French Phrases


When you want a character to sound pretentious, nothing beats a nice turn of French. Somehow, American writers (and readers) associate all things French with money, pretense, and culture. It’s quite the mix of responses, a “love-hate” relationship with France. If you want a character with class, or one completely without class, French is a wonderful tool.

– Words and Phrases –

affaire de coeur - love affair

au contraire - to the contrary

au fait - possessing practical knowledge of a thing

au revoir - until we meet again

autre temps, autres moeurs - other times, other customs

avec plaisir - with pleasure

bête noire - a thing especially disliked

bon jour - good day; hello

bon soir - goodnight

bourgeoisie - middle-class, materialistic

c’est-à-dire - that is to say

c’est la vie - such is life

chacun à son goût - each to his own taste

coup de grâce - death blow

coûte que coûte - cost what it cost

dégagé - without emotional links

de trop - too much or too many

dernier ressort - last option

Dieu avec nous - God is with us

Dieu défend le droit - God defends the right

en plein jour - In full daylight; openly

en rapport - in sympathy

fait accompli - accomplished fact; finished act

femme de chambre - chambermaid

fête champêtre - outdoor festival

gardez la foi - keep the faith

grand monde - world at large; refined society

honi soit qui mal y pense - evil be with him who has evil thoughts

ici on parle français - French is spoken here

jeu de mots - play on words; a pun

jeu d’esprit - play of wit

j’y suis, j’y reste - here I am, here I stay

le roi est mort, vive le roi - The king is dead, long live the king.

le style, c’est l’homme - the style is the man

mise en scène - setting; environment; the stage

mon ami - my friend; my love (friendly)

n’est ce pas? - isn’t that so?

nom de guerre - assumed name

objet d’art - object of art

peu de chose - a small matter

pièce de résistance - the primary event; main reason; principal meal

pis aller - last resort

quand même - nevertheless; nonetheless

qui s’excuse, s’accuse - he who excuses himself, accuses himself

raison d’état - for the good of the country

raison d’être - reason for being

sans peur et sans reproche - without fear, without reproach

sans souci - carefree

tant mieux, tant pis - so much the better, so much the worse

voilà - look or see



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Writer: C. S. Wyatt
Updated: 30-Nov-2013
Editor: S. D. Schnelbach