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Language registers: Speak the right French at the right time.

Dernière mise à jour : 29 mars

In French, there are 3 registers of language ("registres de langue"), also called "levels" of language: "niveaux de langues": standard, casual and formal. It is important to know how to differentiate them in order to speak the right French in the right context and avoid embarrassing situations!


For example, if you use familiar expressions with your friends (informal context), your French will seem more "natural" because that is how native speakers use it. But if you use these same familiar expressions in a job interview or a business meeting (formal context), it becomes a problem! So you have to adapt your language level to each situation.



Standard French


It can be used with everybody, in a formal or informal context, without any problem or misunderstanding.


Example: Il vit dans une belle maison. (He lives in a beautiful house.)




Casual French (informal conversation)


It is used in an informal context, with your friends, or maybe your family (it depends on the families, it is not accepted by everyone)

It is mainly used in spoken form, that's why you often hear this register in the movies or TV shows.


Example: Il vit dans une baraque canon.


Here, “une baraque” means “une maison” in an informal way.


The adjective “canon” means “beau” or “belle” (beautiful, gorgeous) or "incroyable" (amazing). It can be used to speak about someone (“Cette femme est canon”: this woman is gorgeous), something (“Ta voiture est canon”: your car looks amazing) or even a moment, an event (“Mes vacances en Italie étaient canons !”: My vacation in Italy was amazing!).




Formal French


It is mostly used in wriwritten form (by email or mail) and in a formal context.


Example : Il réside dans une demeure cossue. (He resides in a luxurious house.)


There are many formal expressions and formulas that is good to know if you need to write in French, especially in a professional context.


Read our article about the formal letter to improve your formal French!



What are the differences between the 3 registers?


1. Syntax (the structure of the sentence) is different according to the register.


For example, you have probably learned that to make a negation, you must place “ne” and “pas” on either side of the verb ("Je ne sais pas": I do not know).


In the casual register, you do not pronounce the "ne" of the negation ("Je sais pas"). If you want to speak like a native, you can "forget" this "ne" and your French will sound more natural.



2. Pronunciation


In the casual register, the personal pronoun "tu" is not pronounced in full when it is followed by a vowel.


Instead of saying “tu as fait quoi hier soir ?” (what did you do last night?), say: “T’as fait quoi hier soir ?“.


Same process with “je”: “j’fais du sport tous les jours“, “j’t’appelle ce soir“, “j’sais pas“. (I work out everyday, I call you tonight, I don't know)



3. Some words are cut! (casual French)


Examples :

Un restaurant ➡️ un resto

Un examen ➡️ un exam

Un ordinateur ➡️ un ordi

Un appartement ➡️ un appart

La faculté ➡️ la fac



4. You will also not use the same vocabulary depending on the register you need to use.


The French books used in French classes mainly teach standard French, sometimes formal French. This can be a problem for students who don't understand anything when they listen to native speakers talking!


Casual/informal French (slang) contains many varied, very popular expressions that should be known to understand better native French-speakers.


Here are some examples of the most frequent expressions:

Standard French

Slang

Formal French

Translation

Une voiture

Une caisse / une bagnole

Une automobile

A car

La nourriture, un plat

La bouffe

Un mets

Food

J'ai faim.

J'ai la dalle.

Mon estomac crie famine.

I'm hungry.

Un livre

Un bouquin

Un ouvrage

A book

Une maison

Une baraque / une case

Une demeure

A house

Aimer

J'ai beaucoup aimé le restaurant.

Kiffer

J'ai trop kiffé le resto.

Apprécier

J'ai beaucoup apprécié les mets servis au restaurant.

To like

Un homme

Un mec / un type / un gars

Un individu de sexe masculin

A man

Une femme

Une meuf / une nana / une gonzesse

Un individu de sexe féminin

A woman

Un enfant

Un gosse / un môme / un gamin / un mioche

-

A child

Voler

Il s'est fait voler sa voiture.

Chourer / chouraver

Il s'est fait chourer sa caisse

Dérober

Un individu lui a dérobé son véhicule.

To steal

Perdre

Paumer

Égarer

To lose

De l'argent

De la thune / du pognon / du fric

-

Money

Beaucoup

Cet homme a beaucoup d'argent.

Une blinde

Ce mec a une blinde de thune.

-

A lot

La police

Les flics / les keufs / les poulets

Les forces de l'ordre

Police

Fatigué

Crevé / mort

Las

Tired

Slang vocabulary is very vast. It also includes "swearwords" and insults, very vulgar, which must be absolutely avoided.


There is also verlan: a form of slang that consists of reversing the order of syllables in a word... Discover our article on this subject!


If you have any doubts about an expression and do not know if you can use it and/or in what context, you can ask your teacher or consult a slang dictionary, which gives more details.



To go further


You want to improve your French at your own pace? Our private lessons are made for you!


You prefer to practice with other people? Join our online group courses!





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