There’s no doubt that the most common way of saying “money” in French is “argent“. However, if we refer to its literal translation, “argent” means “silver”. And just as in English, silver, in the original sense of the word, refers to a precious metal used in a number of industries: jewelry, goldsmiths, electronics… But it’s for the primary use that we use today to designate money.
For many centuries, France used silver to mint coins in large volumes. With the advent of the euro, France gradually moved away from silver to nickel, copper, and zinc.
Nevertheless, the term “argent” has remained the standard for all forms of currency. It is used to designate monetary resources (in the form of metal coins), and, by extension, the monetary value of any object or service. But that’s not to say there aren’t other ways of referring to money in French. The language overflows with all kinds of expressions to designate different forms of money in different situations.
Money and the French
Coinage first appeared in France in 1360 to facilitate trade, but it wasn’t until 1795 that the country adopted a true national currency: the franc. After more than 200 years, the euro replaced the franc in France, following the Maastricht Treaty and the instigation of the eurozone in 1999. Three years later, the euro became the only currency available in France, distributed by all French banks.
When it comes to money, the French have a very special relationship with money and wealth. On the one hand, France is perceived as a country where financial and social issues are important, with a definite attachment to questions of social protection and equality with regard to money.
On the other hand, the French have a long tradition of criticism of money and wealth. They are suspicious of excessive wealth accumulation, and thus often mix the notion of money with political and social beliefs. Unlike many English-speaking countries, it’s generally frowned upon in France to talk about one’s financial situation, especially if one is wealthy.
15 Synonyms for “Money” in French
- Monnaie (common)
English translation: Currency (literal) / Money, change
The French word “monnaie” is the English equivalent of “currency”. It refers to coins and banknotes. Its origin comes from the Latin word “moneta”, which referred both to coins and to the measurement of value and trade. Commonly used in French, you may hear the word in everyday conversation or in the world of finance.
“Monnaie” can thus be used to refer to a country’s official currency “La monnaie de la France est l’euro.”(= France’s currency is the euro) as well as to refer to the extra money you are owed when you pay for a good or service (“Le serveur a oublié de me rendre la monnaie.”(= The waiter forgot to give me change).
- Espèces (common)
English translation: Species (literal) / Cash
The term “espèces” literally translates as “species” in English, but in the context of money, it is the equivalent of “cash”. The origin of the term remains obscure, but according to some experts, it derives from the idea that cash is a tangible, physical form of money.
Although less common than “monnaie”, “espèces” is still frequently used in everyday language, especially when referring to cash payments. The term is always used in the plural in French “Ce magasin n’accepte que les espèces.” (= This store only accepts cash).
- Sous (common)
English translation: Money
Derived from the Latin word “solidus”, which denoted a coin, the word “sou” (singular of “sous”) has had many uses over the years. In the Middle Ages, the term was used to designate a coin (copper or bronze) or a currency of accounts. In 1793, with the introduction of the decimal system in France, a “sou” became the official denomination of a 5-centime coin.
Today, it’s rare to use the term in the singular. Most people use the term in the plural to refer to small coins “Elle a des sous dans son porte-monnaie.” (= She’s got pennies in her purse) and money in general “Je n’ai plus de sous sur mon compte en banque.” (=I’ve run out of pennies in my bank account).
- Fric (colloquial)
English translation: Bucks
“Fric” is a slang term used to refer to money in French. Its exact origin remains uncertain, but the term has been used for decades to refer to cash.
Although not as widely used as some of the more common terms, “fric” remains one of the French people’s favorite terms for referring to money in a colloquial way with friends or family “Il baigne dans le fric.” (= He’s super wealthy).
- Liquide (common)
English translation: Liquid
As mentioned above, cash – banknotes and coins – is more commonly known as “argent liquide” (liquid money). The origin of the term is quite obvious and comes from Italy. The term “liquid” comes from the Italian word “liquido”, which was used to designate money that could be used immediately to make payments, and was therefore considered fluid.
Like “monnaie”, “liquide” is a formal term that you’ll find in everyday conversations about the agent, as well as in finance and trade. In the latter case, “liquidités” can also be used instead of “argent” in French.
- Oseille (colloquial)
English translation: Bread
Originally, the term “sorrel” was used as a shortened version of the common sorrel (l’oseille commune in French), a perennial plant in the Polygonaceae family. In slang, the term found its way into the French vocabulary as a synonym for “money”.
Although the exact link between the plant and money is unknown, it’s a safe bet that it lies in the green color of sorrel leaves, similar to that of banknotes. Informal and colloquial, “oseille” is often used in French in place of “argent “Il faut beaucoup d’oseille pour vivre ici.” (= You need a lot of cash to live here).
- Blé (colloquial)
English translation: Wheat (literal) / Dough
The word “blé” (wheat) is an informal and colloquial way of referring to money in French, like “dough”. Its origins date back to the Middle Ages. At the time, wheat was a particularly expensive grain. By metaphor, the cereal became a way of referring to money or to someone with a lot of money “Il a plein de blé.” (= He has lots of cash).
This comparison between wheat and money in French goes even further, as it has given rise to a number of expressions. For example, when you run out of money, you’re said to be “mowed” (as a field of wheat might be) meaning that you are broke.
- Thune (colloquial)
English translation: Cash
“Thune” is a slang term for money. It has gained in popularity in recent years, particularly among young people. Its origins are unclear, but several linguistic explanations have been put forward, one of which seems to be widely shared.
“Thune” would in fact refer to the ancient name of the city of Tunis (Tunisia), called “Tunes”. In those days, the “King of Thunes” was the name given to the leader of the beggars in the Court of Miracles. The thune was what was given to the beggars: coins.
Today, the term is widely used in everyday French and has even given rise to expressions such as “pété de thunes” (= Full of cash), a term used to describe someone who has a lot of money.
- Pognon (colloquial)
English translation: Cash
“Pognon” is another colloquial term used to refer to money in French. Here again, the origin of the term remains unclear, although one hypothesis has been put forward. According to this hypothesis, the word “pognon” refers to Henri Pognon, a chief accountant at the Schneider factories, who became mayor of the town of Le Creusot.
Popular and informal, the term has nevertheless lost popularity among a certain segment of the population in recent years to younger, more fashionable expressions, “Il me doit du pognon.” (= He owes me dough).
- Flouze (colloquial)
English translation: Dough
“Flouze” is a French slang term from the suburbs that was popularized by hip-hop at the end of the last century. Indeed, the term is often associated with street slang and the rap scene in France, where it is frequently used to talk about money.
The term has its origins in the Maghrebi Arabic word “flüs”, which was used to designate an ancient Arab coin made of bronze, copper, or silver. Although some consider “flouze” a vulgar term, it is widely understood and used by many French speakers to refer to money in discussions between friends.
- Pépèttes (colloquial)
English translation: Bucks
“Pépèttes” is a slang term that has been used for centuries in France to refer to money and coins. Once again, the origin of the term remains uncertain. It may come from an alteration of the word “pépite”, or from the term “pélo” (which also means currency), which originally referred to a stone used to make ricochets, formerly known as a “pépette”.
The term remains a little less widely used than many of the other words on this list since it’s considered old-fashioned and unfashionable by a large proportion of French people. If you hear it in a conversation, there’s a good chance it’s being said in a humorous tone.
- Ferraille (colloquial)
English translation: Scrap metal (literal) / Coins
The term “ferraille”, which translates as “scrap metal” in English, is a French slang term for cash and, more specifically, coins. As you may have guessed, the use of this term comes from the idea that coins are made of metal.
“Ferraille” is not really the most widely used synonym for money today, although it can often be found in music, particularly in French rap, “Il me reste de la ferraille.” (= Got some cash left).
- Ronds (colloquial)
English translation: Rounds (literal) / Coins
The term “rond” is another synonym for “monnaie” in French. Literally translated as “round” in English, the word refers directly to the shape of coins.
Commonly used, but by no means the most popular, “rond” is used in the vast majority of cases in a negative sense to refer to someone who has no money left, “Il n’a plus un rond.” (= He has no more cash).
- Moula (colloquial)
English translation: Money
“Moula” is the French buzzword for money among young people. The term, which can be used to refer to money, cannabis, or celebrities, comes from the English word “moola”.
Its use in France has exploded among young people and has been greatly democratized by popular French rappers such as Heuss l’enfoiré and Jul. As they so aptly put it in their song Moulaga (the long version of the word “moula”), “j’ai dit, donnez-moi de la moula”.
- Maille (colloquial)
English translation: Mesh (littérale) / Bucks
“Maille” is another informal term for money in French. The expression is thought to have originated in the 17th century and to have come from the Middle Ages. However, contrary to all expectations, “maille” does not refer to the côtes de maille worn by knights or soldiers. At the time, the “maille” referred to the smallest coin in circulation, a bronze piécette worth half a denarius.
Today, the term has changed its meaning somewhat, as it is used by the younger generation, usually to refer to a large amount of money, “J’ai fait tellement de maille l’année dernière.” (= I made so much knitwear last year).
Through these 15 expressions synonymous with money in French, we’ve learned more about French financial culture and its nuances. Each term highlights a specific period and roots, giving us a better understanding not only of the French relationship with money but also of the place it occupies in French culture.
Translated into English by Sacha