French: Difference between written and spoken

Differences between written and spoken French

Spoken French and written French are so different that one could consider that they are two distinct dialects.

I will highlight the main differences between written French and oral French in this blog article. After reading it, you will be ready to better understand spoken French and you will avoid sounding like a book when you speak the language.

Here are the 5 main differences between written French and spoken French that you need to have in mind:

  1. Drop the “ne”

To form a negative statement in French, you need to add “ne” before the verb and “pas” after it. The “ne … pas” structure is equivalent to “not” in English.

As “ne” is not strictly necessary (you can see that it is a negative statement because it contains “pas”), French people usually skip it when they speak.

1) I don’t speak French very well

Written French: Je ne parle pas bien français

Oral French: Je parle pas bien français

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

Written French: ça ne se fait pas

Oral French: ça se fait pas

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

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

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

Note that 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 (inversion) is only done in formal situations.

  1. Forget the “e”

The French like to communicate quickly, so they often drop the “e” in words when they speak. This phenomenon is called the « e instable »: the letter is not always silent. In some words and constructions its pronunciation is optional, while in others it is required.

1) I speak French well

Written French: Je parle bien français

Oral French: J’parle bien français

2) You should go, it’s late

Written French: Tu devrais y aller, il est tard

Oral French: Tu d’vrais y aller, il est tard

  1. Je + s becomes “ch”

1) I am in front of the cinema

Written French: Je suis devant le cinéma

Spoken French: Chuis devant le cinéma

2) Do you know where the Rodier street is? No, I don’t know, sorry

Written French: Vous savez où est la rue Rodier ? Non, je ne sais pas, désolé

Spoken French: Vous savez où est la rue Rodier ? Non, ché pas, désolé

  1. Tu followed by a vowel becomes “t’”

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

What did you do yesterday?

Tu as fait quoi hier ?
T’as fait quoi hier ?

  1. Il y a vs. Y’a

“Il y a” is super useful. It means “there is” or “there are”. Yes, sometimes French can be simpler than English :).

1) There are lots of people in the street today.

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

Spoken French: Y’a beaucoup de monde dans la rue aujourd’hui

2) There is no room/ are not seats in this train.

Written French: Il n’y a pas de place dans ce train

Spoken French: Y’a pas de place dans ce train

Note that the “n’y” (first part of the negation) disappears.

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