If you are to speak French like a native, you should know how to answer the phone in French, how to make a call and how to have a phone conversation.
French phone talk has evolved over the years as mobile networks have progressively replaced landline! The terms and phrases used when calling on a cell phone are typically different from the ones people used when calling on landlines.
In this article, we go over some common phone talk expressions you can use everyday on the phone in France.
Let's focus on informal talk, with a friend calling another friend on a cell phone about a problem he has. After reading and listening to the dialogue below, you can go on reading to learn how to use the expressions through in-depth comments, explanations and spoken French audio examples.
Here's the French version dialogue with translation :
(le téléphone sonne ...)
Oui allo ?
Oui c'est moi. Ça va ?
Allo, tu m'entends ?
Qui est à l'appareil ? Ça coupe !
C'est moi, Marc ! Ça capte mal...
Ah salut Marc ! Oui c'est bon, je t'entends là. Mais, ce n'est pas ton numéro qui s'affiche sur mon écran !
Non, je t'appelle du portable d'un ami, j'ai perdu le mien.
Ah bon ! Mais tu es où ?
Je suis dans la rue, là.
Comment ? Je n'entends rien ...
Je suis dehors ! Dis-moi, tu n'as pas trouvé mon portable par hasard ?
Ton portable ? Non, je ne l'ai pas vu...
Et Amélie, tu peux lui demander ?
Attends je te la passe, elle est à côté. Ah non désolée, elle est en ligne.
Pardon, ne quitte pas s'il te plait, j'ai un double appel...
Me revoilà. Tu es toujours là ?
C'est Amélie sur l'autre ligne. Elle m'appelle de mon portable.
Ah elle l'a trouvé alors ! Tant mieux pour toi ! Vas-y, reprends la, on se rappelle plus tard.
OK Merci ! A plus !
Listen to the audio version :
And the English version :
(phone is ringing ...)
Yes, hello ?
Yeah it's me. What's up !
Hello, can you hear me ?
Who's talking ? The line is breaking up.
It's me, Marc ! The signal is weak.
Oh hi Marc ! OK now it's better, I can hear you now. But, that's not your number showing on my screen !
No, I'm calling you from a friend's cell phone. I lost mine.
Oh really ? But where are you ?
I'm in the street right now.
What was that ? I can't hear ...
I'm outside ! Say, you didn't find my cell phone by any chance, did you ?
Your cell phone ? No I haven't seen it.
What about Amélie ? Can you ask her ?
Wait I'll put her on, she's right here. Oh no sorry, she's on the phone.
Sorry, hold on please, I have call waiting ...
I'm back. Are you still here ?
Yes I am.
It's Amélie on the other line. She's calling me from my cell phone !
Oh she's found it then ! Good for you. Go ahead and talk to her, we can catch up later.
OK thanks ! Talk to you later !
Answering the phone in French : establishing the call
Céline, our female character, hears her cell phone ringing (or feels it vibrating) and answers the call, i.e. in French :
"Elle répond au téléphone" : she answers the phone
"Tu peux répondre s'il te plait ?" : can you pick up (the phone) please ?
The first thing she says to start the exchange is :
"Oui allo ?"
"Allo" is the phrase typically used when answering the phone in French. You may answer using variants such as :
"Allo oui ?"
Marc says right away :
"Oui c'est moi. Ça va ?"
He chooses to skip the traditional "allo" French response, which would go something like this :
Callee (Céline) : "Allo ?"
Caller (Marc) : "Allo bonjour ..."
Instead, Marc says straight, "oui c'est moi" (yeah it's me) as he knows Céline well and knows she'll recognize his voice on "c'est moi", thus saving useless identification time.
When answering the phone in French, "oui" often replaces "allo" when the caller wants to make it efficient and get straight to the point :
"Oui bonjour, je vous appelle au sujet de ..." (yes hi, I'm calling you regarding ...)
Right after he identifies himself through "oui c'est moi", Marc says "ça va ?" , which here serves as a French "what's up ?", i.e. both a greeting and a conversation starter.
Marc expects Céline to reply with something like :
"Oui ça va, et toi ?"
Instead she throws a new "alloooo ?", a clear sign she can't hear him. The communication "handshake" initiated by Marc has not succeeded. Marc realizes it and asks :
"Allo, tu m'entends ?"
Notice how, as the communication is failing, he now utters the "allo" he had previously skipped to save time. This reflects the true function of "allo", it's like a ping in computer networks, it's basically saying "checking if the message is going through before moving on".
He asks Céline "tu m'entends ?" (can you hear me ?)
Other common ways to check if the person can hear you in French include :
"Allo allo ?"
"Tu me reçois ?" (do you read me ?)
"Oui, tu m'entends là ?" (yes, now can you hear me ?)
Due to call quality, Céline still can't make out who's on the phone, so she asks :
"Qui est à l'appareil ?" (who's talking ? Literally "who's on the device")
This is a typical phrase used when answering the phone in French. It sounds quite formal and old fashioned, but it's one of those phrases that goes through time unaltered - you can often hear it in old French movies. French speakers nevertheless continue to use it in daily on the phone.
In our dialogue, saying uses "qui est à l'appareil ?" because she can't hear well and doesn't recognize Marc's voice. However, you can also use the phrase to identify the caller :
"Allo ? Qui est à l'appareil ?" (hello, who's calling ?)
"Bonjour, ici le cabinet dentaire ..." (Hi, this is the dentist's office)
Answering the phone in French : the line is bad
To explain why she's asking for the caller's identity, Céline adds :
"Ça coupe !" (the line is breaking up)
Again, a very common phrase to say in when speaking on the phone in French :
"Excuse moi, ça coupe ! Tu peux répéter ?"
Note that : "Ça a coupé" (past tense)
generally means a different things, it means the line was cut off, the call was ended. "Ça coupe", on the other hand, refers to blanks in the voice stream.
Marc replies :
"C'est moi, Marc !" (it's me, Marc)
He now has no choice but formally identify himself by saying his name. He adds :
"Ça capte mal..." (the signal is weak, literally "it's not catching well")
which is the reason Céline can't hear and identify him. Other common phrases for describing bad signal when answering the phone in French include :
"Il n'y a pas beaucoup de réseau", "je n'ai pas beaucoup de réseau" (the network is weak)
"Le réseau est faible / mauvais" (same as above)
"Je capte très mal" (I'm not catching a good signal)
"La ligne est mauvaise" (the line is bad - also works for landlines)
As the signal finally improves, Céline starts to hear better and recognizes the caller as being Marc :
"Ah salut Marc !"
She adds :
"Oui c'est bon, je t'entends, là."
Here, "oui c'est bon" means "OK, now it's good / it's better". Here are some other examples of using this French phrase :
"Ça va mieux ton bras ?" (is your arm better ?)
"Oui c'est bon, c'est guéri" (yes it's good, it has healed)
"Il a terminé le travail ?" (did he finish the job ?)
"Oui c'est bon, tout est fini" (yes all good, it's done)
Note she says "je t'entends, là". It means, "now I can hear you". So here, "là" means "now". French speakers use "là" a lot to indicate an immediate action :
"J'y vais, là" (I'm going right now)
"Je ne suis pas d'humeur, là" (I'm not in the mood right now, at this very moment)
"Je t'entends, là" also means : I couldn't hear you before, now I can, but I not hear you well again in a bit.
Answering the phone in French : identifying the caller
As Céline realizes she's talking to Marc, she says :
"Mais, ce n'est pas ton numéro qui s'affiche sur mon écran !" (it's not your number that's displaying on my screen)
Note the French construct "ce n'est pas ... qui" :
"Ce n'est pas cette chaise qui est confortable" (this is not the chair that's comfortable = this chair isn't the comfortable one)
"Ce n'est pas lui qui me l'a dit" (he's not the one who told me)
When answering the phone in French, another, shorter way of saying you're not seeing the caller's saved number is :
"Ce n'est pas ton numéro, là !" (it's not your number I'm seeing)
Note that "là" in this case means "here", "in front of me" rather than "right now". Confusing isn't it ...
Marc replies :
"Non, je t'appelle du portable d'un ami" (I'm calling from a friend's cell phone)
The expression "appeller de..." is very commonly used in French to indicate the device you're using to call :
"Je les appelle d'un fixe" (I'm calling them from a landline)
"Elle appelle d'une cabine" (she's calling from a payphone)
But you can also use the same construct to indicate where you're calling from :
"Je t'appelle du Maroc" (I'm calling you from Morocco)
"Vous appellez des Etats-Unis ?" (are you calling from the US ?)
An alternative is to use "depuis" :
"Je t'appelle depuis le portable d'un ami" (from a friend's cell phone)
"Ils appellent depuis la Thailande" (from Thailand)
Answering the phone in French : purpose of the call
Marc adds "j'ai perdu le mien" (I lost mine) which is why he's borrowing someone else's phone.
Céline asks :
"Mais tu es où ?"
A very frequent question people ask after answering the phone in French on a mobile. For some psychological reason, we humans often need to locate the person to feel comfortable, typically using the colloquial phrase "t'es où ?" (contraction of "tu es où")
As Marc tells her he lost his phone, Céline suddently feels a bit confused, bewildered, and wants to locate him, even though that information isn't really useful for the problem at hand.
Marc's answer is also typical in answering the question :
"Je suis dans la rue, là." (I'm in the street)
Again, "là" means "right now", "as we speak".
As the line starts breaking up again, Céline has trouble hearing. She says :
This is a polite way in French to ask someone to repeat what they've just said. Other more colloquial phrases you say when you couldn't hear soneone's reply include :
"Quoi ?" (What ? very informal, even a bit rude)
"Hein ?" (Huh ? very informal)
"Hein quoi ?" (equivalent to "say what !")
"Qu'est-ce-que tu as dit ?" (what did you say ?)
"Pardon ?" (Excuse me ? semi formal)
"Tu peux répeter ?" (can you repete ?)
She adds "je n'entends rien" (I can't hear anything), a very common way in French of indicating you're having trouble hearing the person.
Other frequently used phrases are :
"je n'entends pas", "je ne t'entends pas" (I can't hear / hear you)
"Je n'entends pas bien"
"J'entends (très) mal"
Marc now says, slightly frustrated for not being heard :
"Je suis dehors ! " (I'm outside)
Note that "dehors" here has a meaning of "out in the street" - not "outside your house". Marc is saying he's not at home or anywhere indoors.
He then asks Céline :
"Dis-moi, tu n'as pas trouvé mon portable par hasard ?"
The French phrase "Dis-moi" is very frequently used to quickly transition to a new topic in a conversation, and also to get someone's attention on something important you're about to say. It's similar to the English phrase "Say !" :
"Dis-moi, tu pourrais me prêter de l'argent cette semaine ?" (Say, could you lend me some money this week ?)
Marc wants Céline's to stop worrying about his location and give full attention to the question he's about to ask about his lost cell phone - that's the real reason he's calling :
"tu n'as pas trouvé mon portable par hasard ?" (you haven't found my cellphone by any chance, have you ?)
Notice the interrogative negative form he use, a French version of "you haven't ... have you ?" - although the phrase "have you?" does not really exist in French.
The form Marc is using for asking his question indicates he's pessimistic about the outcome, he doesn't really believe he left his phone at Céline's place. The idea is further reinforced by the French phrase :
"Par hasard" (by chance)
which implicitly says, if that were the case it would be by great chance, i.e. it's quite unlikely.
Another equivalent way he might have asked is :
"Tu n'aurais pas trouvé mon portable ?" (using the conditional tense)
Here, the outcome is even more unlikely than in the previous example.
Answering the phone in French : looking for answers
Céline says she hasn't seen Marc's device :
"Ton portable ? Non, je ne l'ai pas vu..." (your cell phone ? No I haven't seen it)
So Marc asks her to ask Amélie, her daughter, if she has :
"Et Amélie, tu peux lui demander ?" (what about Amélie, can you ask her ?)
Céline says :
"Attends je te la passe, elle est à côté. " (wait, I'll put her on, she's right here)
When making or answering the phone in French, you sometimes need to put someone else on the phone - or ask the other person to do so. The French expression for putting passing over to / putting someone on the line is "passer quelqu'un à quelqu'un" :
"Je te la (le) passe" : I'll pass her (him) over to you, I'll put her (him) on"
"Tu peux me la passer" : can you put her on ?
"Tu me le passe ?" : can you put him on ?
"Elle va me passer son responsable" : she's going to put her manager on the phone"
The phrase "attends je te le/la passe" is very frequently employed when taling on the phone in everyday spoken French.
Céline also says "elle est à côté", meaning she's right here, next to me. This is another phrase commonly used when talking on the phone in French. Alternative ways to say it :
"elle est juste là" (she's right here)
"elle est avec moi" (wait, she's with me)
Then she says :
"Ah non désolée, elle est en ligne."
You use the phrase "être en ligne" (to be on the line) in French to indicate someone is talking on the phone :
"Je suis en ligne avec le service client" (I'm on the line with customer service)
"Je suis en ligne avec la France" (I'm talking with someone in France)
"Ça fait une demi heure qu'elle est en ligne" (she's been on the line for half an hour)
Céline could have said alternatively :
"Elle est au téléphone" (she's on the phone)
"Elle est en communication" (she's on a call)
"Elle a un appel" (she has a call)
Answering the phone in French : switching between calls
Marc says :
"Pardon, ne quitte pas s'il te plait, j'ai un double appel..."
Nothing he uses the phrase "pardon" to mean "sorry". It's an alternative to the phrase "excuse-moi", or "désolé" which Céline said earlier.
When talking on the phone in French, you very often use the phrase :
"ne quitte pas" (stay on the line, hold on)
"Ne quittez pas s'il vous plait" (please hold, formal)
"Attends, ne quitte pas un instant (wait, hold on a moment - during an informal phone call)
He adds :
"J'ai un double appel" (I have call waiting)
When on the phone, "double appel" refers to call waiting in French - a beep indicates someone else is calling you while you're already on the line.
Other typical way to say it in French are :
"J'ai un autre appel" (I have another call)
"On m'appelle sur l'autre ligne" (I'm being called on the other line - note : it's technically the same line)
When you say "j'ai un double appel", you're generally telling the person you're talking to on the phone that you're going to switch to the second caller for a short moment and come back.
That's what Marc does, and as he gets back on the call with Céline he says :
"Me revoilà. Tu es toujours là ?" (I'm back. Are you still here ?)
The French phrase "me revoila" means "here I am again" i.e. "I'm back again" :
"Me revoilà après une longue absence" (here I am again after being away for a long time)
When talking on the phone, French speakers frequently ask "tu es toujours là ?" to check if the other person is still on the line, that is if the call is still ongoing, typically after being cut off or after switching back from another call.
We often use this phrase as an alternative to "je ne t'entends plus" (I can't hear you any more) :
"Le réseau est très mauvais ... tu es toujours là ?" (network is really bad , are you still here ?)
After checking Céline is still on the line, Marc explains :
"C'est Amélie sur l'autre ligne. " (it's Amélie on the other line)
Again, Amélie is not technically on another phone line, Marc just got call waiting and switched to answer Amélie's call and then got back on the call with Céline. "Sur l'autre ligne" is just a shortcut for saying this in spoken French.
Answering the phone in French : finding a solution
He says to Céline:
"Elle m'appelle de mon portable." (she's calling me from my cell phone)
again using the construct "appeller de" we saw earlier - he could have also said "depuis mon portable".
Céline is happy for Marc :
"Elle l'a trouvé alors ! Tant mieux pour toi !"
Note the use of "alors" (then) as she makes a deduction : Amélie is calling from Marc's phone which obviously means she's found the device :
"Robert est sorti de la clinique" (Robert got out of the clinic)
"Il va mieux alors !" (he got better then !)
"Je suis rentré de vacances" (I returned from vacation)
"Tu reprends le boulot alors !" (you're going back to work then !)
The French expression "tant mieux pour toi" if typically used when someone breaks some good news to you about someone :
"J'ai réussi mes examens" (I passed my exams)
"Ah tant mieux pour toi " (oh good for you !)
"Elle a eu un bébé" (she had a baby)
"C'est vrai ? Tant mieux pour elle !" (good for her)
Céline adds :
" Vas-y, reprends la" (go ahead, get back on the call with her)
When talking on the phone in French, you say "reprendre un appel" (get back on a call) or "reprendre quelqu'un" (get back on the line with someone) when you put someone on hold to take another call or walk away from the phone for a moment, and you're ready to resume the call :
"Attends je demande à quelqu'un, je te reprends dans un instant" (wait let me ask someone, I'll get right back with you)
"Je dois reprendre l'autre appel, on se parle après" (I have to get back on that other call, we'll talk later)
Answering the phone in French : ending the call
Céline then says :
"On se rappelle plus tard" (let's call back each other later)
When ending a phone conversation in French, you can say "on se rappelle plus tard" when you don't want to commit to a specific time for your next phone call with the person - or you don't want to pressure the person into doing so. We also often use this shorcut :
"On se rappelle !" (let's call each other back)
This is a convenient, "lightweight" way of ending a phone exchange in French without unnecessary commitments, while agreeing to pursue further contacts at a later time.
Marc finally thanks Céline for letting him get off the call with her so he can get back on the line with Amélie and work out something about getting his cell phone back and solving his problem.
"OK Merci ! A plus !"
These are some common phrases for ending a phone conversation in French :
"Je dois raccrocher." (I have to hang up)
"Je dois te quitter" , "je dois te laisser" (I must leave you, get off the phone. Also used to leave an in-person conversation)
"Je dois couper" (I have to end the call)
"On reprend plus tard la conversation" (let's continue the conversation later)