In my years of teaching, I’ve noticed intermediate learners often focus on vocabulary acquisition and perfect grammar, which makes them sound way too formal and unnecessarily polite. If you have been learning French for a while, you probably want to know how to sound more natural. The French language differs massively between its spoken and written forms. And at time, the difference between you sounding like a 90-year-old grandpa and perfectly natural lies in just a few tricks. 


1. Drop that ne

Je ne comprends pas. Je ne parle pas français. That’s all it takes for a native to know you are not fluent in French. 

French negative sentences and English ones have very different structures, and although you must keep a negative word before the verb in English, in French you don’t. 

French people often skip the ne in negative sentences, especially in casual and informal situations. 

Teacher tip: this applies to any negative structure, not only ne…pas 

Correct formal version Informal spoken version  English translation 
Je ne sais pas  Je sais pas  I don’t know 
Elle n’habite pas chez moi.  Elle habite pas chez moi  She doesn’t live in my house.
Tu ne manges jamais de viande, si? Tu manges jamais de viande, si? You never eat meat, do you? 

2. Shorten your pronouns 

Another tip to sound fluent in French is to shorten the pronouns you use. Je and Tu often get shortened in spoken French. 

First, you can review your French pronouns in this blog post

Je -> J’

Je ne sais pas -> J’sais pas
I don't know

Tu -> T’ 

Tu habites où? -> T’habites où? 
Where do you live?

Similarly, the il disappears when using il y a, there is/are in French. 

Il -> Y (in il y a and its variations)

Il n’y a rien à manger à la maison -> Y’a rien à manger à la maison
There is nothing to eat at home. 

On est allés en voyage récemment, mais il n’y avait rien d’intéressant à faire dans cette ville. -> On est allés en voyage récemment, mais y avait rien d’intéressant à faire dans cette ville. (Notice the drop of the negative ne as well)
We went travelling recently, but there wasn't anything interesting in that city.

3. Add some sounds

French people are known for adding a lot of sounds when speaking and it’s important to know their meaning to make you sound like a native. 

Sound English equivalent (if there is one) When it’s used
euh  Umm When thinking or linking sentences 
bof  Meh – when something is not completely right when you’re not feeling great when you’re unsure you want to do something but probably don’t want to do it 
ben/bah Well When starting a sentence, when you’re thinking 
ah ouais Wow To show surprise in any context 


4. Know which linking words are spoken and which ones are written

The linking words that we use when speaking and when writing are different. While in an essay you won’t shy away from dropping a little thus, doing the same when speaking will make everyone stare at you. French is just the same. I put together some examples of spoken connection words, their written equivalent, and example sentences to let you master spoken French. 

Spoken Written
Par contre
J’adore ses chaussures. Par contre, j’aime pas du tout sa robe. I like her shoes. But I really don’t like her dress.
Cependant / en revanche 
L’entreprise a eu de bons résultats cette année. En revanche, l’année dernière a été plutôt difficile.  The company had good results this year. However, last year was quite difficult.
Alors / donc
Alors, tu lui as dit quoi? Et donc, tu lui as dit quoi? So, what did you tell her?
Ainsi / par conséquent
La température de ce pays est assez tempérée. Ainsi, ses habitants pratiquent souvent des activités de plein air.  This country’s temperature is quite mild. Therefore, its inhabitants often take part in outdoor activities.
Quand même
Il parle quand même trois langues, c’est pas mal.  He still speaks three languages, that’s not bad.
Tout de même
Les nombres de cette année sont tout de même décevants.
This year’s numbers are quite deceiving. 
Franchement, j’en ai marre!
Frankly, I’m done with this!
Je vous remercie sincèrement. I sincerely thank you. 


5. Stop using nous, start using the pronoun on

The French pronoun on tends to be downplayed by teachers, even though native speakers use it every single day. 

I don’t remember using nous to say we other than when writing an essay. 

Historically, nous was used by the King to talk about himself, referring to both himself and God in every sentence. It makes it an extremely formal and unnatural way of speaking, that we usually only use in academic writing and in occasional formal situations such as in the workplace. 

To sound more natural when speaking French, leave the nous behind and replace it with on. 

Just don’t forget to change the conjugation! 

Nous n’aimons pas ça -> on aime pas ça.
We don't like that. 

Nous préférons y aller demain -> on préfère y aller demain. 
We prefer not to go tomorrow. 


Extra: 6. Know your liaisons 

Sign up to the newsletter to know when the post about the liaisons comes out. You don’t want to miss this one! 

    Sounding natural in French is more tedious than one might think. It involves changing pronouns, knowing your negatives, and so much more. I hope this post helpful for any intermediate and advanced learners that are looking to sound like a native. 



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