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

spoken French written French differences

People often say that spoken French and written French are 2 different languages. The problem is that most French learners realize this after spending months (or even years) learning the language.

They take a flight to Paris, walk around the city and quickly realize that the French they hear sounds nothing like the French their course taught them.

Some letters are missing, the words are different. And the speed! Why do they speak so fast?

The best way to avoid this problem is to learn French by reading, not by listening but being aware of the key differences between written and spoken French also helps a lot.

Here are 5 important differences you need to be aware of!

#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 the French equivalent of “not” in English.

But French people love dropping words and letters so “ne” is often omitted in spoken French.

Je ne parle pas bien français => Je parle pas bien français

I don’t speak French very well)

Désolée, je ne comprends pas => Désolée, je comprends pas

Sorry, I don’t understand

#2 Forget the “e”

The 2 sentences I showed you above are more common than their “ne pas” equivalent but they are still not quite realistic.

In reality, most French people will still consider them too long and cut them even shorter.

How?

By dropping the “e.”

Je parle pas bien français => j’parle pas bien français

I don’t speak French very well

Désolée, je ne comprends pas => Désolée, j’comprends pas

Sorry, I don’t understand

#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’m 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 Mouffetard street is? No, I don’t know, sorry

If you are looking for a nice place to eat in Paris, rue Mouffetard is a nice place to go to by the way, lots of lovely restaurants there.

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

Spoken French is all about saving time.

One thing native speakers often do to save time is turning “tu” into “t'” when it’s 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 a lot 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 space in this restaurant

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


What difference between written and spoken French do you find the most confusing?

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.