Spoken vs Written French: The 5 Differences You Need to Know

 

 

spoken French written French differencesWhat did he just say?

That’s the question you will inevitably ask yourself when you hear French for the first time.

Hardly surprising considering written French and spoken French are so different one could consider them two different dialects.

The good news is that you will discover the main differences between written French and spoken French in this article. After reading it, you will know how to avoid sounding like a book when you speak French, and be prepared to better understand spoken French.

Here are the 5 essential differences between written French and spoken French you need to be aware of

Note: the following rules don’t apply to formal situations

#1 Drop the “ne”

To create a negative sentence in French, you normally add “ne” before the verb and “pas” after it. The “ne pas” duo is equivalent to “not” in English.

And since “ne” isn’t strictly necessary (you can see it’s a negative sentence, because it contains “pas”), French people skip it when they speak.

Je ne parle pas bien français

Je parle pas bien français

I don’t speak French very well

 

Excusez-moi, je ne comprends pas, pouvez-vous répéter s’il vous plait ?

Excusez-moi, je comprends pas, pouvez-vous répéter s’il vous plait ?

Sorry, I don’t understand, could you repeat please?

Note: in most cases, people will say “vous pouvez répéter s’il vous plait ?” instead of “pouvez-vous répéter s’il vous plait ?”. Putting the verb before the pronoun to ask a question is only done in formal situations.

Je ne veux pas y aller

Je veux pas y aller

I don’t want to go

ça ne se fait pas

ça se fait pas

One doesn’t do that/ it isn’t polite to do that

#2 Forget the “e”

The French like to communicate quickly, so they often drop the “e” in words when they speak.

Je parle bien français

J’parle bien français

I speak French well

 

Tu devrais y aller, il est tard

Tu d’vrais y aller, il est tard

You should go, it’s late

#3  Je + s becomes “ch”

No, you are not hearing it wrong, in spoken French, it’s common to say “ch” instead of “je + s”.

Je suis devant le café

Chuis devant le café

I am in front of the cafe

 

Vous savez où est la rue Mouffetard ? Non, je sais pas désolé

Vous savez où est la rue Mouffetard ? Non, ché pas désolé

Do you know where the Mouffetard street is? No, I don’t know sorry

If you are looking for a nice restaurant in Paris, rue Mouffetard is a nice place to go by the way.

#4 Tu followed by a vowel becomes “t'”

Since spoken French is all about going faster, “tu’ becomes “t”” when followed by a vowel.

Tu as fait quoi hier ?

T’as fait quoi hier ?

What did you do yesterday?

#5 Il y en a/ il y a

“Il y a” is super useful. It means “there is” or “there are”. Yes, that’s an example of French being simpler than English :).

Il y a beaucoup de monde dans la rue aujourd’hui

Ya beaucoup de monde dans la rue aujourd’hui

There are lots of people in the street today

 

Naturally, this also applies to the negative version.

Il n’y a pas de place dans ce restaurant

ya pas de place dans ce restaurant

There is no room/ are not seats in this restaurant

As you saw with #1, the “n’y” (ne becomes “n'” before vowels) disappears.

 Over to you

Do these differences prevent you from understanding spoken French? How did it go for you the first time you tried to go from written French to spoken French?

Tell us in the comment section below.

Benjamin Houy
Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together to help English speakers learn the 20% of French that truly matters. You will also find him giving blogging advice on Grow With Less.

11 thoughts on “Spoken vs Written French: The 5 Differences You Need to Know”

  1. No it’s mostly with “je suis” and “je sais”. There are probably lots of other cases but I don’t have any example in mind.

    Generally speaking, the more common a verb or word is, the more likely it is to end up being shortened.

    There is no rule because this happened naturally and even varies from region to region.

    Reply
  2. bonour Benjamin,
    merci beaucoup pour votres magnifiques leçons.
    Je voudrais demander apropos de #3, si c’est le cas avec tout les verbes qui commence par « s ».
    J’ai cherchais dans LE ROBERT pour pc, et il y a 358 verbes en français commençant par s.
    Vous pouvez elaborer un peu plus. S’il y a plus de règles pour transformer s en [ ʃ ], par exemple si le verbe doit etre fréquent comme « suis » ou « savoir », ou bien il doit être monosyllabe ou au maximum à deux syllabes, par exemple, est-ce qu’on prononce aussi le verbe « sanctionner » de même?

    Reply
  3. French is beautiful and elegant when spoken correctly and not too fast. Speaking it too fast and pronouncing chuis and che pas doesn’t make it sound more elegant. On the contrary. That’s how I hear French language. Also the nasal sounds can add beauty to French, in everyday French nasal sounds are too weak.

    Reply
  4. Hi, I’am an American who has been periodically studying french for over twenty years. Can you recommend a site, or resource that I could access books that are bilingual that would translate (audio/text)?

    Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Hi just a question, isn’t the “ch” sound more common with French speakers from the north, but not the south? Sorry I just watched a film called “Bienvenue chez les ch’tis”, and though I didn’t understand everything, I thought that saying “ch” instead of “s” was a quirk of that region, not all of France

    Reply
    • I don’t know if the ch sound is more common in the north but I know that Bienvenue chez les ch’tis is very exaggerated, I would take their portrayal of the northern accent with a grain of salt.

      Reply
  6. I often find “en” before the verb like in (il y en a/ il y a) but I still can’t understand what’s the difference this word makes in the meaning. Can someone explain please? Merci.

    Reply
  7. The grammar and vocabulary are not very far apart between French and English, but the rhythm and the elisions between words make understanding spoken French much more difficult than understanding written French. The technique that finally worked for me was reading a book chapter by chapter and listening to the same chapter after each one that I read. Midway through the book I began understanding spoken French. I still struggle a little with films, but I have no trouble with the news, the radio or speaking to someone. The book that I read was about a famous educational institution named “Poudlard” and that may have been part of the magic. 😉

    Reply
    • This sounds like an excellent technique, thanks for sharing :).

      Movies often use slang, which make things slightly more complicated. But if you understand news, you have already done a great job :).

      If you want to learn with more diverse content, check out Yabla. It allows you to watch videos and read subtitles at the same time.

      Reply

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