French Expressions Explained: Oh là là

French expressions analyzed and explained

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The French phrase oh là là isn't so much an expression as an interjection. It can indicate surprise, disappointment, commiseration, distress, annoyance... any moderately strong reaction to something that was just said or done. Note that there is no connotation of sexiness or impropriety in French.*

  •    Oh là là ! J'ai oublié mon portefeuille !
  •    Oh no, I forgot my wallet!

It can be strengthened with additional 's, always in pairs.

In fact, the first time I ever heard a native French speaker use this expression (other than on language tapes) was at Charles de Gaulle airport. A woman was looking at souvenirs when she knocked over a small Eiffel Tower made of glass, and exclaimed oh là là là là là là ! I was as surprised by the extra 's as she was by the accident.

Since then, I've heard as many as eight. My favorite, though, was the person who paused before tacking on a final pair:

   Oh là là là là ! (a beat) là là !

*This expression is often used in English to talk about something risqué. It tends to be misspelled and mispronounced "ooh la la," usually said fairly slowly and with the first word comically elongated.

Expression: Oh là là

Pronunciation: [o la la]

Meaning: oh dear, oh my, oh no

Literal translation: oh there there

Register: normal

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