Oh Là Là: The True Meaning of this French Expression - French Iceberg (2023)

Seen from abroad, the French expression “oh la la” is inseparable from the French language and the French, as the expression c’est la vie. Often used with a sexual connotation in the Anglo-Saxon world, “oh la la” is used in a radically opposite way in France. Today, we will learn more about the meaning of “oh là là”, in France and in the world, but also about the different ways and situations in which it is used.

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What does the expression “oh la la” mean?

Meaning: Oh no, oh my, wow

Literally: Oh there there

Traditionally, the interjection “oh la la” is used by the French to convey a feeling of great surprise. This astonishment can be due to disappointment (“Oh la la! My son got a bad mark at school!”) or to a feeling of admiration (“Wow! I’m proud that he got his baccalaureate!”). In writing, the expression is used almost exclusively in exclamatory sentences to emphasize a feeling of surprise.

“Oh là là!”, written here in its correct form, is composed of two parts: the interjection “oh”, which is used to signify surprise, and “là là”, which can be written as the determiner (“la”) or with an accent as with the adverb (“là”). There is no connection between the two, since it is simply an interjection, to accentuate the feeling of surprise of “oh”. It is not uncommon to hear extended versions of the interjection to signify a strong degree of surprise (“oh là là là là là là!”).

Finally, be careful not to confuse the French “oh la la” with the one found in the United States or the United Kingdom. Unlike its use in the English-speaking world, the French interjection is never used with any naughty or sexual connotation, nor is it used as a noun or a nominal group.


✅ It is not uncommon for Americans to use it this way:

“This dress is so ooh la la!”

❌ You will never see the “oh la la” used this way in France:

“Cette robe est tellement ooh la la !”

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However, the interjection oh là là can have other meanings depending on the person and the situation in which the expression is used.

How to pronounce “oh là là”?

Despite what you may hear in the United States, “oh là là” is pronounced in a rather monotone in French. The first syllable is pronounced like the letter “o” while the last two syllables are pronounced like they are read. The official phonetic writing is thus very close to the expression: /o la la/.

In what situations do the French use “oh là là”?

Generally speaking, oh là là is used in two main ways in France:

  1. To show his astonishment

As we have seen above, oh là là is typically used to show surprise, whether positive or negative. In this case, the interjection replaces ruder expressions that are not adapted to the situation (in the family, at work, in public…).


“Oh là là ! Il fait un froid de canard aujourd’hui !” => version grossière : “Oh putain ! Il fait un froid de canard aujourd’hui !”

“Oh my god! It’s so cold today!” => rude version: “Oh fuck! It’s freezing cold today!”

“Oh là là ! J’ai encore raté mon bus !” => version grossière : “Oh merde ! J’ai encore raté mon bus !”

“Oh dear! I missed my bus again!” => rude version: “Oh shit! I missed my bus again!”

“Oh là là ! Ton plat est très bon !” => version alternative : “Wahou ! Ton plat est très bon !”

“Damn! Your dish is very good!” => alternative version: “Wow! Your dish is very good!”

  1. To indicate the use of irony

More generally, this interjection is used ironically to emphasize a joke or mockery. In this situation, the expression “oh là là” will be used as well by children and seniors, as by adults and teenagers. It is important to know that the French are extremely sarcastic!

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“Oh là là ! Qu’est-ce que tu es doué !” (à quelqu’un qui vient de faire une erreur)

“Damn! How good you are!” (to someone who has just made a mistake)

“Oh là là ! Mais c’est qu’il fait beau aujourd’hui !” (alors qu’il pleut des cordes)

“Oh my! It’s such a beautiful day!” (while it is raining like crazy)

The different ways to write “oh la la”

It is useful to remember that there are two schools of thought when it comes to pronouncing the “oh” in the interjection “oh la la”. Some pronounce the “oh” as it is written (“oh”, “ô”, or “o”) while others prefer the “ou” sound (“ooh”, “ouh”, “oooh”). These two differences will greatly influence the transcription of the expression in writing.

The other part of the expression “la” can also be written in different ways. While French dictionaries seem to agree that the correct spelling is “là” (with a grave accent on the “a” like the demonstrative adverb), it can be found written in many ways in popular use, in addition to the traditional “oh là là”/”oh la la”.

So you will be able to find the written French expression:

  • In one word : “Olala” ; “Oulala”
  • In two words : ‘Oh lala’ ; “Ooh lala”
  • In three words (and more) : “Ouh la la” ; “Ou la la” “Ooh la la” ; “Oh la la la la” ; “Ooh là là là là là là…”

Because yes. The more a French person is shocked by a situation, the longer the interjection will be. You can therefore find up to ten “là” if the speaker is very surprised by a news.


“Oh là là ! Tu as renversé ton verre d’eau !” : action négative avec un faible niveau de gravité => peu de “là”.

“Whoops! You spilled your glass of water!” negative action with a low level of seriousness => few “là”.

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“Oh là là là là là là ! Tu viens de casser le vase en porcelaine de mamie !” => action négative avec un fort degré de gravité => beaucoup de “là”.

“Damn it! You spilled your glass of water!” negative action with a high degree of severity => lot of “là”.

Expressions derived from “oh la la”

As time went by, “Oh là là” has been used in many different ways until it gave birth to French idiomatic expressions, some of which have a very specific meaning. Here are some of the most common derivatives of “oh là là” used by the French in everyday life.

Ouh la !

The interjection “Ouh la”, although very close in its use to “oh la la”, has a strong negative connotation in the French collective imagination. It is used to signify a feeling of disgust or disapproval of an action.


“Ouh la ! Qu’est-ce qu’il est en train de faire celui-là ?”

“Wow! What’s this one doing?”

Roh la la !

Just like the transformation of “oh” into “ouh”, it is not uncommon to find “oh” becoming “roh”. Unlike the classic “oh la la”, “roh la la” is used to show that something is annoying.


“Roh là là ! Le train est encore en retard !”

“Damn! The train is late again!”

Oh la la chéri(e) !

The expression “oh la chéri!” or “oh là là chérie!” is generally used in two situations:

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  1. To make your partner see reason: “Oh la la chérie ! Mais enfin, calme-toi !” (=Oh dear! Just calm down!)
  1. To express positive astonishment, “Oh la la chérie ! Mais tu as fait la vaisselle !” (=Oh my dear! But you did the dishes!) or to pay a compliment “Oh la chérie ! Mais que tu es belle ce soir !” (=Oh dear! How beautiful you look tonight!)

Oh la vache !

To signify positive astonishment “Oh my dear! But you did the dishes!” or to pay a compliment “Oh dear! How beautiful you look tonight!”

The expression “oh la vache” (=Holy cow) has a similar meaning to the traditional “oh la la”. As a general rule, you will find this colloquial expression used to replace French insults such as “oh putin) (=oh fuck!) or “oh merde” (=oh shit!), either in the presence of children or in a situation that does not allow the use of these interjections (professional or family environment).

Oh !

When “oh” is used alone, the speaker is usually expressing a deep sense of surprise at an everyday action: “Oh ! Mais ça va pas bien ?” (=Oh, what’s wrong?). Furthermore, a similar use of this interjection can be found in many other cultures.

The image of the expression “Oh la la” abroad

Seen from abroad (mainly in the Anglo-Saxon culture), the interjection “oh la la” is often considered a common expression, used by all French people; while some French people will tell you that they have never used this expression in their life.

The truth is that the interjection is still used by some people, but it is not nearly as widespread as one might think. It is even likely that, nowadays, Americans use it more than the French. In France, “Oh là là!” is more commonly used by very young children or elderly people. In a more familiar context, the majority of French people will prefer to use other more familiar terms to signify their astonishment.

The expression “Oh la la” in French popular culture

Indissociable from France and the French, the expression “oh la la” can be found in many cultural works in France.

A few months ago we introduced you to PNL, one of the most popular rap bands in France. Well, you have to know that one of their first tracks to have made the buzz was entitled “Oh Lala”!

In this track (which has almost 100 million views on YouTube), the two brothers punctuate their verses with the phrase “oh lala,” to indicate that their actions tend to shock their detractors and the people around them.

Finally, we find the French expression used in all sorts of ways, such as in the series of educational books for young children “Oh là là!” or in certain media dealing with French culture among foreigners (“Oh là là! Français” and “Oh La La I Speak French“). Did you like this explanation of the meaning of “Oh la la”? Let us know in the comment section!If you liked it, you can read our articles about the right use of mon ami and omelette du fromage.

Translated into English by Sacha


What does oh lala mean in French? ›

Oh là là is mostly used for strong emotions, both positive and negative, and roughly translates to 'Oh my God' or 'Wow' in English. It can be used by anyone and everyone in French.

Do the French actually say Ooh Lala? ›

Unlike that phrase, though, French people actually do say Oh là là – a lot! It's one of those French stereotypes that's actually true! Just about every French person, regardless of their age, social status, background, geographic location, education, level of formality, etc., uses this expression.

What is the meaning of La La La? ›

la-la (plural la-las) (slang, US) Something unusually good; (occasionally) something unusually bad. [

What do French people say instead of oh my God? ›

French people often says “Putain!” that has the same meaning of “Oh my God” in English.

Do the French actually say Sacre Bleu? ›

Sacrebleu! Sacrebleu is a stereotypical and very old fashioned French curse, which is rarely used by the French these days. An English equivalent would be “My Goodness!” or “Golly Gosh!” It was once considered very offensive.

Why do the French say no? ›

Barlow and Nadeau suggest that the no used by many French people comes from an obsession with not getting blamed for being wrong. And while this is true in all walks of life, the fonctionnaires (bureaucrats) of France have turned it into a complex system that seems archaic and inefficient.

What is a famous French saying? ›

Mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup.

Literal translation: “Eat well, laugh often, love a lot.” Actual meaning: “Live life to the fullest” or carpe diem (“seize the day”). Use this positive French saying to console a friend that is having a hard time.

Why do French say LA? ›

Là is an adverb used to define a place (usually it means 'there') or a moment in time (generally it means 'then').

Who first said ooh la la? ›

Ooh La La (Faces song)
"Ooh La La"
Songwriter(s)Ronnie Lane Ronnie Wood
Producer(s)Glyn Johns
Faces singles chronology
"Cindy Incidentally" (1972) "Ooh La La" (1973) "Pool Hall Richard" (1973)
13 more rows

What does la meme mean in French? ›

feminine noun (informal) 1. (= grand-parent) granny.

What does a la phrase mean? ›

(ɑ lɑ ) prepositional phrase [PREP n-proper] If you do something à la a particular person, you do it in the same style or in the same way that they would do it.

What does la mean in slang? ›

Laughing a lot. Yet another way to say LOL or ROTFL; not to be confused with just singing "la la la..."

Why do Americans say excuse my French? ›

The expression originates from the 19th century, and was used literally. When English people used French expressions in conversation, they would often apologise for it, presumably because many of their listeners were not familiar with the language! Example: "Excuse my French, but that guys needs a kick in the ass!"

What do French people say when shocked? ›

Je suis choqué(e) – if you want to literally say that you're shocked by something, je suis choqué conveys that.

What are 3 greetings in French? ›

Hello in French
  • The slangy one: Coucou! Meaning: “Hi!” About: Coucou is a sweet, sincere way of saying hi, normally reserved for close friends and family. ...
  • The casual one: Salut! Meaning: “Hey!” ...
  • The formal one: Bonjour! Meaning: This failsafe greeting literally means “Good day”.

What does calling someone Lala mean? ›

Lala in British English

(ˈlɑːlɑː ) a title or form of address, equivalent to Mr, used in India. Collins English Dictionary.

Does Lala mean love? ›

La-La (Means I Love You)

How do you use Le LA? ›

In French, the definite articles are placed before a common noun: “Le” before a common noun in the singular masculine. Example: le bus. “La” before a common noun in the singular feminine.

What is La Leche slang for? ›

- De la leche (of the milk)

At its most precise, it means incredible or tremendous. One can have un cabreo de la leche (to be incredibly mad) or una suerte de la leche (to have tremendous good fortune).

Where did the term oh la la come from? ›

a phrase, originally from France, used for showing surprise, admiration, or excitement about something, especially when referring to something that is connected with France or French people, or when something of a sexual nature is involved: Someone actually said "ooh la la" when they saw his new barbecue.

What origin is the name Lala? ›

Sweet, whimsical, and utterly unique, Lala is a girl's name of Slavic origin, meaning "tulip." If you've been looking for a flowery name with an edge, you may have finally found your match.

What does Bebe mean from a girl? ›

What does bebe mean? Bebe is an alternate spelling and pronunciation of baby, usually used playfully or affectionately.

What language is LaLa for grandma? ›

"My mother-in-law didn't want to be called Grandma, so I made up the name LaLa for her," says one mom. "It's a combination of the last syllable of her name (Darla) and the last syllable of the Spanish word for Grandma (abuela).

Is Papi a love name? ›

Papi is a colloquial term for “daddy” in Spanish, but in many Spanish-speaking cultures, particularly in the Caribbean, it is often used as a general term of affection for any man, whether it's a relative, friend, or lover. The English “baby,” used as a term of endearment for spouses and children alike, is similar.

What does Le La Les and L mean in French? ›

Most of the time, le, l', la, and les stand for 'the. ' These French articles designate people, objects, or places that are specific or have already been mentioned. You now need to learn which words are masculine and feminine.

Why do we use a la in French? ›

To express 'to the' or 'at the' in French, use: à + the correct article le/la/l'/les. – Use à la before a feminine word (la maison): Il est resté à la maison. He stayed at home.

What is the most romantic thing to say in French? ›

Je t'aime passionnément – I love you passionately. Je t'aime à la folie – I love you like crazy. Je t'aime d'amour – I love you with true love.

What do French people say when something is good? ›

If you'd like to say “very good” in French, you'd generally say “très bon.” That said, there are some common informal and/or slang expressions that convey the same idea: génial, super, le top, chouette, cool, and more. Each conveys a general sense of goodness, greatness, niceness, or excellence.

What is the easiest sentence to say in French? ›

Let's dig in!
  1. Bonjour. = Good morning. ...
  2. Bonne après-midi. = Good afternoon. ...
  3. Je m'appelle Mondly. = My name is Mondly. ...
  4. Je suis ravi de vous rencontrer. = I'm pleased to meet you. ...
  5. Comment ça va ? = How are you? ...
  6. Bien, merci. Et vous-même ? ...
  7. J'aimerais une bière. = I'd like a beer. ...
  8. Je suis désolé. = I'm sorry.


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