I have been looking to speak more like natives and what I have found is that certain sources suggest the use of verlan words, such as meuf, zarbi, etc. Is it worth using these words in the place of standard vocabulary or just occasionally?

Or rather, should I maintain a generally formal way of speaking with the exception of certain words such as le frigo or l'appart for a more acceptable way of speaking - or is it fine enough to simply speak informally, such as by dropping the (ne) in most situations?

  • This is a gradual process, there comes a time when one can do the shortening I mentioned, but you want to be a pretty fluent speaker first. – Lambie Jan 22 '17 at 0:17

I would advise a non native speaker to avoid slang, colloquial or overly informal expressions until (s)he is familiar enough with the expected language registers depending on the situations. The speaker age of course matters also a lot here.

Being too formal, especially as a foreigner, is unlikely to be negatively perceived. We are actually used to hearing foreign people speaking formal French because it is often the only one being taught.

On the other hand, being too colloquial might bother some people. There is also a risk for other ones to make fun of you. In general, the best advice is to never be less formal than the person you talk with, and if you are fluent enough, to use the same level than them.

For example, if you are called tu, better not using vous but if you are called vous, or if you don't know how they will call you, never use tu. (Note that in Quebec, tu is much more common.) Zarbi would probably work in most situations, it's mainstream, funny and never offensive. Just avoid it if you are applying for a permis de séjour or being interviewed for a new job. On the other hand, meuf would be quite risky unless you are a teenager amongst other teenagers.

Similarly, if someone says:

T'y vas pas ?

and you want to reply, "no, I don't", better to say:

Non, j'y vais pas.


Non, je n'y vais pas.

If you are unlucky, the latter might be understood to mean under the cover "I speak a better French than you."


I would definitely avoid slang such as meuf, zarbi ... even among French people, not all of us usually speak like that. Even frigo and l'appart are not "mandatory" to speak French like natives. There is nothing wrong with saying "réfrigérateur" and "appartement". It is also not true that we always say "caisse" to mean "voiture" when we speak.

Besides, some slangs are markers of certain groups and times, so it is complicated - people in Paris might be familiar with some expressions that people in Marseille would not normally use, and vice-versa. I don't think there is a "standard" slang, although yes there are certainly more familiar expressions. Also, it depends on what kind of person you want to sound like: there are people who speak only in slang, and some people who insist on speaking more "correctly". It depends on the venue... the point being - maybe there is no such ready-made concept as "like a native", or at least, I don't think there is one cookie-cutter way of sounding "like a native", that would be formulaic and that you could learn easily.

But in any case, I don't think you have to force yourself to use familiar or colloquial expressions to sound more "French" - even dropping the ne is not required. I would not make such a general statement as: "to speak like a native, you have to always drop the ne in negations".

I would recommend you learn to speak correctly first, and colloquialisms should take care of themselves in due time.


I'd say it really depends who you're talking to, and the impression you wanna leave on your interlocutor. Verlan for instance, or at least part of it, can be considered rough, especially by people in their 40s or above.

So i'd advice keeping with more common and widespread slung, as frigo, apart or even bagnole (voiture), as long as you can't know from watching how are the people you talk with gonna react to your way of talking.

But if you feel confie about learning to talk in different manners and adapting your vocabulary to the context, then learning your social strata's slung can really be both nice and fun ! As long as you can switch to common french, otherwise it's a handycap.

Example of slung and 'levels' of roughness : Un beau mec : widely accepted, even by my grandpa. Caisse : slighty rougher than bagnole. bouillave (to have sex) : just hardcore, if not in a rough urban youngs envirronement, dodge it !

  • Merci beaucoup pour cette réponse. C'est très bon! – Alex Collins Jan 21 '17 at 23:34
  • As an illustration, I didn't know "bouillave": not all French understand all slang... – Frank Jan 22 '17 at 1:18
  • Ca vient du romani, et ca a glissé vers le vocabulaire des banlieues, weshwesh ou scarla. Et j'ai beau le connaitre, je ne l'emploie jamais, sauf pour aller vers du 2nd degré vraiment gras. – m.raynal Jan 22 '17 at 9:30
  • Hé ben! Et le "scarla", c'est quoi? – Frank Jan 22 '17 at 18:02
  • lascar en verlan !!! wesh wesh c'est péjoratif de leur point de vue, ils préfèrent lascar .... ou scarla du coup ;) – m.raynal Jan 22 '17 at 18:39

Golden rule: don't use slang or very informal words until you're sure to know when to use them, by experience of speaking with young French people. You can do without them.

There's also something I want to stress out: There are not only two registers, there are (at least) three:

  • Formal: what is correct, you are taught in class and you find in books, but nobody speaks like that, except some politicians, and literature experts. It's mostly for written language.

  • Casual: day to day language. It's not too formal, it's not rude to anyone, it's how everyone speaks. For example, you'll almost always drop "ne"s, say "on" instead of "nous", don't use inversion in questions, etc. You can speak to you teacher like that (and they will speak to you like that too), but you can't write an assignment like that, like you can't write "gonna" in an essay.

  • "Super casual"/hip lingo: Mostly used by young people. This is where words like "meuf" and "zarbi" are. If you're an exchange student, you'll hear a lot of French student using that, and you can use it too if you're comfortable with it. But don't use it with teacher, or adults you want to be polite with in general.

So yeah, there's a middle group between speaking formally and using slang words you're not comfortable with. I wouldn't recommend using them (expect a few harmless exceptions like those you mentioned), but when you've heard them enough to be sure you're not using them wrong or with the wrong person, sure.


Verlan and slang change very very often. Especially if you talk to young people (can change every 2 or 3 years for instance), it is also sometimes very region-specific. (Paris, some suburbs, etc) So you always have to learn the new word to say that or this, because the old one is out of date, and you may look ridiculous by using it. That's the problem.

For instance, "Zarbi" to say "bizarre", is very outdated, it was used maybe 20 years ago (slang and especially verlan, change a lot according to your age, you may use a word, that will seem weird to another age group), but "meuf" is widely accepted as a slang synonym for "girl", a bit like "nana" and the English "chick".

My personal advise would be to learn these words, if you need to talk with people who use them, but not to use them out of context, with someone who is not as young as you, or with your boss, or with someone, even young, but who never use verlan...

Personnally, I like foreigners to try to be a bit formal, and find it a bit ridiculous when they try to hard to say a lot of verlan, but it's personal preference. Not all the young people use verlan. Some can make you look a little "racaille".

  • "Tu" depends on your age, and the age of the person you are talking to. Generally, you need to belong to the same generation.

It also depends on the context (professional, friendly, etc...). Some people may become very angry if you say "tu" to them (it happens).

If you're not sure, ask the person his/her preference. A lot of people have personal preferences.

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