What is the French expression “oh là là” and how is it really used?


Last Updated: August 29, 2022

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Oh là là is arguably the most iconic and quintessentially French expression there is. As cliché as it may sound in English, it’s actually used regularly in everyday French. This is one of the very few French stereotypes that is actually based in reality.


However, its meaning and usage aren’t the same as it is for the rest of the world. Outside of France, Oh là là is considered a racy and sexy expression, but its literal meaning can be translated to ‘oh, there, there’, and it has a multitude of meanings in French far beyond the sexual connotation it has in English. 

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.

How to pronounce Oh là là like a real French person

Let’s start with the first part of the phrase Oh. It’s pronounced like eau (water) in French. It isn’t pronounced ooh like how most English speakers think it is.

The là là is pronounced very similarly to la la in English, however, be sure to keep the tip of your tongue close to the roof of your mouth. 

The oh is usually stressed, followed by là là in rapid succession.

How to use Oh là là


Oh là là has a multitude of meanings depending on the context, however, it is always used as an interjection and as such there is no conjugation required.

It can be used as a standalone phrase or at the beginning of a sentence. The most important thing to understand is the context of the situation and the tone to use it in. The tone is everything when using oh là là. 

Positive usage

Oh là là can be used in a positive context to express surprise and appreciation. Here are some examples:

Oh là là, c’est trop beau!

Wow, it’s so beautiful!

Oh là là, c’est une grande nouvelle!

Wow, that’s great news!

Tu m’as acheté des fleurs? Oh là là!

You bought me flowers. Wow!

Negative usage

Oh là là is so versatile, it can also be used for a variety of negative emotions and situations. 

  • On hearing negative news

Oh là là, qu’est-ce que tu as fait?

            Oh no, what did you do?

Oh là là! Quelle catastrophe!

            Oh no, what a disaster!

  • Showing annoyance

Oh là là! Je n’ai jamais dit ça!

             Oh wow! I never said that.

  • Regret

Oh là là! Si seulement j’avais suivi tes conseils, je n’en serais pas là aujourd’hui. 

Oh no! I wish I had followed your advice, I would not be in such trouble today. 

  • Disappointment 

Oh là là can help you to really express your heartfelt disappointment about something.

Mes rêves ont été déçus. Oh là là, que je suis tellement déçue!

My dreams have been dashed. Oh my God, I’m so disappointed.

Other Uses

Oh là là can even be used to show incredulity.

Il est tombé? Oh là là!He fell? Wow!

Il avait trois yeux! Oh là là!He had 3 eyes! Unbelievable!

Finally, Oh là là can also be used to show solidarity, particularly if your friend shares their misfortunes with you. A supportive Oh là là can really go a long way.

Tu as échoué au cours d’allemand après douze mois d’études? Oh là là.

You failed your German class after 12 months of study? How awful.

Other variations of Oh là là

Oh là là may be the quintessential French expression, but there are some other variations. 

  • Ouh là là

Ouh là là is used to show that a person is really surprised or upset. It’s actually pronounced how most of the rest of the world pronounces the Oh in Oh là là, with a short, clipped sound. 

  • Ouh là 

This means “Watch out” or “Wait a second.”

Ouh là, fais attention sur l’escalier !

Whoa, watch out on the staircase. 

  • Oh là là là là

One of the most common variations of oh là là is oh là là là là, or even Oh là là là là là là - usually no more than six. This variation is used when the speaker is extremely enthusiastic, very mad, or very worked up about something.

Oh là là là là là là !  On sera coincé dans cet embouteillage pour toute éternité !

Ahhhhhhhh, we’ll be stuck in this traffic jam for all eternity!

You may also notice different spellings for oh là là, this is because it’s an interjection and not used in formal French. Therefore the spelling hasn’t been standardized. Sometimes the diacritical marks aren’t used at all.

We hope that you found this article on the quintessential French expression oh là là interesting. Let us know what you think and any of your experiences with this phrase in the comment section below.

About the author 

Melanie is Australian. She loves to travel and is a language enthusiast.
She has a long-standing love affair with the French language and culture.

  • When I was in France I heard this many times, in varying times and degrees of emphasis – I can still hear the woman in the flower shop saying ‘ohh, là là’ and shaking her head in sympathy and mild wonder as she made small talk with my friend about some shenanigans her kids had gotten up to.

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