Within the field of linguistics, verbal ‘fillers’ are words or sounds which serve to fill silences during speech, and which are frequently used to indicate a pause for thought, or a change of direction. In English, common examples are “um” and “uh”, while other examples that you may use on a daily basis include “like,” “right” and “y’know?”
Although these fillers become second nature to a native speaker, different languages have different fillers and it is important for language students to learn them. After all, fillers play a vital role, allowing you to shape your thoughts, articulate yourself more clearly and let another person know that you have not yet finished speaking.
Here, we take a look at 10 of the most common French fillers, so that you can start utilising them immediately.
Quite possibly the most popular French filler of all, the sound “euh” is the French equivalent of “uh” or “um” and is used in much the same way – to clearly and obviously signify that you are thinking of what to say next. In addition to being widely used, it is also one of the most obvious French fillers, because it has no other meaning.
Learning to use “euh” is fairly easy for an English speaker, as it simply replaces instances where you would use “uh” or “um”. Therefore, the simple act of switching these fillers for “euh” when speaking French will go a long way towards helping you to blend in around people who are fluent in the language.
Another extremely common French filler, “quoi” is difficult to accurately translate, but its literal meaning is “what”. With that said, one way to think of it is as an equivalent to the English fillers “innit?” and “or whatever”. As with those fillers, “quoi” is rather informal and should probably be avoided in highly professional settings.
It also functions in a similar way to those two English equivalents, because it almost always appears at the very end of a sentence. In most situations, it will provide thinking time and add emotion or emphasis to what has already been said. Moreover, in certain situations, it can signify frustration or impatience.
3. Tu vois?
“Tu vois?” is similar to when English speakers say “you know?” at either the beginning, middle or end of a sentence. There are a number of very similar French fillers which mean the same thing, such as “tu sais?” and “t’sais?”, while you may also encounter “t’vois c’que j’veux dire?” (“you see what I mean?”)
When used at the start or middle of a sentence, “tu vois?” and similar phrases are essentially rhetorical questions and traditional fillers. However, when used at the end of a sentence, these expressions can add emphasis to what has been said, or allow the other person to interject if they do not understand the point being made.
The word “comme” means “like” or “such as” and its use as a verbal filler is extremely similar to when English speakers use the word “like” in the middle of a sentence. It functions as quite an informal filler and while it will usually break up a sentence, it can sometimes appear at the end as well.
Much like with its English equivalent, “comme” is predominantly used by younger people and can sometimes be looked down upon by older generations, especially in formal settings. However, this is in the process of changing and “comme” is now gaining greater acceptance, as well as usage, even among older French speakers.
The filler “bah” is tricky to translate or give an appropriate English equivalent, although the closest comparison would be when an English speaker says “well…” at the beginning of a sentence. Among French speakers, “bah” is used frequently and can sometimes be elongated to “baaaaaaah” when a longer pause is required.
More specifically, a French speaker may use “bah” at the beginning of a response to a question they feel has an obvious answer. So, to give an example, they may say: “Bah oui,” instead of using “oui” on its own to say “yes”. Mastering the use of “bah” is a great way of fitting in and appearing as though you have native speaking ability.
An extremely useful way of beginning a clarification, or signifying that you intend to expand upon a point, “c’est-à-dire” translates to “what I mean is” and can be used at either the beginning or middle of a sentence.
Using this filler informs the other people involved in the conversation that you have not finished speaking, and that you intend to provide further detail. It also simultaneously provides you with a helpful pause, in which you can think of exactly how you want to articulate yourself.
7. Eh bien
“Eh bien” is another example of a filler word within the French language that can be broadly equated with the word “well”. Yet, in this particular case, it is usually said at the start of a sentence, and ultimately suggests a lack of certainty in whatever is about to be said.
In order to make it easier to learn, and to avoid any possible confusion with other meanings of the word “well,” it is perhaps best to think of the filler “eh bien” as meaning something similar to “well, I am not sure”.
Arguably the most useful French filler of all, the word “bon” means “okay”, but can be used in a huge number of different ways. As a consequence, it can be deployed to begin a thought, end a thought, or even to express anger, in much the same way an English speaker might say “fine!”
Another common filler, “bon ben”, is derived from this and is used to indicate that you are wrapping up your current thought or idea. It can be understood to mean something similar to “anyway” or “well”.
9. A la limite
More likely to be used by a young French speaker than an older one, “a la limite” is a modern filler, which translates to “I mean” or “I suppose”. It is most frequently used at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence, but it may also appear at the end of a sentence for certain purposes, including to soften a statement.
Generally speaking, “a la limite” provides additional time for thought, but it is also worth noting that it has connotations with reluctance. It may, for instance, suggest that you are hesitant to respond with a firm statement of fact, or suggest that you are at least slightly non-committal.
10. T’sais veux dire?
Finally – and somewhat similarly to “Tu vois?” – the filler “t’sais veux dire?” is an extremely casual filler, which translates to “ya know what I mean?”. It is, therefore, used in virtually the same way as “tu vois?” or “t’vois c’que j’veux dire?”, either serving as a rhetorical question, or as a point of emphasis.
Nevertheless, it has added significance, because you are unlikely to encounter it within France itself. In actual fact, it is a filler that is strongly associated with people living in the Québec region of Canada, although it may be heard in some other French-speaking countries as well