Saying Yes in French with Oui, Ouais, Mouais, and Si

Woman taking photo of French chocolate shop window
"Tu aimes le chocolat?" (Do you like chocolate?) - Oui. (Yes I do.). martin-dm / Getty Images

Any student of French knows how to say yes: oui (pronounced like "we" in English). But there are some secrets to be revealed about this simple French word if you want to speak like a real French person.

Yes I do, Yes I am, Yes I can...Just "oui" in French

Saying yes looks pretty straightforward.

- Tu aimes le chocolat ? Do you like chocolate?
- Oui. Yes I do.

However, things are not as easy as they seem.

In English, you would not answer this question simply by saying "yes." You'd say: "yes I do."

It's a mistake I hear all the time with my French students. They answer "oui, je fais", or "oui, j'aime." But "oui" is self-sufficient in French. You may repeat the whole sentence:

- oui, j'aime le chocolat.

Or just say "oui." It's good enough in French. 

Ouais: the informal French yes

When hearing French people speak, you'll hear this one a lot. 

- Tu habites en France ? Do you live in France?
- Ouais, j'habite à Paris. Yep, I live in Paris.

It's pronounced like way in English. "Ouais" is the equivalent of yep. We use it all the time. I've heard French teachers say it was vulgar. Well, maybe fifty years ago. But not anymore. I mean, it's definitely casual French, just like you wouldn't say yep in English in every situation...

Mouais: showing little enthusiasm

A variation of "ouais" is "mouais" to show that you are not too crazy about something.

- Tu aimes le chocolat ?
- Mouais, en fait, pas trop.
Yeah, in fact, not that much.

Mouais: showing doubt

Another version is "mmmmouais" with a doubtful expression. This is more like: yeah, you're right, said ironically. It means you doubt the person is saying the truth. 

- Tu aimes le chocolat?
- Non, je n'aime pas beaucoup ça.

No I don't like it a lot.
- Mouais... tout le monde aime le chocolat. Je ne te crois pas. Right... everybody likes chocolate. I don't believe you.

Si: but yes I do (although you said I didn't)

"Si" is another French word to say yes, but we only use it in a very specific situation. To contradict someone who made a statement in the negative form.

- Tu n'aimes pas le chocolat, n'est-ce pas ? You don't like chocolate, right?
- Mais, bien sûr que si ! J'adore ça ! But, of course I do! I love that!

The key here is the statement in the negative. We don't use "si" for "yes" otherwise. Now, "si" is yes in other languages, such as Spanish and Italian. How confusing!

"Si" actually means a lot of different things in French. Read about "si" in French here.

Mais oui

This is the typical French sentence: "mais oui... sacrebleu...blah blah blah"...
I really don't know why. I promise you French people don't say "mais oui" all the time... "Mais oui" is actually quite strong. It means: but yes, of course, it's obvious isn't it? It's often used when you're annoyed. Well, maybe the French always seem to be annoyed!

- Tu aimes le chocolat ? 
- Mais oui ! Je te l'ai déjà dit mille fois!
YES! I already told you a thousand times!

Now, let's see how to say "no" in French (it's "non" - ask my daughter!).

You may also be interested in my articles the best resources for the self-taught student of French, and I want to learn French, where do I start?