6 French Phrases We Need in English

Le Français n’est-il pas une belle langue?

Of course it is! If you’re a polyglot, linguist, or just a fan of picking up spare languages for funsies, you know that French is easily the most beautifully subtle of the Romance languages. If you can’t speak the language conversationally, at least, you might consider learning French! It’s a wonderful way to acclimatize yourself to a new culture, and hey—who doesn’t find a bilinguist more interesting?

If you’re a fan of linguistics, though, you also know how frequently beautiful, meaningful and impactful phrases from one language have no direct correlation in another language! With that in mind, we’ve scraped together a list of six wonderful French phrases that we need to adapt en Anglais. A great little boost if you’re finding it hard to allocate time for your Rosetta stone subscription.

Our List of French Phrases

L’ésprit d’escalier

Often translated literally as “staircase wit,” l’ésprit d’escalier is a scenario in which you think of the absolute perfect comeback or retort long after your battle of wits has concluded. We’ve all been there! French philosopher Denis Diderot coined the phrase upon realizing that making egress from an argument was the only way that he could think of a suitable retort.

french phrases - rave
a little too late, a retort you should have given

La douleur exquise

An experience that most of us have surely felt, translated as “the exquisite pain”—the longing of unrequited love! The heartache of wanting somebody that does not want you back is perfectly encapsulated with this phrase, and it only makes sense that the French would think it up.

french phrases - ocean


An intensely French sentiment, to “flâner” is to wander the streets of a city—or, more specifically, Paris—without a destination or goal in mind; wandering simply to take in and enjoy the city. One who engages in such an activity is known as a flâneur—and as pretentious as it might sound, we certainly won’t advise against taking an aimless stroll through the streets of Paris!

french phrases - wander
flâner, waltzing aimlessly through the streets of Paris

L’appel du vide

Translated literally as “the call of the void,” l’appel du vide is a distinctly macabre impulse that many of us have felt at least once: the sudden, inexplicable desire to leap from a very great height, perhaps when staring out over the edge of a cliff, or standing on top of a very tall building. Unlike those who flâner, we will have to discourage you from jumping off of a cliff any time soon!

french phrases - cliff
L’appel du vide. the call of the void


To cartonner is to converse about a piece of media—such as a film, television show, book or song—that has achieved great success, as in “le film cartonne aux états-unis.” Translated literally, cartonner means “to wrap in cardboard.”

french phrases - book
Cartonner, let’s talk about it


We’ve saved the best for last! This peculiar phrase has no direct translation in English, but can best be described as, “I’ve had it up to here with…” when expressed as: j’en ai ras le bol de…

Ras-le-bol is a sense of annoyance, frustration and exasperation. It can also be used to describe a feeling of despair—a notion that we can all certainly empathize with, even if we can’t directly translate the words!

Well, that’s all she wrote! Six fantastic French phrases guaranteed to delight. We’re sure you agree that each of these should have more direct translations in English, but regardless, you can now begin slipping these gems into your day-to-day vernacular, on us!

french phrases - dog
Ras-le-bol, ain’t nobody got time for that #annoyed

And if you enjoy speaking such a beautiful language now and again, consider learning French! It’s a wonderful language, full of delightful euphemisms and expressions, and even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect, if you can have a full-blown conversation with a native Parisian the next time you visit France, you’ll be sure to impress!


 And if you’re trying to spruce up your already existing French, you can find dealz on Babbel, edx, or coursera so you can learn this beautifully handy language for less. 


Author: Billie Hauk

24-year-old Tennessee local yokel, part-time LGBTQ+ journalist and blogger.

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