French Language Blog

French: Regional Variants Posted by on Oct 17, 2016 in Uncategorized, Vocabulary

It’s easy to forget that French is a living language that is in a constant state of flux. We know this to be true, of course, because of new words that are added to the French dictionary each year, or the development of verlan.


But sometimes it is easy to forget that language is very much based on geographical location and culture, and that the French spoken in one area of France (or Belgium, or Canada, or Haiti, or Luxembour, or Niger) can be very different from the French spoken in another area. At one point, of course, the language spoken was close to the “standardized” French of the time, but as time went on and the language was integrated into various cultures, it became something new and unique.

John has already delved into Candian French (particularly québécois) on the blog. Today, let’s focus on French and Belgian variants of the language.

The French spoken around within France, which is also referred to as “standard French,” is called Metropolitan French. Of course, while the language is the same there are many variances in pronunciations and terms. Typically, French learners are taught Parisian French because its pronunciation is viewed as more “standard” (although this is certainly debatable and has to do with the economic and cultural/political history of France). Meridonal French, or Southern French, is mutually intelligible for speakers of Parisian and Meridonal French, although it differs in pronunciation and expressions. For example, in Meridonal French, the ends of certain words (particularly “e” endings) are pronounced more than in Parisian French. Also, Southern France has particular expressions and food terms, including the southwestern term chocolatine for pain au chocolat, that differ.

In Belgian French, there are some more differences from standard French, although Belgian French and Metropolitan/Meridonal French are mutually intelligible. For example, French-speaking Belgians typically do not ask if you “can” (pouvoir) do something but if you “know” (savoir) how to do something. For example, it would be common in Belgium to say, “Est-ce que tu sais m’appeler?” To a French speaker in French, this might seem insulting (of course I know how to call you!), but the Belgian speaker is just using the verb savoir instead of pouvoir.

Of course, the most well-known difference between Belgian French and Metropolitan French is in numbers. Instead of saying soixante-dix (70), quatre-vingt (80), quatre-vingt-dix (90), Belgian French speakers will say septante, octante, nonante.

Do you know any other regional differences between the French spoken across France and in Belgium?

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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. Bev Wilkinson:

    In Switzerland they say ‘huitante’ (80) which to me is highly logical!

  2. A.M. Zubere:

    I don’t have an examples of specific differences in Alsatian French but i do know that Parisians make fun of the Alsatians’ French accent, no doubt because of the inflection of the Alsatian’s Germanic dialect (Alemannia).