Filler words are words or expressions that we use without thinking, sometimes to the point of exaggeration. Like other languages, French has a large number of filler words. They’re often found at the beginning or at the end of a sentence. It’s a way of using words that isn’t awful or ridiculous. Quite the contrary. If filler words are useful, it’s mostly because they help you speak more naturally. Whether you’re searching for a word or trying to hide an accent, filler words will come to the rescue. And that’s because knowing French filler words means that you’re mastering certain habits specific to the language. Filler words are a good way to slow down your speech flow and avoid mistakes while also adopting a natural way of speaking. Let’s go for a demonstration.
The Most Common French Filler Words
There are many, many possible French filler words, and they can vary from person to person. Here are some of the most-used words, loosely sorted into a few categories.
- short words and phrases that fit into many sentences: bref (“anyway”), voilà (“there you go”), genre (“like”), carrément (“totally”), clairement (“clearly”), vraiment (“really”), finalement (“finally”), pas de souci (“no worries”), trop pas (“so not”), soit (“or”), bien (“well”), bon (“good”), eh ben (“well”), d’accord (“okay”)
- verbs conjugated in the first person: j’avoue (“I admit”), je veux dire (“I mean”), je te jure (“I swear to you”), je vais être (très) clair (“I’ll be (really) clear”), j’ai envie de dire (“I want to say”), je dis ça (“I say that”), je dis rien (“I say nothing”)
- verbs conjugated in the second person: tu sais (“you know”), tu vois (“you see”), t’as vu (“you saw”), dis (“say”), écoute (“listen”), regarde (“look”), vas-y (“go on”)
- other expressions that use a verb: c’est clair (“it’s clear”), ça marche (“that works”), on (ne) va pas se mentir (“we won’t lie to ourselves”)
- expressions in the French argot Verlan: de ouf (inversion of fou), synonym of vraiment (“really”)
- words for linking and making logical connections: en fait (“in fact”), en même temps (“at the same time”), mais (“but”), par contre (“however”), alors (“so”), donc (“so”), ceci dit (“that said”), de toute façon (“anyway”), entre autres (among other things)
- other filler words: pour le coup (“for once”), du coup (“so”), etc.
French Filler Words That Aren’t Words
Some French filler words aren’t even really “words” in their own right. They’re not like words that you can find in the dictionary and use in other contexts. They look more like sounds or syllables than like real words. That doesn’t keep them from continuing to inject themselves into our conversations. This is the case for hein, an equivalent of “huh” often found at the end of a sentence, as in c’est vrai, hein (“it’s true, huh”).
The list is long: oh, eh, euh, hum… They come from spoken French, which is why there isn’t just one way to spell them. Other variants are found in written French, such as heu, um, hm, hmm, etc.
When To Use Filler Words
There’s nothing to be ashamed of when using French filler words. They make it possible to distinguish between fluency in a language and near-native bilingualism. French filler words also gain you a bit of time when you’re searching for a word. And when you’re learning a new language, you often need extra time to express your ideas. It’s completely normal to need to search for certain words, even if you’ve learned them. By prolonging what you’re saying with a few filler words, you give yourself the time need to think about how to say it. One recommendation: Don’t hesitate to add a little pause or multiple filler words in a row.
Bref… donc, en fait… hier, j’ai pris le métro et du coup… (Anyway… so, in fact… yesterday I took the metro and so…”)
Filler words can add a level of comfort and are part of a commonly understood system that encourages small talk and discussion. They’re like buoys in a sea of words. Languages in general don’t like pauses, empty spaces and silence in the flow of conversation.
Filler words let you add some hedging in a discussion. After all, c’est clair (“it’s clear”) or j’avoue (“I admit”) are good ways to avoid commitment. You can protect yourself in a conversation that drags on and turns into a monologue of the person you’re talking to. And you can also pretend that you’ve understood everything! It’s not the most courageous, but the temptation to hide behind a filler word when you don’t know what to answer can be great.
Put simply, filler words boost your self-confidence. Using filler words in French is a way to feel more at least with the language. Despite all these advantages, criticism of filler words remains strong. Some people complain that they’re used too much, and that they’re “trendy.” To some extent, they’re right: filler words are a kind of trend. The words used today aren’t the same as the ones used yesterday. Just look at the success of certain words like wesh (“yo”). They might be too much in some professional and academic contexts.
In any case, filler words cannot be considered to be errors or symptoms of language being degraded. They’re a true asset, and they prove how alive language is. To speak is to make mistakes. The most important thing isn’t to avoid making mistakes, it’s to be able to communicate and make yourself understood. You’ve made a resolution to learn a language? Well, make mistakes, but make them with French filler words.