So you’ve decided to pick up the French language—congratulations! But wait… are you staring down unending lists of French vocabulary? That’s no good! If you’re already feeling lost or overwhelmed on your learning journey, we’re here to fix that. Here are 20 basic French words you can use in real, everyday life, starting right now. Discover a typical day in the life of a French person, our very own French teacher, Lucie, and the words she uses on a daily basis. There’s nothing like putting French vocabulary words in real-world contexts to help you remember them! Allons-y!
When people start learning French, there are usually a few words and phrases they already know from hearing them in movies or reading them online. But their “French” sounds something like this:
- Bonjour mon ami ! J’adore Paris !
- Une baguette s’il vous plaît.
- Voulez-vous coucher…
Stop! 🙅♀️ That’s way too cliché! (Not to mention that the last one is sort of vulgar…) If you really want to learn everyday French—the French you need to be able to communicate—it’s better to memorize useful words. What are the most useful French words? Let’s go through an ordinary day in the life of a native French speaker and find out!
To hear them pronounced à la française, scroll down to the bottom of this article and watch Lucie’s instructive and entertaining video.
We’ll start with a basic French word that’s a little tricky to pronounce (so be sure to listen to Lucie’s perfect pronunciation in her video!), but is extremely useful for situating events in time. It’s the word aujourd’hui, which means “today.”
For example: “Aujourd’hui c’est dimanche.”
(Today is Sunday.)
This is a useful word for making plans: “On se retrouve à 16h aujourd’hui ?” (Shall we meet at 4:00 p.m. today? or See you at 4:00 p.m. today.)
The next word is le matin.
You start your day in the morning, hopefully after a great night’s sleep. If today (aujourd’hui) happens to be Sunday, you might want to start your morning (matin) off with a trip to the bakery, known in French as…
La boulangerie, mmmm, can you smell those delicious French breads and pastries? You probably already know some French food vocabulary, like baguette. But if you’re headed to the boulangerie on a Sunday morning, we recommend getting a few flaky, buttery, delicious croissants!
I’m sure you’ve heard of a croissant, but you’re probably used to pronouncing it in a very Anglicized manner—”kruh-sant” or maybe “kwa-saunt.”
If you listen to Lucie say this word in her video, you might not even recognize it! The letters T and S at the end of words are silent. So, you should say, “croissan,” not “croissanTS.”
Similarly, the first E in words that end in “-erie” isn’t usually pronounced. Therefore, most French speakers, except those who live in the south of France, drop the E in “boulangErie.”
Unfortunately, once you’ve enjoyed your coffee and croissants, it means the weekend is nearly over. Demain is Monday!
You guessed it, demain means “tomorrow”! It’s another very useful expression of time.
Here’s an example: “Tu fais quoi demain?”
(What are you doing tomorrow?)
If tomorrow is Monday, you’re probably headed to the office—au bureau.
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If you work in an office, you can use aller au bureau as a synonym for the verb travailler, “to work.” Now that you know this, add some variety into your speech and alternate between “Je vais travailler” and “Je vais au bureau.”
And of course, if you want to get off on the right foot on Monday matin, you’d better make sure you arrive on time! Here’s how to say “on time” in French:
Don’t be late! Arrive à l’heure.
If you live in a city, you might take public transportation to get to work—especially if you live in France. There are buses, metros, and even trams to help people get around. But before you hop on, you’ll need a ticket!
Un ticket de bus, un ticket de métro…
- “Bonjour Monsieur, un ticket s’il vous plaît !” (Hello sir, one ticket, please!)
- “Un aller-simple s’il vous plait” (A one-way ticket, please)
Once you’ve worked hard all matin, it’s time for a break! Lunchtime! And in France, your lunch break usually begins at noon, or midi.
Of course, not everyone clocks out at noon on the dot, but people still use this word to refer to their lunch break and meal: le repas du midi, or le déjeuner.
For example: “On mange ensemble ce midi ?”
(Do you want to have lunch together today?)
You can either eat at the office or at a restaurant. In the second case, have a look at the menu or ask the waiter what they are serving, so that you can choose your meal.
Some restaurants offer a menu du jour. This is the menu of the day, with a special dish that changes every day. The regular menu does not change. It is also called la carte.
Now that you’ve enjoyed a delicious meal, it’s time to pay. To do so, ask for l’addition.
L’addition is what you get at the end of a meal, which tells you how much you owe: the check.
You may have seen people shout “Garçon!” in movies to get the waiter’s attention, but that’s very outdated (and rude, if your waiter isn’t male, since “garçon” means “boy”)! Instead, make eye contact with your waiter or waitress or raise your hand so that they see you, and say, “L’addition, s’il vous plaît.” Don’t forget to smile!
Another place to get food is au marché. Au marché, you can find fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables, cheese, bread, sausage and charcuterie, fish, and more!
Plus, the market is a great place to meet people living in your area!
How do you say “people” in French? Learners almost always say des personnes because it’s what you learn in school. It’s correct, but more often than not, native French speakers use des gens. It’s much more natural for them.
When you go au marché, you’re sure to meet plenty of nice gens. (Don’t forget, the S is silent!)
Un truc is a more casual way to say une chose—a thing. This could be an object, an event, an action… it’s a super useful word because you can use it to refer to nearly anything! Practical for getting around specific words that you don’t know, or if you have a vocabulary brain fart!
So asking “C’est quoi ce truc ?” is the same as “C’est quoi cette chose ?” (What is that thing?). Most French speakers use truc when referring to something they aren’t able to identify. You can also ask, “C’est quoi ça ?” (What is that?) and point to the object in question.
If you don’t understand the question, you can say: “Comment ?” (Pardon?)
“Comment ?” is the best way to ask someone to repeat themselves if you don’t understand. You can also say: “Vous pouvez répéter ?” (Can you repeat that?) It’s correct, don’t get me wrong! But “Comment ?”, is much more natural sounding. It’s what native speakers use on a daily basis.
One piece of advice, though: don’t use “Quoi ?” (What?). It’s too direct and can even come off as rude (just like in English).
Well, the day is finally over. It is 7:00 p.m. and evening has come.
Le soir comes at the end of the day, after le matin and l’après-midi but before la nuit.
Le soir is also your time to relax. So you send un texto to a friend. Un texto is a text message. Some people also call this un SMS or simply un message.
Maybe you’d like to send a text to un(e) ami(e), a friend, asking if they’d like to go out somewhere.
For instance: “Salut ! On sort ce soir ? Tu es libre à 20h ?”
(Hey! Want to go out tonight? Are you free at 8:00?)
You can also use the word copain for a male friend and copine for a female friend.
⚠️ But be careful! Depending on the context, copain/copine can also mean a romantic partner. If you say, “Voici mon ami Ryan” (This is my friend Ryan), it means you’re friends, nothing more. But if you say, “Voici mon copain Ryan” (This is my boyfriend Ryan), it means you’re dating.
Speaking of amis, there are also some words in French that are “faux amis,” or “false friends.” They look like English words you know, but they are sure to trip you up if you don’t memorize them. Read all about these false cognates in French to be sure they don’t trick you!
Finally, l’amour, the last word on our list of basic French words you need to know. The French are known for being romantic, so the word amour, love, is essential!
Be sure to learn its pronunciation very carefully. If you pronounce it l’humour (humor) or, even worse, la mort (death), you’ll be talking about something very different!
Watch Lucie’s video and practice all of the words you just learned! It’s in French, to give you the opportunity to work on your listening comprehension skills but feel free to turn on subtitles in French, English, German, Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese. Click the Settings gear to toggle them on and off and change the playback speed as needed.
If you enjoyed this article and are ready to take on some more advanced French vocab, here’s some suggested reading.
Beginners, right this way:
- How to Say “You” in French | Tu vs. Vous [VIDEO]
- Knowing Numbers in French Is Handy… For Counting Glasses of Wine!
Intermediate learners, here’s how to beat the intermediate plateau:
- Learn French “Verlan” (Secret French Slang) [VIDEO]
- French Slang: 10 French slang expressions you need to know if you want to get native speakers on your side
- How to Give a Toast in French… 🥂 Cheers to that!
Advanced learners, try your hand at these fun French words:
- Ones to Avoid, Ones That Will Trick You, Ones That You’ll Never be Able to Pronounce: the most annoying French words on the planet
- And once you’re nice and irritated, check out The Surprising Meaning of the Most Beautiful French Words, 10 positively gorgeous French words and what they mean