The beautiful French language — the language of love, charm and unimaginable frustration when you set out to learn it. Oh, and it’s the language of strange sounds that will leave you scratching your head. If you’ve spent any time in France or around French people, you might have noticed some of these strange noises that French people make that aren’t commonplace in the English language. And no, I’m not talking about the French “R”!
I’m referring to mannerisms, linguistic tics and noises that aren’t part of actual words. Curious?
Read on for audio, explanations and a few laughs all about the strange noises French people make!
Strange French language sounds and noises
After carefully observing many French conversations and sitting there dumbfounded thinking what IS that on at least 100 occasions, I think I have a handle at this point on these curious sounds. I’m not talking about the French “R” or other sounds of the French language that are used to form words. Here I’m referring to the little conversational mannerisms that seem strange to a foreign ear yet make the French language so charming. Or charmingly weird.
At first, I barely noticed these sounds because many are subtle. I also thought these sounds were specific to the individual, but that’s not the case. While some might be regional, there are some characteristic noises that French people make across the board while speaking that don’t translate to English in the same way. And, yikes, I may even incorporate them into my conversations when speaking French!
Here’s a list of some of the strange noises French people make in speech along with French filler words. Some of them really threw me in the beginning. There are so many examples and usages, but I tried to just give one or two so you get the picture. And before I forget, thank you to my awesome voice actor, Tom.
Note: The audio clips are exaggerated from regular speech just to illustrate the sound in some cases.
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OK let’s get on with it….
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The Fast Gasp
What it sounds like: A quick breath in. Almost the noise an American would make out of fear, a gasp.
This one is hard to describe, but whenever I’d hear Tom talk to his family on the phone and he’d make this noise, I’d always jump a little and say, “What happened, what’s going on?” thinking something bad happened. So to this day, when Tom’s on the phone (not w/anyone important. I shut up then.) and makes this noise, I have to ask him “OMG What happened????” just to be, well, awesome.
Way a French person uses this noise: In speech to connote agreement, the equivalent of a “uh huh, yes.” It’s to affirm what was being said and show that you agree and are following along. It’s very subtle and sometimes, every so subtly, you can year a “ouais” in the breathiness.
Example: I hate it when the bakery closes at 7 p.m. and you arrive at 6:55 p.m. to find the doors shut and the lights out.
THE FAST GASP
Way an American uses this noise: To express surprise, although the American version is much stronger (louder, more startled). An example would be when someone startles you or even when you hear bad news to express shock as in “AH you startled me” or “OMG I can’t believe that happened!”
What it sounds like: Short “mmm mmm”
This one took some getting used to as well. I liken it to a “uh huh” or “yup” when you’re on the phone with someone but you’re not really engaged in the conversion. I hear it a lot when Tom is talking to his mom and is explaining a very detailed story he’s half listening to while watching soccer.
Way a French person uses this noise: To affirm what was being said and let the other person know you’re still there. I hear this most in phone conversations. It always seems a little rushed like it’s an interruption. It’s also pretty frequently used, so much so that I thought people were always rushing me to shut up before I realized the person I was talking to was just letting me know he/she was listening. Cultural difference?
Way an American uses this noise: We’d say “uh huh” or “yeah” to let the speaker know we are still listening.
What it sounds like: The noise babies make or super classy farting noises with your mouth. Yes, I’m serious. It’s usually made with just the lips — no need to puff out cheeks or spit. It lasts just a second (no need to go overboard!).
This one means “I have absolutely no idea.” It’s handy for situations like these when words just won’t do:
- Asking an employee at the social security office how many months it will take for me to get my carte vitale (health insurance card)?
- Why can’t French people handle picking up dog poop?
Way a French person uses this noise: To say I have no clue at all. When a simple “non” won’t do. And to add some drama. It’s informal and wouldn’t be used in a business meeting with the higher ups. Used mostly in familiar settings and isn’t a replacement for every time you’d say no. Just used sometimes to add effect.
Way an American uses this noise: When we are being immature and want to make farting noises.
The Fast Air Suck In/Slurp
What it sounds like: This is one of the noises French people make that is really hard to describe and is SO common. It’s a transitional sound or a dead space filler that sounds like a slurp almost. As if you add some breathiness to your inhale. This guy on a French news program does it ALL THE TIME. And I always notice it because it’s definitely not something English speakers naturally do.
Way a French person uses this noise: Used as a transition or just to fill up silence. It seems to be popular whenever there’s a natural pause in speech, maybe a conversation ending, that may be combined with an action. What comes to mind is Tom’s mom clearing the dinner table and picking up a plate right when she was finishing her sentence. She’d make this noise when she picked up the plate. Or in the audio clip at the very end when Tom says he’s going to pick up a pen.
Way an American uses this noise: We don’t. Maybe wincing before we pull off a Band-Aid? Or bracing for something?
What it sounds like: A nice, throaty growl. Not aggressive. Usually just to show you’re fed up. Sometimes written as “roh.”
Way a French person uses this noise: To express annoyance/frustration. Like when the postal employee’s computer screen freezes and the line is out the door (happened last week), she “growled” out of frustration. Maybe also used from time to time when your wife leaves an empty roll of toilet paper in the bathroom. Maybe. But I wouldn’t know anything about that. 😉
Way an American uses this noise: Same type of sound but less in the throat I’d say.
What it sounds like: Sounds like the English word “tack.” Sometimes written tac in French.
Way a French person uses this noise: One example is when you are crossing things off a list or accomplishing a small task. For example, it’s used if you’re a sales person and you’re putting a contract down in front of a client to sign. The tak signifies that we’re completing an action.
Way an American uses this noise: This is one of the French filler words that doesn’t exist in English. Tak would be used when an English speaker would say “there you go” or “check!” to signify something is done. It’s used when finishing a small task.
What it sounds like: Pronounced kind of like “up” in English or like “hop” without the “h.”
Way a French person uses this noise: Equates to “there we go” or said when finishing a physical movement. What first comes to mind for me is when I first heard this sound several years ago. A dad was helping his toddler walk up a step and when he pulled the child’s arms up overhead to lift him, he said hop, which at the time, I thought was “up.” But nope.
Way an American uses this noise: Not sure the equivalent exists. An American might say “up” in the child example above.
What it sounds like: Pronounced kind of like “eh?”
Way a French person uses this noise: Informal way of saying “what” if you didn’t hear something. Tells the person you’re speaking with to repeat what they said.
Way an American uses this noise: I think an American would say “huh?” which is used in the same way. Just pronounced differently.
So there you have it… the French filer words and noises French people make
That was my roundup of all the French noises I find interesting. And again, what stands out to me is that these noises are all characteristically French. Tom does NOT do any of them in English! Although he says I have a few American sounds of my own that he finds equally amusing. Maybe he should do a guest post on that. Would you read it??
Can any of you out there relate to the noises French people make? Have any of you non-native French speakers incorporated any of these sounds and French filler words into your French? Any non-native English speakers want to chime in with weird English speaking noises?
Check out my follow-up post about the strange noises Americans make here >>
Did I leave any noises out? This is by no means an all-inclusive list and is just a starting point, so please, JUMP IN!
For more info on French culture topics, click over to this giant French culture roundup post!
BIG P.S.: If you took the time to read this far and/or listen to a clip or two above of the noises French people make, would you please take a moment to comment or share? It would mean a lot to me! Thank you, readers!
PIN my weird French noises and sounds post:
Just wanted to let you know that this made me chuckle – there are SO MANY specific noises made by the French, I love that you collected them here!
Hi Julia, THANK YOU for commenting. About 15 hours of work went into this post so I appreciate knowing someone is out there! Do you have any noises to add or any other good ways to describe the ones I listed?
you forgot the unforgettable “baaahhhhh” as in “baaahh oui”
Who’s Ben? 😉
with the shrug & the pout
That’s the one I’m most familiar with. A softer version of pffft
I LOVED this post! I’m in the middle of taking French 2 (with French 3 and 4 in my college future, haha!) and plan on going somewhere French speaking as part of my college degree plan. My dad also takes a lot of business trips to France, and these sounds confuse him. Now I can enlighten him ;-P
This is super helpful (and hilarious, haha!) I love your blog as well – I always enjoy reading your posts!
So happy to hear that, Grace! I never learned any of these mannerisms before moving to France and never even noticed them on trips. Only when I moved (and was exposed constantly) did I start to say “WTF” when I was out and about. I think the fast gasp threw me the most and still does. Always think someone is saying something shocking or startling. WHy’s everyone gasping?? hahah
HAHAHA never realised all these noises aren’t normal =). I heard our “sigh” (I’d say our “pfff”, if you know what I mean) doesn’t exist in other languages is it true? And what do you mean by the “French R”?
Hi Justine, they’re totally normally now but for an American person, they are definitely noticed at first! All I meant by the French “R” was the sound of that letter in French. I think if I said “French language sounds,” an American might be like “Oh you mean the way the French say the R?” In English the R is pronounced differently as you know, and I was just clarifying that the post was about language “sounds” and not the French R (a letter). Sorry if that was confusing!
yes, i believe by the raspberry one you meant the one i often hear as “pfff” from them,…… kelly ripa and anderson cooper have often commented on and tried to mimic it with the wave of an imaginary cigarette…..
Thanks for all the work. This should actually be very helpful.
So glad you liked it! (and thank you for being a faithful reader)
Very funny and educational too !
So glad you liked it!
I’ve heard and seen the French sigh and “pfff” so many times, that I often catch myself doing it. The raspberries as well.
Another sound I’ve noticed is “oho” (don’t know if that’s a good transcription). It’s kind of how we use “hey” in English to get someone’s attention.
The fast gap was weird to me at first, too. I thought my boyfriend was hiccupping the first time I heard him do it.
I still use “mhm” a lot, even in French. Where I’m from in the US, we sometimes use “mhm” as the equivalent of “you’re welcome” or “no problem,” and I’ve found myself using it many times when sometimes tells me “merci.” Should probably break that habit, but it’s so hard!
Ooh my gosh, my husband gets me ALL THE TIME for goig mm hmm for “you’re welcome” for something small like “pass the bread” where a no prob would be OK too. The French always say de rien or je vous en prie, no noise to say you’re welcome. And yes, the “ohhoo” not the “hey!” especially if kids are doing something bad (we live near a school so i hear that a lot when Dagny and I walk by), like “hey (ohhhoo!) kids, stop that!)
Thanks for your comment!
We also have the version “éhoooo” to express the same feeling 🙂
The ‘fast air suck in’ is very definitely an english sound in England. Usually used by builders or mechanics when they view the work of the previous person that did the job. It’s most obvious translation being ‘This is going to be expensive’
Hi Helen, thanks for explaining that! Never noticed it with the English before. Going to pay more attention!
Yeah, we call it ‘sucking teeth’
Ah Ah! This is a really nice article!
I recognize some noises but not all of them! But as I’m French, I might be so used to it I don’t pay atention to it!
I wonder who is the guy on TV that makes the “fast air slurp”!
I will try to share this on facebook!
Hi Stella, glad you enjoyed the post! The guy on TV is usually on at lunch time, one of the grand journal or whatever it is called on Canal+. Probably in late 50s maybe, gray hair, white guy… don’t know his name. Whenever he transitions to a new story or shuffles his papers, he always lets out a nice big slurp!
Est-ce que vous parlez du Petit Journal ?
Non elle parle bien du Grand Journal
Sorry, mixed up the show but it’s Nicolas Domenach from La Nouvelle Edition. On Canal+ at lunch
Molly @ Toffee Bits and Chocolate Chips says
OMG I LOVE this!!! Totally one of my favorite things about the French language is the noises. I like “bahhh!!” and tak tak tak. I haven’t heard the gasps yet. I posted this to my blogs FB page!
Thanks so much for sharing, Molly! And yup, the bah is a great one too!
the lazy travelers says
umm, i love this. the hubs and i are relocating to france next month, so i’m seriously going to consult this. the raspberries already crack us up–can’t wait to pick up on the others! xo, the romantic
Hi, you’ll have fun with all the noises here. Throw some into your speech as well for variety. 😉 Best of luck to you on the move! Feel free to write if you find yourself in the Loire Valley!
This is great! I laughed so hard tears were running down my face. I have heard some of these (definitely the raspberries) when I recently had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful French woman. Your voice models were the best.
Thanks for your comment, Chris. Glad you found it funny (because I still do every time I hear one!). And yes the raspberries are funniest when it’s someone like 65+ doing it. Just doesn’t seem “proper.” ha ha ha
Wow, Diane, I’ll bet it IS funny when someone 65+ does the raspberry! Though I can totally see my grandpa doing that! 😛
I think it’s funny when anyone does it but I have to say that now, after hearing it quite often, I’m used to it and it sounds kind of normal!
Ha, I picked up the “mm” thing and now do it in English, too. Sometimes raspberries as well, when I’m really frustrated. The rest of them I think I only do in French – it’s definitely interesting how your linguistic personality can change from one language to another!
Absolutely, my husband is Jekyll & Hyde of languages haha. Even his “French” facial expressions don’t exist in English!
This post was hilarious! I especially identified with the raspberries and the growl…LOL. I became fluent in French from a few years of living in west Africa, and those two especially were very prevalent. They also did this sucking noise between their front teeth and lips when they disapproved of something…it took me years after getting back to the States to stop doing that one on a regular basis! Thanks for putting the time into this, fun post.
Thanks for commenting! Interesting that the noises translate to different areas of the world where French is spoken. Same language but different culture. Any other noises that you picked up on while in Africa?
The PFFF is very common among French people (I am one of them) when you are annoyed for example. Goes well with “T’es chiant”. The Roooh of course also. I usually add a “T” before the Rooh to emphasize it also, or just by itself.
Hi! Is the “roooh” in the throat? Kind of like the growl? Trying to picture this one. Thanks for checking out the post!
Oh my god I laughed so hard at this article! As a French people I had never notice that I make this kind of noises but when i heard it in the audio I was like oh that’s so true!
Good job =)
Glad you had fun w/the post! I think I might have to do a follow up about animal noises (the French rooster noise sounds way different than the American one!) or maybe weird noises Americans make. Thx again
I just came across your blog/this post randomly via Zite and it made my day. I was raised in the USA by my French immigrant parents, and I actually didn’t realize these sounds were strictly a French thing until about a year ago (for reference, I’m 25). I’ve since wondered how many Americans I’ve weirded out throughout the course of my life, although it suddenly occurred to me that I think I mainly use these sounds when I’m in French mode, not so much in English mode. I hope so, anyway.
On a very closely related note (if you aren’t already aware) there’s a French comedian (now actor) named Gad Elmaleh who does a spectacular comedy bit on this *exact* subject that I believe will change your life for the better. Since I’ve only just found your blog, I have yet to browse through your other posts so I’m not aware of your level of French – the sketch is in French, but from what i remember, I don’t think it would be too difficult even for beginners to understand since it’s mostly these noises.
So, at your earliest convenience, I implore you to look up “Gad Elmaleh – Les Francais” on YouTube (it’s about an 8 minute video – I’m not sure how you feel about links from random commenters, otherwise I would include it here for you). I’m 99.998% sure you’ll love it.
Hi Constance! YES! I know who Gad is — my husband is a fan and I’ve seen some of his routines. I don’t think I’ve seen that one so I’ll search for it when I’m done writing here. 😉 I do alright with comedy but when there are plays on words and cultural jokes and fast talking/slang, it’s easy to get lost, but it’s good for me to learn.
And, I’m sure you only do the noises in French mode like you said. It’s so strange how my husband does NOT do them at all in English so since you were raised in the US, I’m 100% sure you only do them in French. Thanks again for checking out my blog, going to search for the video now. Bon week-end!
AHHH I lied, Constance. I have seen this clip and LOVE IT!! The little whistle in mid speech, his funny movements, HILARIOUS. Thanks for the recommendation. Dying laughing (again!)
Je viens souvent sur votre blog me régaler de tous ces petits détails français vu à travers votre oeil, aujourd’hui je me lance, vous avez réussi à me faire pleurer de rire!
C’est très instructif et j’ai vraiment bien ri en reconnaissant des sons que je n’avais même pas conscience d’utiliser! Le TAK, le HOP HOP HOP, c’est vraiment amusant de vous voir les expliquer et d’imaginer votre étonnement les premières fois que vous les avez entendus.
“Raspberries” en particulier est vraiment drôle, je ne pourrai plus jamais le faire sans penser à ce post !
Merci, Claire, pour votre commentaire pertinant. Je me demandais comment les francais a part mon mari percoive mon point de vue et je suis contente que vouz avez trouve ce poste drole. Merci encore!
Elizabeth K says
I have a 17-y-o French nephew (from Brest) who just visited us in the states this month. I wish he had been here to validate your very-well-done post! 😉 I can’t say I noticed him doing any of these things (tho I have no doubt he does), because he spoke (broken) English most of the time. Because I speak some French, but the rest of my family speaks none, Josselin (my nephew) and I had a few chuckles over how horrible our Southern English must sound to his French ear. I never even figured in sound effects!
Very interesting stuff; thanks for taking the time to share!
I agree with all of these. You did a good job with the descriptions and examples. One more that my French guy does that was not on this list was the “air puff” that is sometimes used in place of the raspberry to express he doesn’t know or is surprised by something. 🙂
Haha dome funny ones there that remind me of my french friends who I was never able to understand!! Now I know lol. There’s a few in Spanish too!
As a Frenchman, I can only validate this list. I found myself a perfect user of the bizarre “The Fast Air Suck In/Slurp” haha. Great blog !
Hi Ben! I love the noises — do you do them in English at all or just French? So interesting!
Susan Walter says
Oh dear! I now habitually make all of those noises! Even sometimes when speaking English and even though my French isn’t fluent, but after having lived here for 4 years. I obviously copy my friends and neighbours quite unconsciously, just like when I lived in the east of London I developed a glottal stop. It’s very funny when you are listening to France Inter radio and the person interviewed does the ‘raspberry’ noise.
An excellent round up of the non-verbal peculiarities of the language here — very well done!
BTW, have you seen How to Fake French?
YES, I love that video and actually linked to it in a previous blog post about mistakes in French. It’s really great! These noises fascinate me, so thank you again for your comments and checking out the post. What part of France are you in?
Susan Walter says
Not a million miles from you. I live about half an hour south of Loches, an hour south of Tours — in the pointy bit at the bottom of 37.
I worked in a school and loved when I asked a question to a specific student and got “Ben, je ne sais pas, moi.” Except they mash all the words together and it comes out, “Bennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn shay paw mooooiiiiii…” Drawn out ‘ben’ is such a delightfully miserable nasal noise.
Haha yes, the beeeeeeen is pretty funny too.
This is one of my favorite posts of all time! I totally didn’t even notice, but except for the fast air slurp, I make all of these noises now.
What a compliment, thanks!! I had a lot of fun writing that one!
I absolutely loved this page. I’m going to FR in October (2013) and haven’t been there since 1979. 50 or so years ago I spoke French fluently but now can barely put together a simple sentence in the present tense! I found your website by searching out drug store chains in FR. From your pharmacy page I’ve manoevered through your website and have forwarded several pages to friends! Keep this up. It is FABULOUS!
Great to hear from you, Joyce! And you know, the French might come right back to you after a few days in Paris — you never know!! Enjoy all the pharmacies and do stay in touch!
I recently returned from a 6-month stay in Chambery where I was an au pair. Another sound/word thing they use is that “hopla!” I think it’s mostly used around children though.
OH! Also, I love when the French use “bah.” Apparently, the young French men think that when an American uses it in conversation it’s quite attractive lol.
Julie McNamee says
Really useful, entertaining post Diane. Thanks for posting! I’ve just been doing a bit of research on allez hop because it sounds familiar. I came across these fascinating facts that may or may not be related:
There was a caveman cartoon strip and a country song influenced by the cartoon called Alley Oop.
Allez-oop is a basketball term.
Probably the reason it’s familiar is that the English language has picked up on it, say when a parent picks their kid up – allez up!
I remember nearly dropping off my seat when I learned that the French actually said ooh-la-la in a French oral test.
Thanks! so happy you enjoyed the post! Interesting about the allez hop. And yes, I hear ooh la la quite often, but usually older people and in reaction to something negative that happened, like a bball player who misses the shot by a mile, something like that. Funny stuff!
Très bon site! Les sons sont particulièrement drôles. Merci beaucoup!
Maybe it’s just me but loads of Irish people make those noises, too! 😉 I didn’t realize Americans found them strange! Then again, France isn’t all that far away so it’s not that surprising that they where imported, I suppose (^^;) Some of the things are really only said by people of a certain generation like allez hop which is said here rather like “Alley-oop!” or something along those lines. This was an awfully interesting post! I’ve learned a lot about French expression and about English expression, too (^^)b Merci beaucoup~ x
Glad you liked it, Alice! And interesting to learn that the Irish have their versions of the noises as well!
I second what Alice said. My very Irish family make most of those noises too. I don’t know if it’s because my mom is fluent in French (so too was my grandmother, her mom), or something else. It’s super funny to hear it, though, especially when she’s speaking English. 🙂 I’ve heard the ” allez hop” my entire life, from when I was small from both sides of my family – even from my father’s family who don’t speak a word of anything but English.
That’s so cool! I will have to listen up the next time I speak to an Irish person. Or like you said, maybe it’s because your family speaks French too. Thanks so much for checking out the post. Have a great weekend!
I spent a few weeks working in France this summer and I heard almost all of these sounds! I had heard my French BF say tac, tac, tac once when looking quickly through a list of instructions but I just thought he was crazy. I didn’t realize that it was a French thing. And the mmm mmm was ubiquitous. I can’t count how often I heard that even in formal meetings. The raspberries I had recognized as French sometime ago and I always find them amusing especially on an adult male.
Oddly enough, some similar sounds are made in Jamaica, where I lived as a child, for example mmm but it has a different tone. The meaning, however, is identical.
I’d love for someone to do a post like this about Irish or Jamaican sounds which you and others said are similar in usage (although the actual sound might be different). So interesting!
I loved this! I am a French teacher in the Midwest and I’m excited to show it to my students. It was also interesting to have these pointed out because I hear them but don’t think much of most of them!
One sound I remember hearing (by a Parisian so I think maybe it’s regional?) was a breathy, whistle, air blowing out sort of sound at the end of some words. I couldn’t quite figure it out and now I can’t think of a good example.
But anyway, merci!
Hi Sarah! I think my post would be great for your students. Often in school settings, we learn from text books and other “proper” ways of learning and then are surprised when we visit the country and learn about the ways people actually speak firsthand. I think these noises will definitely give your students insight into the real French. Not sure I am familiar w/the breathy whistle. Will think about that one. Glad you liked the post!
So goooood… and so true: I’m French, I know what I’m talking about. 😀
Really hard to use the “Hein?!” here in the UK!
Hi JC, thanks for checking out my post. And maybe you can bring the “Hein” to the UK in small doses. Bon dimanche!
Haha oh wow I’m French and can’t even remember hearing a couple of thos sounds! Not saying you weren’t right but that I’m totally unaware of them! Maybe because they’re so normal for us?
I also have a lot of friends from everywhere and they were all weirded out by the “farting sound”
Yup, you probably don’t even notice the “sounds” around you, Nicholas. But as a foreigner, my ear picked up on them almost immediately. And yes, gotta love the farting noises.
Une Autre Claire says
Oh my God, this post is so funny! I love the way you explain all this strange noises we make.
I slightly disagree with your interpretation of the raspberry, though. Not on the meaning, but on the noise itself. Yours really sounds like a small fart. The French raspberry is a rounder sound, that can’t be mistaken for a fart, in my opinion.
I wonder if I’ll ever be able to make that sound again without bursting with laughter…
Glad you found it amusing! I will have to ask my husband about the raspberry variations. My mother-in-law’s is always fart-like hahah
Great post and so true!! I’d also add that the sound “hop” can be used in many ways! As someone mentioned above, we say “hop hop hop” (read “opopop”!) quite a lot, which means something like “go on, get on with it”. My hubby (who is British) finds this hilarious! 🙂
Yup, and it’s also on a ING Direct commercial (last year I think). I think it’s funny too. I love saying HOP HOP HOP
I have just heard tonight a chronicle on French national radio France info about your post. They have even played some of your recordings. I was in my car, laughing alone in Paris traffic jams… Thank you for that ! The journalist is Jean Zeid and he was very enthusiastic.
Seriously?? Sure it was my blog? That makes my day. Thanks so much Benoist for the heads up!!
Loved this! My American students think my noises are hilarious, now I know they are just normal…
Thank you! Would love to hear from the students (not sure any have commented!). When I was in high school French, I was too embarrassed to try to do the sounds corrected so our accents were horrendous. Tell the students to not be shy!!
I’m french and I really laughed a lot !
I’d like to add the “boarf”, something between “bof” and “arf” with the “arf” in the throat, sometimes really long like “boaaaaaAARRRFff..”
Used when something is extremely boring or annoying :
-Alors tu as vu Avatar, c’était mortel non ?
Sometimes it’s almost like (or mixed with) “beurk” or “beuaark” (“yuks” in english I think ?)
Thanks for stopping by, Raphael. I will have to do a Part 2 and include that one. Have a great day!
It’s funny!! I thought that kind of noises was universal. We laughed with my boyfriend, and now we will think of you when we’ll do strange noises ^^
Hhaha, well I think some of the noises are universal but maybe they are used differently in different cultures. I appreciate your comment. Glad you got a good laugh! May I ask how you found my post?
For your information, your blog and this post has been spotted by French Radio “France Info”.
I believe lots of people will come to read it now. Congratulation, it is a very accurate and well documented post.
Besides, I’ve shared the link to this with a French Expatriate in the U.S. who makes lots of drawings. I believe you could inspire her nice post on her blog.
Yes, thank you so much Punaiz! Someone told me that this morning and I found the podcast this morning to have a listen. I never expected the post to resonate so much with French people. Even my husband said he had no idea he made “noises” until I told him. I really wonder what noises Americans make. Maybe I should do a follow up post from a French person’s perspective. And yes I saw bloglaurel.com. Thank you again!
This is so funny and so true! I’m French and I’m living in the US right now. From now on, I’ll try not to make these odd noises! My friends here must think that I sound strange!
Noooo, don’t stop!! The noises are great. Just different to the American ear. They make you cool, really!
Stephanie // ArtfullyAdored says
Love these! We’d laugh when we realized we’d started picking them up – and my family notices my occasional raspberry while I’m chatting away in English.
You forgot the “tsk” – for example when someone blocks the left side of the escalator. The French person that gets stuck behind will “tsk” hoping to catch just enough of the perpetrators attention so they’ll realize the errors of their ways and move.
Great list! Love the audio.
Hi Stephanie, thanks so much for your comment. I am not familiar with the “tsk” but I’m going to ask Tom and open up my ears next time I’m on an escalator. I will have to do a Part 2!
Thanks for this very amusing post – so true! (In particular, I find I often “hop” all over the place…)
My (French) other half and I (English) have been trying to think of some of the other odd sounds the French make… so far, we’ve only come up with a couple (plus a couple of variations on themes):
– a very short tut (shorter than in English, and usually just the one) to indicate mild irritation or disapproval;
– a French equivalent to the noise British (and perhaps American) builders make when evaluating just how expensive their estimate is going to be (or the noise one might make when watching a particularly painful fail video), but instead of sucking in air over the teeth with a scrunched-up mouth, the French widen their mouth and suck in air at the sides, often preceded by a very light “t” sound;
– “eh oh !”: someone mentioned “oh oh” above, and this is very similar but perhaps even more common – it can either be to attract attention (in a friendly way or not) or to reproach someone (often a child) for doing something stupid (“Eh oh !! Que’st-ce q’tu fais, là ?! Arrête ça tout de suite !”);
– “euh” (or, more often than not, “euuuuuuuuuh”): this is very similar to the English hesitation noise “errrrr”, but it’s not quite the same vowel (in French it’s the same vowel as in “deux” and “creux”, i.e. [ø] in IPA) and in many parts of France it seems to be used (especially by younger people) as an infinitely extendable filler noise while trying to find one’s words, the result being that, despite the hesitation, there’s never a break in sound production;
– “aïe” (or “aïaïaïaïaïe”), the equivalent of “ouch”, either to express genuine pain or to express empathy with a painful/tricky/unenviable situation;
– it’s already been mentioned, but I do love “oh là là” (yes, the French really do say it), which can actually range from a short, sharp “ouh là !” to “oh là là là là !” (ad infinitum…), optionally accompanied by hand waggling.
If I think of any more, I’ll post again. In the meantime, keep up the great work! 😉
PS Regarding the French raspberry, there’s a very funny scene at the start of a relatively recent film – possibly “Louise-Michel” by Kervern & Delépine, but I may well be wrong – that consists almost entirely of this noise…
Thanks so much for the additions, Oliver! I live the aie and the French “ouch.” And I will have to check out the film. Sounds hilarious!
Hollie Harrington says
Wow! It’s so interesting that someone else picked up on the “euuuuuuuh” filler noise. I’ve never noticed it as much in other languages than in French. It can be extended for so long!
Yup that’s one of my favorites. Thanks for checking out the post!
So funny! I am also French living in NY but I studied in the US before and my roommate used to tell me that we French people had these mannerisms and also use images every time we talk. I guess you’re right-I don’t make these noises when I speak English. I could add to your list “aïe”: your “ouch” when you hurt yourself. I loved it so much that I now say “ouch” in French all the time. So be reassured you also have “your” noises 😉 I didn’t know that you called raspberries the noise you described. I can confirm- I make all of them. I actually realized the way we talked when discussing with foreign students who told me: what do you mean when you say “chais pas” or “chui fatiguée”? Good job on your article!
Thank you for commenting, Laure. So happy you got a kick out of the post. Would love to hear what you think English language noises are. I know there are words, but noises? Maybe I will do a follow up if I can think of enough of them. Have a great day!
Phoebe @ Lou Messugo says
I had a chuckle reading this and can relate totally. Actually I just posed a question along these lines on my FB page today asking my likers what things they say or do after time as an expat that they wouldn’t have said/done before. I’m Brit/Aussie married to a Frenchman and find myself using “oh la la” all the time! I also use “hop la” often in the context you used to illustrate the word, to pick up my kid. It’s things like this that make you realise how integrated into French life you actually are. My in-laws use the “mmmm mmmm” all the time and after a visit with them I find I do it too! Another one I love is “bof” meaning “so what” or “who cares”. Have you found yourself using any of them yet? How long have you been living in France?
Hi Phoebe, thanks for checking out the post! I’ve been here two years and do find myself making an occasional French “noise” here and there. “Hop” is popular, I use it when the dog jumps up on something. Usually in a dog walking context since I don’t have kids. Many of the other ones I hear all the time from my husband though. Thanks for commenting!
that’s very funny, and make myself wonder “why I use these noise?”
Well, the answer is simple: that’s shorter and explicit.
For example “hein” is easier to pronounce than “quoi”, but there is also a nuance between both.
You can use “hein” even if you hear what the other just say, it can be a way to express surprise, for example :
“I kill my grandmother yesterday.
In this case, you hear what the other say, but it’s so big that you’re not sure after all, and in the same time you’re shocked and you disapprove. But that’s just an example! This sound have lot of other meaning in differents contexts. And you cannot use all of them with everybody.
Yes, in fact… It’s complicated.
But thanks ! I like it !
That’s a great explanation, Grigri, and I think the same goes in English when we hear something but it’s shocking or we don’t expect it, we’ll just say “huh?” or “what?” in the same way you described. So happy that all you French people are enjoying the post! 😉
Oh… my… GOD!
Are we really making all those noises? Well… wait a minute… Yep, we are. I am. huhu, I really loughed a lot on this post, thank you!
Indeed, there are several noises whether you’re from north or south of France.
The “hein” is very different in the north. Mouth big opened, sounds really more… stupid.
The one I use the most, I think, is the “T”. Just “T”, followed by a “pfffff”, when my little boy’s going over my patience. 🙂
I use also a lot “mmm” when my wife’s talking… I don’t listen to her enough 🙂
Haha, that’s terrible you don’t listen to your wife. But I understand, the “mmm” has its purpose in French and if your wife is French, she probably doesn’t mind. But for the first year I was here, I really found it so rude like “LET ME TALK and STOP rushing me!!” but then realized it’s just a sound to say “ok, i hear you. i’m acknowledging that you’re speaking.” Would love to hear more about these south/north noises! Thank you for commenting!
Hey! About the noise “Tac”, do you know this french comic book, “Quai d’Orsay”? The movie is out right now, and you have a lot of “Tacs” int here!
Thanks for the article, very interesting! I am French and I did recognize them! Very funny
I am going to check out the movie for sure! How can I resist all the Taks?? Thrilled you liked the post. Thank you!
Really funny, I thought the ‘hop’ was really strange too when I first heard it! Another one I found weird was when they say ‘aye/aiiii’ instead of ‘ow’ when they get hurt or something.
Yah, the aye is funny as is ooosh for ouch. I really have to do a follow up post!! Thank you for stopping by
The english “hhhhush” (quiet, please) = SssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHH in french 😉
Great post. Shared.
And I definitely use the “raspberry” when I don’t know something. Prrrt. No idea. Don’t care. Why did you even asked ? (It’s not a rude sound with a friend. It’s very friendly. But you won’t do that in front of your boss ’cause he’s not your friend.)
Oh wow, just learned something. I didn’t know that the raspberry noise is more for friends and that it wouldn’t be polite in a business context. Interesting!
Thank you for your post! I’m French and I must admit that I regularly use all of these noises. To complete your work, I would suggest you to spend 15 more hours observing the strange faces and grimaces we use to do while saying these noises. 😉
Hahah, you want to volunteer your photo? I will start right away! 🙂
this is great!
the french also have this strange “fah” or “fa”, when they talk and get stuck or want to rephrase. like “i was in the market, fa, i was there already before, fa, you know what i mean?”
it’s a kind of mix between fuck and en fait! this way or the other, it’s very frenchi.
Are you referring to “enfin” which comes out as “fin” (never hear the “en” part)? That’s definitely a word used a lot
Congratulations for your post ! I am really amazed by the way you managed to describe and reproduce those sounds. I had not even realised we were used to making such different sounds, but it is incredibly true.
Thank you! I guess you can say my ear is sensitive to these kinds of things!
Great article! Very interesting read.
Here are a few other sounds for your list:
– Pffft + raise eyebrows: could mean either a form of surprise, to the gravity or enormity of a situation for example OR a way of telling people off ‘Tu me fais chier’ I’m fed up with what you are telling me, leave me alone!
– Pfff + frown: this looks complicated, this is going to take a lot of work and/or effort, this task is daunting.
– Inhale quickly + shake hand near throat + squint: the quick inhale is almost like an inhaled whistle; extreme reaction, either this is amazing (you are tasting a Champagne, to express that you find it very good or even when you recall having tasted that Champagne) OR it is absolutely awful (like when you are watching a Jackass video and a guy falls flat on his face)
– exhale + shake hand near throat, no squinting: you see something on TV that blows you away. J’y crois pas! Tu deconnes?! C’est pas possible!
– Pursed lips, head tilted sideways, shrug: soft approval or soft disapproval, sometimes accompanied by a ‘Mouais…”, sometimes there is only a little high-pitched grunt which means either ‘sure, why not?’ or ‘i am going to give you the benefit of the doubt’
Sorry, the last one was more of a move than a sound.
Oh boy, these are getting really technical. I love it!! Going to keep an eye out for the noises on your list!! Thank you!
J’ajouterais “Pfffeeuu !”
Le pffeeuu de : je méprise complètement ce que tu viens de dire, ou ça n’a aucune importance.
Thank you, I’ll have to listen for this one!
Comme dans “Haaaannnnnn, c’est pas biiieeenn”.
Hilarious, and so true!!! I never realized I did all that… Thanks for putting this together!
This is sooo funny! I heard a couple of these when I was in France and this definitely solidifies my inferences about what these weird sounds truely were! Loved this!
Thank you for checking out the post!
This post was awesome – I loved the audio clips!
Hi, I’m a French girl that lives abroad, and I’m always asked what are the difference between the country I’m in and my home country! I often bring up the “growling” sound: if I may add something about that noise, we also use it when someone makes a joke that may be not – politically correct and we don’t wanna laugh but still indulge it. I don’t know if I’m clear!
But there are some sounds that I didn’t think about, like the mmm hmm and the raspberries (so very elegant!). Anyways, just to say that I also enjoy your posts in general, keep up the good work!
Hi ! J’ai adoré votre article !
On peut également pensé à:
“Euh….” pour marquer le doute, l’incertitude ou la surprise
“Pfff!!”: soupir, agacement, “pff j’en ai marre”, “pff c’est n’importe quoi!”
“mmmm” (différent de mmm mmm): par exemple, avant de répondre à une question “Hummm
“Humm”: par exemple “Hummm ça sent bon dans la cuisine”
“Tin Tin” (bruit lorsque la langue touche les dents de devants): lorsque l’on désapprouve quelque chose
I liked your article a lot! so funny
the fast gasp is a sort of “ouais”
you have to watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVwbxp1FyiE
at 1:12 😉
Thank you! I AM DYING LAUGHING at this youtube video you linked. My husband keeps telling me to stop laughing so loud. The 0 idees exprimees and the ouais aspire are hilarious. Love this guy!!
I love this so much! The French are full of some interesting sounds! One that is missing (although this is in Belgium) is how they end so many of there sentences with the word “quoi” even if the word “what” does not make sense at the end of the sentence. Thanks for putting this amazing masterpiece together haha
Thanks for checking out the post, Dustin! And yes, the quoi is a tag word like a “ya know” in English. Hear it all the time!
This was great! I had heard all of these sounds in France at various times, but never knew an exact translation or context, so this really helped. BTW I’ve taught French for several years!
As a Canadian English speaker, I find that I do about half of these. The rest are just strange and unfamiliar. 😛
Do the Dutch have any speech mannerisms that a native English speaker would find bizarre? Would love to hear about them, if so. Thanks for stopping by!
My husband thought I was being rude the first time I used the raspberry! Then he had a Polish coworker who used it too, so it might not be specific to the French.
Another sound that threw my husband off was “top!” to time something. As in, when you say “top” to start a counter, and then “top” again to end that counter.
There is also “Oh hisse” for physical effort. I’m not sure if English even has a equivalent to that.
These are great – I’ve heard pretty much all of them. Another to add is the “inhaled yeah.” I’ve heard so many slowly saying, “Ouai, ouai.” while inhaling the entire time and nodding.
Another is adding a soft, almost unnoticeable hissing sound to the end of certain short words that end in an “i” sound. I’ve especially noticed it with “oui” but I’ve heard it occasionally on other words, as well.
Thank you so much for this wonderful article!
This info was extremely interesting.
“Hop” could almost be translated as “let’s go”. It’s what it means, basically.
Personally, I don’t use the Fast Gap and The Fast Air Suck In/Slurp. But the other sounds yes, very much.
There are similar noises used in my country!
Like “HOP” we use “OP”
“HEIN” we use “HA?”
“MMMM” we use “ah”.
This was really interesting.
Very good observations!
I wonder if you noticed the very tiny “hh” we do at the end of some words ending with a vowel, mostly with an “i”? For example oui(hhh), aussi(hhh), ouai(hhh), but also “il est encore au bureau(hhh)”
If you want, I could do a record with these sounds 🙂
I absolutely am in LOVE with your blog!
Today is my lucky day 🙂
I also am very excited to see a post about random noises that French people make. Interestingly, this was one of the questions I asked my Japanese friend who has been living in France for 10 years. He didn’t seem to understand what I was asking, yet you have answered my question so clearly…this is such an awesome day!
I look forward to looking at all your blog entries.
The way you write is very exciting to read.
I love how Tom helps you out and how adorable your doggie is.
Hope you have a wonderful day!!!
Thanks so much! Happy to have you here. Yes, the strange noises post is the most popular on my site and glad it cleared up your questions. Thanks again for stopping by. Dagny says hi 😉
Salut, Diane !
I enjoyed this post so much! This is extremely interesting (and I never knew!). 🙂
Indian in France says
It’s been 12 years that I have been studying the French & their language (I live in Paris) and I find these French sounds soooo irritating! That doesn’t reduce my love for the language or the people, but it drives me up the wall !
In a minute I would have rounded up all these sounds for you, had I known you personally ;))
You could add : ‘Bon bein’ ( or something to that effect), c’est parti !
There is also – ‘O-pla’. A Spanish spounding thing..
Haha, which one do you find the most irritating? I think the fast air suck, because it always startles me. And 12 years is a long time so do you find yourself making any of the noises just out of habit? Thank you for checking out the post!
Hi I’m someone in england leanring french for GCSE and I just happened to stummble upon this and i think hein is going to be very useful for a french speaking which i happen to have tommorow thanks for this it actually quite interessting.
Awesome, so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for stopping by
Found this extremely funny. 🙂 I’m just learning French for no particular reason, except that I’ve always liked the idea of it…I hope to visit France one day, though, and knowing French would probably be useful! 🙂
I also wanted to ask you, is the dog in that picture at the top of your post *your* dog? If so, it’s so cute! Is it a boy or girl? (If it’s yours…:)
Yes all the dog pics on my site are of the same dog (unless otherwise noted, I posted a pic of Bernese Mountain Dog on one post because we found a lost one on the street). But yea, the black and tan dog, that’s my Dagny, a female Cavalier King Charles spaniel. You can read more about her on my about page. Thank you for your comments! Bonne continuation avec le francais. 😉
Two of the French sounds that really challenge my students:
1) the “Death Rattle”: purse your lips into an O, close your throat half-way and slowly exhale like Darth Vader, with an irritated look on your face.It expresses annoyed disbelief. The closest US translation I can think of would be : “Get out of here!”
2) the “Meuuuuuuhhhnon” (elongated form of ” Mais Non.” Best expressed by extending and exaggerating the middle part, producing a sound like an loud, irritated cow, while shrugging your shoulders and tilting the head to one side.
My ex once answered the phone at a French business in Paris. Unfortunately that day her “What can I do for you, Sir?” came out as: “Qu’est-ce que je peux vous faire, Monsieur?” The older French gentleman at the other end never skipped a beat: “Oh, tout ce que voulez mademoiselle!”
So funny how you described them. I called the death rattle the growl in my post but love how it really is more of a death rattle when it’s really annoyed disbelief. lol And funny about your ex. Is she French? A “pour vous” probably would have gone over better.
Thanks for your comment!
This was so funny, thanks for sharing. I can imagine you worked hard putting these together. I linked back to this post on my blog – I wanted to find a sound file of the “raspberry” and that’s how I found you. Thanks
Thanks so much, Michelle. Glad you enjoyed the post!
I think you got the most popular ones, that’s for sure. Excellent (and so true), funny post. Now, if you factor in Suisse French, you’ll have even more…bah, oui.
OMG I was literally crying over the raspberry thing. So true and I never thought about what it might sound like to foreign ears. lmao I haven’t even finished reading the post yet!
Im French btw
Hahha, happy to hear you’re enjoying the post. 😉 And love getting the French perspective.
(fast gasp!), Hearing them now, I realize I grew up hearing several of these, but strange and/or disapproving looks from others negated them from my linguistic habits long ago.. (Why did you do that?) Had no idea.
Without ever receiving reliable details, my dad said our surname was German, my mother said French. Probably both (according to ancestry sites), but now I have linguistic data to confirm the French roots. Thanks for a delightful and well-produced site!
This is funny to see how non native French speakers see French linguistic’s tics. I laught when I read your explanations. This is true! I didn’t realized that we are used to these tics.
Even if I don’t really use these linguistic tics.
Maybe, I have too many americain friend. Ahahah! Just kidding.
I all the time say “heuuuu…” when I forgot a word in a sentence.
Or “ben” when I don’t really know what I’m going to say. “Ben je sais pas”
“Ben, fait comme ça…”
OMG, I haven’t laughed this hard in months and months. Did you ever nail this one beyond words. Best blog posts I have read in years; So, nicely done. Truly. You inspire me to write more fun blogs. This was simply classic. When you are in Lyon, you better look me up pour un verre!
Yay!! Never been to Lyon but I will absolutely find you for a drink! So happy you got a kick out of the post. I just had to document these strange French sounds. I still chuckle when I hear them even though they’re “normal.” Cheers to a fantastic 2015!
I enjoyed this. It made me miss all those conversations I had with French folk back when I lived there. I found their verbal “tics” fun and charming, and inadvertently use them myself, many years later. A couple that I would have liked to hear again is “Boff” and “Bon-ban” (not sure about spelling). But I take “boff” as “well, there it is” and “bon-ban” as “I don’t know” or some sort of filler… Anyway, many thanks for this. I will be sharing with all my Francophone / Francophile friends.
Wow I’m pretty surprised this is the first time I’ve seen this. There are SO MANY weird French noises in conversation! Ones I’ve noticed especially are “Hein,” “Hop,” “Tak,” as well as a couple other ones like… “Bof” – kind of a space filler when someone is asked a complicated question maybe, or when thinking…” “Baaah” – kind of sounds like “uh” with a “b” at the beginning.. I just randomly hear this stuck in conversations sometimes, like “baah, oui…” I’m not sure of a better example haha. I feel like there are more weird sounds like this…
Yep, I do all of these when I speak French and none of them when I speak English. It’s like there’s a switch in my brain.
Very interesting, thank you for your comment. 😉
Thank you so much for including “tak” on here! I kind of understood vaguely what it meant but its good to have it ‘officialised’! None of my English friends here in Paris knew what I was talking about when I said I’d heard French people saying this word so it was kinda bugging me haha…thanks!:)
Hi, Diane! This is currently my favorite post of yours!!!! I kept hearing the ‘fast gap’ in conversations and wondered what the heck was going on. Then I thought “hmmmm, I bet that Diane has covered this on her blog.” I’m so happy that you did!!!
Like you, the ‘fast gasp’ sound startles me — I experience a quick burst of fear, thinking that the person gasping has experienced a sharp pain or something. One strange thing though: David (my husband) has been in the same conversations where I’ve heard the ‘fast gasp’ two or three times, but he simply doesn’t hear it. Weird.
Hi Claire, thanks for checking out the post — it’s one of my faves too! I noticed the sounds right away after moving here and had to list them all out so glad you found them useful. I am still startled by the fast gasp. I notice not all people do it but many do, both men and women of all ages. I always think something is wrong! To me it stands out but maybe David is Frenchifying himself quicker than we are hahah!
ha!!! I haven’t time to read all the comments so apologies if I am repeating anything but thanks so much for this post. The raspberry really made me LOL. I don’t do that on my own that easily. I am living in the south of France one year (Im Irish) and I love all these random noises too. I am very sensitive to mannerisms anyway, even in my own language and I find them super interesting. The reason I actually came across your blog is coz I was searching for what on earth exactly ‘Roooh!’ means. I have received it many times via text message. Someone told me it means ‘dommage’ but Im not completely convinced. Any takers? Also I absolutely LOVE one of the sounds the men make when they are treating you a little bit like a child and telling you you cant do something or say something. They subtely wag their finger and at the same time ‘tut’ at you 3 times with their lips pouted. although its kinda condescending I really find it very attractive! I thought it was specific to my first boyfriend who was from Morocco but then it occured with others so I realised its a french thing. Anyway. thanks again. Lynn
Very interesting. Good to keep in mind when you’re trying to pass as a native speaker.
Great blog! I’m a French woman in the US and didn’t realize we make these noises like “Tac”, “Mmmmm”, gasp or raspberries. Read French comics and you’ll find some “Hop!” “Hein?” “Pff” “Aïe” (Ouch!) “Hum!” (in case of doubt) “Atchoum!” (when sneezing) “Hep!” (You over there!) “Euh” (when you don’t know what to say).
I would add:
“Oh Eh Oh!” (Stop! That’s enough!)
Listen also to Jacques Dutronc’s song “Crac Boum Hue”
Glad you enjoyed it, Geraldine! I will check out the song you mentioned. Have a great weekend!
I laughed a lot when I read this article, OMG it’s soooo true! I’m French and i have already use every sounds have you said
But for the “hop” I’m used to saying “hop hop hop” I use it when I want to the person in front of me went up the stairs faster
I’m sorry, maybe I make lot of mistake, I don’t speak English very well, I’m only 14 and as I say it, my English is sooooo bad!
In Kentucky, we make the “hop” sound too for this context. Just with a country accent. It sounds more like “yup” but you can barely hear the “y” haha.
I absolutely love your blog! I started dating my French boyfriend when I met him in South Korea last year and I’m about to move to France to be an au pair 🙂 It’s very helpful and entertaining!
that was too much fun! and so spot on. Yes, Tom should do regular guest posts!
Thanks, so glad you liked it. Tom has his own series here on the blog, just search “Ask Tom Tuesdays.” 😉
OMG! i just read it right now and i laughed a lot !
too much funny !
As a French i never realised we made this kind of noise until reading you lol
too much accustomed to listen to them of course !
And in fact, as you said, this noises are quite different depending on where you are in France.
There are some subtle differences between South and North!
In my island in Corsica, to mean “i have absolutely no idea” we use to say “Oumbà!”lol
there is another strange noise when it gets cold : brrrrr!!! i freeze
About “The Fast Air Suck In/Slurp” i think it’s just to take its breath at the end of the sentence lol
In any case you hit the nail on the head on our strange noise
it’s well done TY to you Diane
Glad you enjoyed it! Where in Corsica do you live? I’m going there next month. 😉
I just came back from Paris in tourist season. Wherever I turned or tried to speak to someone, they gave me that growl unless I showed them money (I usually tried to communicate with the worker to ask a question), and now that I searched it up I feel a bit pissed at how rudely I was treated at cafes and museums. I understand that parisians are annoyed at all the tour buses, and that may have been the cause for some of the racism (and constant questions of “China, Korea, or Japan?”) but I really wished the people in Paris were more enjoyable. Certainly there were some (honestly, only two) great people who helped me whenever I was lost, and there were just too many who treated me like I was dirt, and tried to con me out of my money. The only satisfaction I had was when I cursed them right back in french. My next visit to France will most certainly not be in Paris. I would only put up with the attitude and cursing in order to visit the Versailles Palace once more, but other than that I don’t think I would willingly go back to Paris.
Ahh, thank you for making this post! As a language student I did work experience in a restaurant in Lille back in February and the “hop!” noise was baffling! I’d thought maybe it was something to do with serving in a restaurant and having to be quick all the time, but the other English students in different work placements had heard it too and we had no idea what this “up” sound meant. And the other sounds are great to know, as well. Thank you!
It’s my boyfriend in a nutshell
Brilliant post, wow!!! First of all, to everyone learning french right now: you should know that all theses sounds should be used only in informal contexts. Dont use them in a job interview to impress your future boss or something lol… French is my mother tongue and I was so impressed with your accurate descriptions of these typical ‘linguistic sounds’! I actually speak a “swiss french”: it’s still french but the accent is so distinctibly different from the french from France and while there are so many words that we use only in the swiss french and so many words that we use in both but dont have the same meaning, i was surprised and amused to realize that we do share all these sounds! Again, great and funny post!
Happy you enjoyed it! 😉
Phoebe @ Lou Messugo says
I commented on this back when you originally posted it a couple of years ago and it still makes me laugh! The raspberry made me laugh out loud. Thanks for linking it to #AllAboutFrance
Happy to entertain 😉 And as always, thanks for hosting!
Girl Gone Gallic says
LOL ! That’s the best ever – THANK YOU. It’s hilarious, and I think that I make about 90% of those sounds myself when speaking with a Frenchie.
Glad you enjoyed it. 😉
Margo Lestz says
What a great resource for people moving to France. I wish I had had this several years when it was all strange to me. Thanks!
Thanks so much!
Katherine Forshaw says
What a fab article, I’ve never really thought about all the weird and wonderful noises the French make. Thank you for putting this together, it must have taken you a lot of time and patience. It made me giggle but also think, I’ll certainly be listening more in bars and restaurants! #AllAboutFrance
As a French, I’m used to all these “noises”. And I LOVE to use them. Now that I live in Germany, I often mix some of my French “noises” with my German and receive some funny stares. But I would never stop using them! They are part of my upbringing.
I would add the “olala” on your list: this is a tricky one. It can means that the locutor witness a doom event (coupled with the forehand held by the hand, eyes closed and the voice going into the low tunes) OR they experience a surprising / funny / positive event (the voice goes higher, eyes wide opened, mouth wide opened too at the end of the sound)…
I actually did a whole post on oooh la la/oh la la: https://www.ouiinfrance.com/2015/03/17/ask-tom-tuesdays-do-the-french-say-ooh-la-la/
Danielle - Living in Sin says
The “pff” is one of my favourites and used a lot in combination with the shrug 🙂 But most of them I guess I just never noticed as I grew up partly in France so they come naturally
Great post! I work for someone at a market here in Provence and I feel like he strings whole sentences together with these noises! It takes some getting used to! I don’t think I ever really knew exactly what some of them mean! Thank you
Great post! Exactly my husband and I myself have picked up some!
Hilarious! I’ve dropped by from #AllAboutFrance and it’s amazing how many of these sounds have baffled me over the years. The raspberries thrown in conversation are so funny to hear.
curtis bausse says
Great post – there’s a whole linguistic category to explore here!
Haha…this is so interesting 🙂 I never realized that sounds might have different meaning in different language… 🙂 I am from the Czech Republic and we have some of the sounds like the French with the same meaning….like “raspberries” which I used while in U.S. ….that must have been funny…. I am surprised with the sound “hop” …I think it is used in English too…..little rabbit-hop, hop, hop – no? …even though we use it in broader meaning, like – Do it -hop! usualy with kids. But it always sugests some sort of “jumpy”, quick movement.
Hi Jitka, the hop in French isn’t used to mean a physical hopping motion like in the case of a rabbit although most of the time there’s movement involved. But the “h” isn’t pronounced. It’s always silent. So while the word might exist in both languages, the usage is what’s different. But I can see what you mean about a jumpy movement — in French it’s kind of like a “let’s go.” Thanks for commenting and checking out the post!
Very informative. Thanks!
You’re very welcome!
Adrian Morgan says
“The Fast Air Suck In/Slurp. Way an American uses this noise: We don’t. Maybe wincing before we pull off a Band-Aid? Or bracing or something?”
Well, yes, and what about expressing empathy for another person’s physically painful experience?
Absolutely, in US English we use this one to show shock or surprise (if we’re startled, if something someone is saying is troublesome like in the case of someone’s painful experience like you said) but in French, this noise is used completely differently, so that was my point — to differentiate. 😉 Thanks so much for checking out my post. Happy (almost) New Year!
I have a funny one for you. When I was a student in 1990 at the AF in Paris and through them was arranged a stay at an older woman’s home in a nearby suburb. Ginette was a true “maman poule” and made sure that I knew my way around and was instilled with street smarts just in case. She loved the tele so that was on before the café/croissant. Always incessant commentary from her all the while but the fun really began with the soap operas-The Young &the restless (Les feux de l’amour) and The Bold & Beautiful (Top Modeles) All your aforementioned expressions and gesticulations would then magically come into play. Her most frequently employed was the Oh,la…that she was so adept at expressing the kaleidoscope of emotions depending on
her tone.From dismay or disgust oh la…(growl,hiss) to delighting at the antics of the characters Oh la! celle-la! tehe! I think I learned more practical French from her than the AF
Did anyone mention the slightly salacious sound of approval “grhon grohn grohn” going up which can refer to delicious food or a beautiful woman?
Talking of sounds in movies, very often an English speaking actor will be hired to play the Frenchman or woman and it usually is cringe worthy. However, Kevin Klein in French Kiss manages to pass for a Frenchman just by using sounds.
I was in stitches just reading the title of this article. I had randomly googled the meaning of ‘op’ or ‘up’ and found this site. I have lived in France for 12 years and I just love these ‘noises ‘ the French make. I realise that I have inadvertently included most of them into my own conversations without actually being aware of the fact. Such a funny article. I haven’t laughed so much in a long time.
SO happy you found the post, Julie, and that I could provide some entertainment for you. Bon dimanche !
Absolutely brilliant! Loved it. I hear “bim” among my friends… not exactly sure how it’s used though but I think it’s like “tak”. Just clicked on your “oh la la” post because I hear it a lot even among friends my age and I love hearing it.
you forgot the “RRrrrrhhhoooooo” 🙂
Brilliant list! I’m a Canadian (anglophone) but currently live and work in Paris. I’ve heard every one of these sounds regularly. I’m trying to think of a few others, but I think you’ve really captured all the common ones. You didn’t mention “bon” when used as filler rather than to mean “good”, but that’s at least a word rather than a noise.
The fast air-suck-in is definitely commonplace, particularly when my coworkers are on the phone. It can often be very loud.
The fast gasp seemed very strange to me when I first heard it, sort of a whispered “oui” said while exhaling.
The fart noise (raspberry) is really something I can’t abide. There must be a slight class distinction as to who uses it. I’ve never heard any of the directors in my office use it, whereas the admin staff do so all the time (it’s incredibly annoying – this one woman seems to do it a hundred times a DAY).
Kirsten Monteil says
Loved this! Did anyone mention ‘POFF’ to use when you describe someone smacking someone upside the head. English/American equivalent for ‘BAM’ Also I agree with what another said about the raspberry coming out very delicately at times, kind of like a lady-like fart. It’s very difficult for me to do, mine actually sound like a real fart, then I turn red, because I don’t live there yet, and maybe they think I really did do one.
I have one 🙂 ‘Beu… Chais pas!’ I guess it gets pronounced like a mix between ‘bah’ and ‘bein’!
merci! this is such a funny and well put together collection! when living in the US i was always made fun at for saying “tac” a lot, especially when rushing to finish a task. i would say it after completing each single sub-task (imagine packing your bag, or preparing diner).
i would had the puf (pfffff). i don’t know if it’s exclusive from french but we use it to show our disapproval. it could be if someone is telling you a story where they highlight a wrong behavior and you agree with them by puffing some air. “friend: my brother has made-up that excuse to avoid lunch at mom’s on sunday. me : pfff “, or someone is back with their stupid ex, or someone cuts you in the line 😉
You forgot the tut-tut sound accompanied by the wagging of the forefinger when you dare touch fruit in the epicerie!
I loved your collection! We lived in France 13 years and are familiar with them all
Tim Clifford says
Great posts! I’d like to add a very simple noise that seems to have been overlooked: Eueueueu, as in the British Uhmmmm, when you’re thinking loud about what to say, what decision to take, what response to give…
Diane, congrats for the guaranteed entertainment you share through http://www.ouiinfrance.com!
Joice Kelly says
I thought I was going to see he “hein” that EVERYBODY does, after every sentence, like a question “ne c’est pas?” Like this is good, right? = c’est bon hein?
Oh my gosh, Diane I laughed so hard at this!!! Don’t know how I stumbled upon it, but I’m SO glad I did!!
So glad you enjoyed it, Alex! Hope you’ll share 😉
I lived for many years in Quebec, so I studied French in books, but never began speaking it until I became an adult, interacting with people in real life. (We English Quebecers used to live in a bubble). In Quebec, there’s a noise I heard over and over, and it was mysterious to me: t’se, it sounded like. When I finally realized they were saying, “tu sais,” I was embarrassed for my book-bound French. I also had a good laugh, and stopped being self-conscious about speaking French.
janice wang says
Another unique sound that native French speakers make is what I call the “saliva suck”. It’s performed when one is speaking quickly: a quick inhale that gives the speaker a spurt of air and simultaneously sucks the saliva toward the back of the mouth, it also signals he’s not finished speaking. Not everyone does it; it’s common among fast speakers who don’t want to be interrupted. You’ll see it a lot on TV when you have a panel of speakers, all vying to speak. It sounds like their mouths are watering because when they inhale, there is the audible sound of saliva being drawn from the front of the mouth to the back.
Beverly Hawkins says
Have lived in France for over 20 years and validate most of these, tho I confess I have not been startled by the fast gasp. I would add in the “euh” that French people use instead of “um” in the middle of sentences. Confirm also the “hop là” mentioned by another reader — a variety of “hop”. Funny too that Air France named its European based discount carrier “Hop”. I work part-time with new arrivals coming into the country, accompanying them through language and culture acquisition — will definitely share this with them as an amusing bit for their consideration!
Thanks, Beverly! Glad you enjoyed the post!
Russell A. Bragg says
Your “fast gasp” appears to resemble the pulmonic ingressive feature I have documented in Traditional Newfoundland English (3rd. ed, Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, NS, 2017). Relevant comment and item entry from my book…
“yeah [YEH] affirmative “yes,” unique in sometimes being made in casual conversation with an inhalation rather than normal exhalation (see “Gaelic Gasp,” Preface).” Item entry p.122.
“…some Newfoundland English speakers still share the “Gaelic Gasp” with the Maritimes and downeast Maine, a gender-specific pulmonic ingressive (inhaled) aspirated yeah and no in chatty girltalk, a unique feature traceable to ancient Scandinavian influence.” (Preface, p. 17)
Although some of the original fishermen to visit Newfoundland (a Canadian province since 1949) were French, the later seventeenth century basis for traditional Newfoundland English dialects were from the West Country of England. The speech feature referred to above was a later addition to traditional Newfoundland English speech patterns brought by an influx of Irish immigrants.
I found your “strange noises French people make” very interesting.
Thank you for sharing you research, Russell! It’s so interesting that these sounds are used in other languages as well. Will check out your book. Happy New Year to you!
I’ve just rediscovered this page after having bookmarked it a few years ago. I’m currently teaching a college-level oral expression French course and this will be great fun to use! Thanks so much for all the work you’ve done. This is absolutely wonderful.
You’re very welcome! Glad to have you back.
Coucou ! Alors comment dire ?….mmmm… et là je suis en train de penser tout haut en faisant plein de sons que vous listez … …. Je ris beaucoup à la lecture de votre blog que je viens de découvrir.
Vous l’aurez compris je suis française. J’ai 53 ans et vis au sud de Toulouse aux pieds des Pyrénées, dans un petit village.
Bien entendu nous n’avons pas forcément conscience de tous ces bruits si étranges qui sortent de notre gorge. Dès que l’on y prête attention on se rend compte combien vous avez raison et c’est tellement marrant !
.Je trouve votre regard juste et intéressant; et votre écriture est stylée et pleine d’humour.
J’ai une amie-Ricaine comme j’aime l’appeler (elle est dans le CT) Nous nous sommes rencontrées sur un site de correspondance langues étrangères et échangeons depuis plus de 3 ans par mail et rencontrées physiquement 2 fois en France. Nous sommes devenues réellement amies au fil de ces années et échanges. Nous communiquons sans tabou sur tous les sujets chacune essayant de donner un aperçu à l’autre de son mode de vie, Elle m’écrit an anglais et moi en français. Elle adore la France et tout ce qui est français de façon systématique. Je viens de lui envoyer le lien sur votre blog, je suis certaine qu’elle va l’apprécier !
Je m’envole pour Big Apple dans une semaine pour la rejoindre et je pense que nous lirons ensemble votre blog. It will be so funny !
Allez hop 😉 je retourne vous lire !
PS : and if you want to come to south countryside of France, close to Andorra border (80km), We’ll welcome you, your husband and of course Dagny (I have 3 beloved dogs too : a couple of Great Pyrenean Mountain Dog -as in the movie Belle & Sebastien- + the oldest is a fat female “sausage-on-legs” no breed)
I just used this wonderful list in my advanced French conversation course. My students absolutely loved it. Merci mille fois!
Awesome, so happy to hear it! Thank you!
Natalie Wiswell says
))) So funny! Thank you! I think I can add one more is something like “pfffffff” made with lips , after saying something like – je ne sais pas or showing the process of thinking. I’m from Russia, we also use Tak in the same way)
Great post! 🙂
If I may add one thing about the “HEIN” noise, we also make it to say “are you kidding me?” if we are told something weird/unusual.
It looks like us French don’t like “empty noises”, that’s so true (and fun to realise)!
All the best to you both! x
Keith Van Sickle says
I’m familiar with all of these except the Fast Air Suck In. I’ll have to listen for that.
Another one I hear all the time is “quoi.” I think of it as a verbal tic like “you know” in English.
You forgot TAC
Which is used normally when someone is organising something.
Scenario: They pic up the sheet of paper they need and staple it to another document – once they find the corresponding paper they say TAC meaning there it is TAC now it’s togetger TAC
TAC filed it – every time there’s an action TAC
Hi it’s the 6th one on my list 🙂
Hey, my french friends are always saying words like that, so helpfull
Nancy James says
I remember being so mystified by the “Bon ben!” with a big shrug that my landlady always said. Also, “bof”. Thanks for the memories and the laughs!
Loved this blog – really made me giggle throughout. Brilliantly written 🙂
Thank you for taking the time to read (and listen!)
… So true.
The funniest is that a whole conversation could be made only with these noises.
Example 1 with a couple watching a breaking news on TV.
Speaker: “The government decides to increase the price…
Speaker: … of the baguette…
Both: fast gasp
Speaker: … of 10 percent…
Both: fast air suck in
Speaker: … The measure will be apply tomorrow.”
Both: second growl
He (standing up): hop!
She (surprised): hein?
He (rushing out the house): MMM MMM
He (back from the bakery, his arms full of a dozen of baguettes): (et) TAK!
I think that these noises are coming from the Gallic tribes which dialects varied from one region to another. When travelling around and trading, they used those common noises to be understood by everyone, including hands and fingers gestures (and a rich repertoire of dirty faces…).
Example 2 with a standing stones amateur and a stonemason (based on real facts).
Gaul 1 (staring at a menhir): fast gasp
Gaul 2 : MMM MMM
Gaul 1 (making the gesture of weighing something): no noise
Gaul 2 (showing the 5 fingers of his hand): imitating the sound of the cow.
Gaul 1: raspberries
Gaul 2: MMM MMM
Gaul 1: (rubbing his thumb against his two fingers as if to say “how much?): no noise
Gaul 2 : (showing another time the 5 fingers of his hand): and imitating again the sound of the cow.
Gaul 1: fast air suck in
Gaul 2: MMM MMM
Gaul 1: (mowing his hands from the left to the right as if to say “including carriage?”): hop?
Gaul 2: growl
The conversation ended with a no deal and some unpleasant words.
The short, “mmm” still causes my French Fella and I miscommunication. When I tell him something and he says “mm” I think he’s saying “hmmm?” like “huh? we do in English when someone doesn’t hear what the other said. Then I repeat myself and he says I must think he’s slow/stupid. We mostly speak English still.
“Tak” and “hup” was another one I was like “does this dude have turrets?” …in my head of course. I had no idea until I heard other French people use them as well.
Thanks for the article and vids.
This post is a perfect example of why your blog is so special and informative! My husband and I are planning on moving to France by the end of the year and these are small things that I find are interesting to learn about a new culture and a new language! Thank you! Keep up the good work!!
Mark Delligatti says
Made me laugh and reminded me so much of French friends. Thanks
You’re very welcome! Glad you enjoyed it!
Julie Stetten says
Hysterical! Going now to share with my fluent daughter’
Donald Charlson says
The fast gasp is also done in many parts of Maine. My family does it and I never thought about it till someone asked I had asthma while living in New Mexico. My family speaks French; however, I always thought it was a Maine thing till I met my wife, who never does it.
Karen Lewis says
This was pretty funny to read/listen to. Thanks. It really helps to understand all of the noises we hear in France and that they have a meaning!