1. Et voilà! or Voilà! (pronounced as et vwaa-laa)
Meaning: Behold, here it is!
Example sentence: Et voilà!! The cake is ready.
Let’s start this list with a simple and non-intimidating phrase most English speakers are already familiar with. You can use Et voilà! or simply Voilà! anytime you want to demonstrate something and you also want to make it sound more exciting.
2. Cliché (klee-sheh)
Meaning: a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.
Example sentence: The phrase, “All that glitters isn't gold,” is one of the most overused clichés in English writing.
We’ve all encountered mindlessly-written sentences, repetitive images used in art and film, and even stereotypical opinions. When these tropes become painfully-overused, they can be easily called a cliché. It’s easy to remember the meaning of this term once you learn of its origin.
The word cliché originated in the 1800s in the printing trade. It’s a way to refer to a printer’s block used to reproduce a commonly-used phrase. Fun, right?
3. Je ne sais quoi (zhuh nuh say kwah)
Meaning: an indescribable (usually positive) characteristic of a person or an object.
Example sentence: That actor has a certain je ne sais quoi that charms everybody!
The literal translation of Je ne sais quoi from French is “I don’t know what,” and it is typically preceded by a certain both in French and English. We usually use it to describe an attractive characteristic or charm that’s hard to pin down.
4. Vis-à-vis (vee-zah-vee)
Meaning: regarding or concerning a certain subject, in relation to, a face-to-face meeting, a private meeting.
Example sentence: 1. The banker met with the young businessman vis-à-vis his loan application. 2. My country’s currency is stronger vis-à-vis several other countries.
Literally translated as “face to face,” vis-à-vis is one of those French words we think we know but always misuse. It’s erroneously used to mean “to see eye-to-eye,” for example, so be careful with the way you use this phrase because you may be misunderstood.
5. Apropos (a-pro-poh)
Meaning: at an opportune time or occasion, just at the right time, relevant.
Example sentence: Jane’s letter arrived apropos.
In English, we have a beautiful expression that captures the meaning of apropos. That expression is, “the stars align in someone’s favor.” If you want to save yourself a lot of time, though, just use the French expression. It is by no means less refined or eloquent.
6. Bon voyage (bon vwa-yazh)
Meaning: Have a good journey!
Example sentence: Bon voyage, enjoy your trip to France!
Here’s another phrase that’s super easy to incorporate in your everyday speech. It’s just is a fun way of wishing someone a good trip when they’re leaving. Is it the same as saying “goodbye” to someone? Not quite, but many people do use the two interchangeably in English, so the jury is out on that one.
7. Déjà vu (de-zha-voo)
Meaning: A feeling that you’ve already been in a situation you’re in before.
Example sentence: It was my first time in London, but that bookstore made me experience a severe case of déjà vu.
Be it a stranger that looked familiar or an unfamiliar place that looks like something you swear you remember, déjà vu is one of those odd phenomena we’ve all experienced in our lifetime. The literal translation of déjà vu is "already seen," but this translation poorly explains the eerie feeling itself.
As for the phrase itself - déjà vu - it’s one of the most notoriously mispronounced French borrowings in English. If you, too, pronounce it as “day zhavoo,” we recommend you drop the “-ay”, if you want to sound more accurate. To read more on commonly-mispronounced French borrowings, read our article Common French Loanwords You’re Probably Mispronouncing.
8. Au contraire (o-kont-rer)
Meaning: on the contrary, on the opposite side.
Example sentence: “I can see that this is no help: au contraire.”
Admittedly, this phrase is mostly used in written English rather than spoken language, with the lone spoken expression containing the phrase being au contraire mon frère (on the contrary my brother), which is usually used ironically. However, it may be useful for you to know that au contraire is a fancy way to interject a previous statement.
9. Faux pas (fo-pa)
Meaning: a social blunder
Example sentence: I don't think that ordering your steak well-done is a faux pas.
The phrase faux pas literally means “a false step” in French, which makes it easy to remember that a faux pas is any action that should be avoided, or else, you're risking to offend someone or find yourself in an embarrassing social situation. What a useful phrase!
Meaning: Please respond.
Example sentence: The invitation says we should RSVP by the end of next week.
Most people aren’t even aware that RSVP is of French origin. In reality, the term is an abbreviation derived from the French phrase Répondez s'il vous plaît, which means “please reply.” It is customary to use RSVP in written invitations, as a way to confirm whether or not a guest is planning on arriving at the gathering.
Share these fun words and phrases with others!