recognise another person’s comeback or good argument.

8 – Voilà

Pronounced: Vwala

You’re probably familiar with this one too. “Voilà” translates as “there you go” or “there it is”. When announcing something it creates a bit of a dramatic effect.

“Voilà” is used in English as in French to emphasize an achievement or to express satisfaction with something. “Voilà ! The cake I made!”

So there you have it: 8 popular Pop Culture French phrases used in English. Which ones are your favorites? Do you use any of these often?

Author: Nicole


I'm a language tutor and freelance writer from London. I have always been interested in all things language and culture related, so I studied French and Portuguese at University. I spent half of my year abroad in Paris which was amazing! Now I'm spreading my love for languages through writing!

More Articles from Nicole


🎁 2.5 Hours French Audiobook - 100% Free / Keep Forever 🎁

Recorded at 3 different speeds + Study Guide + Q&A + Full Transcript

Item added to cart.
0 items - US$0.00

Can You Understand Today’s Spoken French?

It’s not just slang. The French everybody speaks in France today is NOT the overly enunciated, extremely formal French usually taught to foreigners.