How to French in Quebec

September 09, 2016

If you learned French in high school or from watching Moulin Rouge, you may be mildly traumatized by what you hear when you set foot in Quebec for the first time. In Québécois French, men are asked to give birth sometimes, and we say we like brushes on Friday nights, but neither have we re-invented the way humans reproduce, nor have we gone completely mad (yet). It’s all just lost in translation. Our French here is… colourful! So we’ve compiled a list of the most popular expressions to help you avoid potentially embarrassing confusions.

What are Quebecois words used on a daily basis?

1. Pantoute

That's short for pas du tout, which means "not at all."

2. Envoye

It's pronounced aweille in its purest Louis XV style, and it's often accompanied by a tone that betrays impatience. It means c’mon! or let’s go!

3. Décoller

It means to take-off and refers to the act of leaving a place—but not by plane! For this very act of leaving a place, we also say sacrer son camp!

4. Embarquer

It means to get on transportation, which can be anything—but rarely a boat. On the other end of the spectrum, when we get off, we say, nous débarquons.

5. Char

It's a car. By definition, it's a car from back in the days when engines didn’t exist. But picturing it being pulled by four horses adds a bit of a kick, doesn’t it?

6. Chauffer

No, we don’t light bonfires inside our cars. Chauffer means to drive. “Embarque dans l'char, c'est moi qui chauffe” simply means, “Get in the car, I'll drive.” It's as easy as that.

Quebecois words used on a daily basis

What are the most popular Quebecois expressions?

Words have their proper definitions in the dictionary, but in Québécois French, like in Chinese, it’s all about tone. One word can mean something, the opposite of this thing, or something completely different. It all depends on the way we pronounce it. Confusing, eh? Not at all! All you need to do is listen attentively and you’ll get it.

1. Méchant

It has to do with something or someone unpleasant or mean. But with certain pronunciations and in combination with other adjectives, it can become a way to say very. For instance, when someone says méchant pétard!, the word pétard is referring to a person you find very beautiful.

2. Malade

Totally insane. Crazy. Awesome. Or even being mentally ill, or seriously dangerous, like in méchant malade! Sometimes, we also use it to talk about somebody who is ill, but this is the definition we use the least.

3. Écoeurant

Depending on pronunciation, it can mean disgusting or delicious/genius. We feel intensely.

How to French in Quebec

What are the most original Quebecois expressions?

1. Pousse, mais pousse égal

C'mon, don’t exaggerate.

2. Avoir de la misère à...

J'ai de la misère au calvaire. It's the title of a well-known Quebec song, but it's also an expression that means having a lot of trouble with something.You say it when you're having a hard time with something or someone.

3. Accouche qu’on baptise

Guys, if it seems like we're asking you to give birth, it’s not because we missed a biology class or two. It’s because you’ve been talking nonsense and your words seem to have no reason. Psst, the same expression may be used for women, pregnant or not.

4. Prends ton gaz égal

This is a favourite or ours mainly because it means to chill out. We all have got to learn to chill in French. 

5. Dormir au gaz

You’ll hear this if you are being too calm or absent-minded. It's like when somebody falls asleep at the wheel and we tell them to wake up.

6. Prendre une brosse

Oh, the legendary Montreal nightlife. This expression is all about getting drunk. 

How To French In Quebec

What are important details to know?

1. Au/du Québec and à/de Québec

We use au Québec to talk about the province, such as in “I’m going to (au) Quebec, to eat apples from (du) Quebec.”

We use à Québec to talk about the city, such as in “I’m going to (à) Quebec to eat poutine at Ashton’s.” Finally, I’d like to state here that we only call it Quebec City in English.

2. Capoter and capoté

We didn't invent this verb to talk about condoms, or car-related accidents (let’s specify that capote stands for condom and capot means car hood). It’s about feelings. In fact, to capoter is a wonderful and joyful feeling. As in, “I won a million dollars! Je capote c*lisse!” 

A thing that is described as capoté is something that is totally crazy, in either a positive or negative way.

3. Une frette and le frette

Une frette simply stands for a cold beer. It's the opposite from a bière tablette (tablette meaning shelf) which, as you may imagine, means beer at room temperature. Of course, this last unhappy occurrence can be quickly rectified by placing the warm beer out in le frette, which refers to the cold weather.

How to French in Quebec

Tu comprends-tu ? 

The seemingly double use of the pronoun tu when asking a question is the first thing foreigners are drawn to. But it’s actually not a double pronoun. It comes from the suffix -ti that the French used in the past.

Having read all this, are you even more confused than before? That’s ok. It's the perfect opportunity to come and steal a little chatter from us because I could go on for pages and pages.

• • •

Are you coming to Quebec soon? Take a look at all our HI hostels in the beautiful province

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