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I was curious as to how to translate some "filler words" that often appear in English speech but might not translate literally into French.

For example, I might often say, "I guess," when talking about something, but not only when I want to express doubt. It could also mean being passive about the topic, or even not have much meaning – just filling in extra space. "Like" plays a similar role (but I don't hear French people saying « comme » as much).

I'd also be interested in hearing some unique French expressions that have a similar feeling but might not translate well into English. I think that these kinds of words can help bring personality into dialogue.

P.S. Is there a linguistic term for these types of words/expressions that don't add much contextually but end up in speech somehow?

  • This is a broad topic. Providing some in-context examples might help trigger the imagination for answers. – Chop Sep 21 '15 at 5:23
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    " 'I guess' I can come up with something. I don't 'even' know what you're looking for. This is 'sort of' what I was thinking of." How is that? – Bonjour Sep 21 '15 at 5:46
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    Some starters: thefrenchexperiment.com/learn-french/fillers.php – Chop Sep 21 '15 at 17:03
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    The English term is filler words. – Gilles Sep 21 '15 at 21:07
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    @Gilles: In a teaching environment most people would rather just say "gap fillers". – Laure Sep 22 '15 at 12:40
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I dunno about Europe, but in Quebec the standard filler words are tsé (for tu sais) and genre, the latter of which is usually seen as the lower-key one.

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    Same in France, also, "tu vois", "en fait", "bon", "enfin" and the famous "euh". – jlliagre Sep 21 '15 at 7:33
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    "Quoi" is also often used as filler, at the end of a sentence. – Fatalize Sep 21 '15 at 8:33
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    @Fatalize True, but that's a France thing I think. You won't hear that in Québec. Like English Canadians supposedly add "eh" at the end of sentences. – Jacque Goupil Sep 21 '15 at 13:00
  • @JacqueGoupil Didn't know it wasn't a thing in Québec, because it's quite pervasive in France. – Fatalize Sep 21 '15 at 13:01
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    @hunter Are you sure about that? Puis/pis is not a word I've seen used that way. It shows up as a conjunction, a replacement for et. – Circeus Sep 22 '15 at 12:15
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This Wikipedia article about filler words lists the following ones for French (emphasis mine):

euh /ø/ is most common; other words used as fillers include quoi ("what"), bah, ben ("well"), tu vois ("you see"), t'vois c'que j'veux dire? ("you see what I mean?"), tu sais, t'sais ("you know"), and eh bien (roughly "well", as in "Well, I'm not sure"). Outside France other expressions are t'sais veux dire? ("ya know what I mean?"; Québec), or allez une fois ("go one time"; especially in Brussels, not in Wallonia). Additional filler words used by youngsters include genre ("kind"), comme ("like"), and style ("style"; "kind").

As a native French speaker, these all look correct to me.


In passing (I was looking for this when I stumbled upon this thread), it turns out a filler (word) would be called a mot de remplissage or mot bouche-trou in French.

Filler words can be used to articulate speech and become more fluent.

Now, undesirable filler words and expressions are called tics de langage (link to the French article on the topic, with examples).

  • Glue all that together and you have a typical teenager's sentence. – ssimm Feb 16 '17 at 12:11
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The standard and less classy one are "heu" (er), "quoi/hein" (what), "bah/ben/bien" (well).

But you can also use some basic one :

  • "En fait", "au fond", (in fact...)
  • "En vérité" (verily...)
  • "Alors" (So, then)
  • "Vous savez/Tu sais" (You know)
  • "Vous voyez/Tu vois" (You see)
  • "Croyez-moi/Crois-moi" (Believe me)
  • "hein" (okay)
  • You can always use swear words as filler in any language if you're brave enough.

Then they are the less obvious one and the list is endless. If you want political level fillers (aka langue de bois) you can watch this video (in french) of a full speech improvisation with only 17 base concept.

  • « hein ? » is also an interjection, meaning : "what ?" – Stéphane Sep 6 '16 at 15:53
  • Je ne pense pas que en fait, alors, etc. ont le même statut que /bah ouias/ ou hein etc. etc. etc. – Lambie Sep 6 '16 at 17:02
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Some of these French filler words are very common and sometimes very ugly:

In the 80's and the 90's, most people used to say "pis bon ben" between two sentences, an ugly contraction of "puis, bon eh bien".

Nowadays, "pis bon ben" has mostly disappeared, but it's been replaced by another ugly terminator: "(...)Mais bon, voilà, quoi".

  • Nanani nanana, quoi. – Destal Sep 6 '16 at 12:44
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"Tu vois?" has been mentioned numerous times above, but I frequently hear it as "Tu ahh" which for me is like "Tu as" - you have. However I've been re-assured by many French they are saying "Tu vois"!

I live in Lyon, France.

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