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5 French Onomatopoeias Commonly Used in Conversation Posted by on Apr 13, 2015 in Vocabulary

Last year, MTaulier wrote a great post on some French onomatopées. Make sure to check it out to learn about the different kinds of onomatopoeias in French.

Today, I want to focus on something a little different: a certain kind of French onomatopoeia that is commonly used in conversation. Because French is very expressive, many of these little onomatopoeic sounds are common in conversation and express real feelings, although they are not proper words themselves.

Here are five French onomatopoeias commonly used in conversation:

1. Bof is a common example of such onomatopoeic sounds — it doesn’t mean anything per se, but expresses discontent or disinterest. Sometimes a French speaker will say bof while shaking his or head or turning up his or her hands. This sound is very frequent in common parlance.

Example: Bof, je m’en fous complètement (Hmm, I don’t care at all) or bof, il est trop tard for ça maintenant! (well, it’s too late for that now!).

2. Ou la la is one you are probably familiar with. However, many English speakers don’t realize how common (and versatile!) ou la la really is in conversation. It expresses surprise or concern, or can even indicate that the speaker is impressed.

Example: Ou la lamais c’est incroyable! (Wow, it’s incredible!) or Ou la la, tu n’as rien fait toi! (Wow, you didn’t do anything, did you?).

3. Ben and bah (both are pronounced similarly to bah) are also common onomatopoeic sounds. Oftentimes you will hear them proceeding oui or non.  There is some argument about whether there is a difference in modern French between the meanings of these sounds, but the easiest response is that they both can signify either hesitation or obviousness depending on intonation.

Example: “Tu aimes les vacances?” “Ben oui!” (“Do you like vacation? Of course!) or Bah dis donc, ça n’a pas l’air d’aller! (Well, things don’t seem to be going well!)

4. Miam miam is an onomatopoeia that expresses the idea of eating. It is often used as so-called baby talk when adults talk to children. But it is also commonly used to express that something looks delicious.

Example: Miam miam, ça a l’air bon! (That looks delicious!)

5. Aïe is the French exclamation of pain, which would be the equivalent of the English “ow” or “ouch”. But it can also be used to express something that could be figuratively painful (or worrying) as well, especially when used three times in succession.

Example: Aïe, tu m’as fait mal! (Ouch, you hurt me!) or Aïe, aïe, aïe, tu vas t’en prendre plein la gueule! (Oh man, you’re really going to get it!)


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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!


  1. Max:

    There’s a little mistake in your article : “bof, je m’en fouS complètement” instead of “je m’en fou complètement”

    fou is an adjective that stands for “crazy” while “fous” comes from the verb “foutre” which is slang for “mettre/moquer” 🙂

    • Elizabeth Schmermund:

      @Max Thank you for catching that, Max! It has been corrected.

  2. Gala Fell:

    This actually answered my problem, thanks!