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10 French Phrases Everyone in the World Should Know

Whether you live in Paris, France, or Paris, Texas, these are the French phrases that, according to Jeannette DeJong, senior lecturer and coordinator of foreign language at Curry College, carry that certain je ne sais quoi.

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Joie de vivre (joy of life)

Pronounced JWA-d’veev. Used to describe a person full of life and exuberance, as in: “She exudes optimism, and joie de vivre, no matter what the circumstance.” Using French phrases the right way can be very impressive. Traveling around Europe? Here are some other words you should know––British edition.

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Au contraire (on the contrary)

Pronounced OH-kawn-TREHR. Often used to contradict a statement someone else has made in a polite way. It can also be used to contradict a belief. “You may think that you cannot wear textured stockings, but au contraire! The right pattern can make any woman’s legs look lovely, no matter what her age.”

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Raison d’être (reason or purpose for existence)

Pronounced rayzon-DET-ruh. Used to explain the main purpose a person has in life, or their most important reason for living. “Her children’s care and well-being were her raison d’être.” Here are 12 Italian phrases everyone should know.

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Esprit de corps (camaraderie, team spirit)

Pronounced es-PREE deh core. Used to describe a team player—an individual who has loyalty and commitment to a particular group. It can also be used to describe the group itself in any arena, from sports to politics. “The team displayed high levels of esprit de corps. That’s probably the reason they win every game.”

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Avant garde (experimental, cutting-edge, ahead of one’s time in the arts)

Pronounced ah-vant-GARD. An avant garde person or cultural institution is one that is cutting edge and vibrantly new, in fields like art and fashion, as in: “His use of color and architectural designs were considered avant garde in the 1920s but have become classics over time.” What you don’t say is just as important as what you do say. If you wish to be considered avant garde, here are words you should never use because they immediately make you sound old.

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Déjà vu (the feeling of having already experienced something)

Pronounced day-jah-VOO. An uncanny sense of having gone through an experience once before. Can also pertain to the feeling that you have met someone before even though you’re meeting them for the first time. “When I saw your face, I had the strangest sense of déjà vu, as though I’d known you in a previous life.” This is one of those French phrases that has been so Americanized that many people forget its French origins. And au contraire (remember that one?) check out these 9 “French things” that aren’t actually from France.

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Savoir faire (social grace, sophistication, knowing how to behave appropriately in situations)

Pronounced sav-war-FAIR. A characteristic in an individual who always knows how to act, and handles him or herself appropriately in social and professional situations, as in: “She displayed unfailing savoir faire when meeting the Queen.” To show off your savoir faire, we recommend brushing up on these 7 fancy words that make you sound smarter.

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Hors d’oeuvres (appetizers)

Pronounced or-DERVE. The tasty tidbits served prior to the main course, whether passed or plated. “The hors d’oeuvres are often the best part of the meal, especially if you enjoy little bites of many types of food.” You’ll probably encounter this word on most French menus, but read up on 17 other words you’ll need to know when dining in a French restaurant.

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Trompe l’oeil (optical illusion in art)

Pronounced TROMP-loy. In artwork and painting, the illusion that something is there when it isn’t, as in: “The trompe l’oeil painting of vines and flowers was so realistic that I thought they were really there.”

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Laissez faire (policy of non-interference)

Pronounced LAY-say-fair. Often used to describe governmental policies, laissez faire can also be used to explain protocols in business or in personal relationships. “She has a laissez faire attitude toward how her grandchildren are being raised.”