French Vocabulary & Common Slang

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The English language is very commonly used, with around 360 million native speakers worldwide and an additional 880 million who speak English as a second language. English is generally referred to as a global language, because so many people are familiar with it or use it in their everyday lives.

As English vocabulary is so vast, assigning an exact number to the amount of words it includes is very difficult. As a rough guide, the Oxford English Dictionary offers 600,000 definitions; however the true number is probably higher as it comprises slang words, adopted foreign words, obscure technical terms and newly created words like ‘selfie’.

Scientists regularly carry out research into how many words are in the average English speaker’s vocabulary. Currently most linguists agree that the majority of English speakers use around 50,000 words on a regular basis, but a more educated person may use up to 75,000. These figures are influenced by a person’s education, but also whether or not they read books and newspapers.

The French language is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, with somewhere in the region of 80 million native speakers. Moreover, it is one of the most popular second languages for people to acquire, and it is estimated that there are in excess of 200 million French speakers in total.

Although the majority of French words are derived from either Vulgar Latin or Classical Latin, the language itself has continued to evolve over the course of several centuries, as circumstances change, new technology emerges and new words are coined. Furthermore, there are dozens of known dialects spread across the globe.

As a result, it is difficult to accurately state how many words exist within the French language. Many French dictionaries estimate somewhere in the region of 60,000 words, but Le Grand Robert de la langue Française currently contains around 100,000 words and 350,000 definitions, covering the different uses of those words.

Of course, things become even more complicated when you take into account slang words within the French language. Many of these words cannot be considered part of official French writing and will not be found in a dictionary, yet they are an integral part of the vocabulary of almost all French speakers with native competence.

How Many Words Do French Speakers Use?

Regardless of the precise number of words in the French language, it is not necessary to know all of them in order to speak French to a very high standard. In fact, most experts agree you only need a fraction of them to speak the language fluently. So how many words do French speakers really use?

If you apply the Pareto principle to the French language, roughly 20 percent of French words make up 80 percent of conversations, but in reality, the number of necessary words is likely to be far, far lower.

Some French language teachers claim that it is possible to hold everyday conversations with knowledge of just 300 of the most common French words. If we take the 100,000 figure offered by Le Grand Robert de la langue Française, that would mean you would require knowledge of just 0.3 percent of all French words to communicate effectively.

In truth, the 300 words figure is somewhat misleading, because it only counts base forms of words and also ignores the entire concept of a passive vocabulary – words that you understand and recognise, but never actually use yourself. Nevertheless, according to l’encyclopédie Incomplète, the same 600 words account for roughly 90 percent of all words used in common French texts, so the basic idea carries some credibility.

Knowing the 300 most common French words is a solid base, and knowing 600 will allow you to understand the majority of words in the majority of sentences. In most cases, it will then be possible to fill in any blanks through contextual awareness. However, it is estimated that a truly fluent French speaker knows around 3,000 words.

Use of Slang Words In French

In addition to their more conventional vocabulary, the average fluent French speaker also uses a range of different slang or informal words. In many cases, these are used in social situations, but not in official writing or formal situations. It is, therefore, important to build up a vocabulary which includes some of these slang terms.

Below are some examples of slang words that you may encounter when speaking to a native French speaker:

Slang Word Translation Example Translation
 Bouffer  Food  Je dois acheter de la  bouffe.  I need to buy some food.
 Blé  Money  C’est beaucoup de blé.  That’s a lot of money.
 Casse-toi  Get out, go away,  get out of here!  Casse-toi, idiot!  Get out of here, idiot!
 Chanmé  Excellent,  awesome, wicked  Le match de football était  chanmé.  The football match was excellent.
 Mec  Guy, boyfriend  As tu un mec?  Do you have a guy? / Do you have  a boyfriend?
 Trop  Too much, super  Elle est trop belle!  She is super beautiful! / She is too  beautiful!
 Une clope  A cigarette  Avez-vous une clope?  Do you have a cigarette?