Just £2 per issue Subscribe to one of our France Magazines click here

French words you can’t translate into English

PUBLISHED: 12:48 25 April 2017 | UPDATED: 12:48 25 April 2017

French words you can't translate © encrier / Thinkstockphotos

French words you can't translate © encrier / Thinkstockphotos


French is a very expressive language and there are just some words and phrases that there is no English equivalent for, these are some of our favourites

L’appel du vide

This describes the inexplicable urge you feel to jump when standing on the edge of a cliff. It is sometimes translated as ‘call of the void’.

Bon vivant

A term to describe someone who lives well, often someone who enjoys good food and wine and socialising.

Chanter en yaourt

This is an expression for someone singing in a foreign language and getting the words wrong or filling in the words with noises. It literally translates as ‘singing in yoghurt’. We’ve all done it but who knew there was an expression for it!


This can be used to describe somebody’s home or business, or even town/city/country – chez moi (my house/home) – or to say you are among a group – chez les français (among the French) – or to describe someone’s body of work – chez Voltaire (Voltaire’s work).


Related articles

Bizarre French superstitions you should know about

Ways you can learn French for free



This describes the feeling of disorientation you experience when in a foreign country, a form of culture shock.

La douleur exquise

This describes the heart-wrenching pain of unrequited love and literally translates as ‘the exquisite pain’. It is such a good way of describing the feeling that doesn’t have an English equivalent that there was even an episode of Sex and the City called ‘La douler exquise’.


This is a catch-all word to describe a last-minute change of plans, for example a hold-up or hitch, without actually explaining what happened. A good one to use next time you are late for work!

L’esprit de l’escalier

This literally translates as ‘staircase wit’ and is that moment when you come up with the perfect witty remark after the moment has passed, usually several hours later!


Someone who leisurely strolls with no particular purpose. This word developed in the 19th century among the literary set of Paris to describe the art of strolling through the streets of Paris with no particular goal.


Related articles

27 things you need to know about French food etiquette

French words you are pronouncing incorrectly



To eat and appreciate good food and drink – trust the French to have a word for that!


This wonderfully expressive phrase is used to express frustration or annoyance or to describe a feeling of despair. It literally translates as ‘a bowl full of it’.


This describes the feeling of happiness on meeting someone again who you haven’t seen for a long time and is often used for long-distance relationships.


This is a person who you can take anywhere without worrying about being embarrassed – we all known someone like that (and probably some of the opposite type of people too!).


The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Complete France visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Complete France staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Complete France account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Article by France Magazine France Magazine

More from Language and Culture

Friday, April 7, 2017

As Paris marks 100 years since Rodin’s death, we look back at an artist who rebelled against idealised forms of art and instead introduced innovative methods that inspired the modern era

Read more
Monday, March 6, 2017

To celebrate International Women’s Day we’ve chosen 10 famous French women who have left their mark on history. How many have you heard of and who else would you add to the list?

Read more
Monday, November 21, 2016

Veggies, rejoice! Paris has plenty of exciting vegetarian restaurants serving delicious and healthy veggie dishes. Caroline Harrap chooses some of her favourite

Read more
Monday, July 18, 2016

The chic resort of Saint-Tropez is a food lover’s paradise with restaurants for all budgets. Here is our pick of places to eat

Read more
Provence-Alpes-Cote d Azur
Tuesday, April 4, 2017

One of the best-known faces and voices in British broadcasting, Angela Rippon reveals why she loves having a holiday home on the French Riviera and the other celebrities who live nearby

Read more
Provence-Alpes-Cote d Azur
Wednesday, March 1, 2017

British chef James Martin reveals his favourite French recipes and how he ended up driving round France in a 2CV for his latest TV show

Read more
Tue, 12:48

French is a very expressive language and there are just some words and phrases that there is no English equivalent for, these are some of our favourites

Read more
Learning French
Tue, 11:40

From saying what it is you are looking for to asking for something in another colour, here is the essential French vocabulary for a successful shopping trip in France

Read more
Learning French

French food has a reputation for being rich and hearty, and that’s why we love it. But these classic dishes will let you indulge in French cuisine without counting the calories. Bon appétit!

Read more
French recipes
Thursday, April 20, 2017

Savoy-trained chef Guy Wolley shares his recipe for this classic seafood stew that’s perfect for a summertime dinner party

Read more
French recipes

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now