Contrary to so many other expressions that we discuss on this site, oh là là is one that needs no introduction. The majority of English speakers, whether they speak French or not, are pretty familiar with oh là là and perhaps even how to use it.
If you aren’t familiar with it then you’ll be happy to hear that it’s incredibly easy to understand and can be learned in just a few minutes.
Oh là là can be thought of as a French equivalent to “oh no”, “oh dear”, or even “wow”. It’s used usually in response to something that would elicit either a relatively good or bad reaction. It should be noted however that oh là là shouldn’t be used for situations that are highly negative, such as if someone gets seriously hurt.
When translated literally oh là là means “oh there there”. This doesn’t make much sense if you think about it in English so the best advice is to not take the literal translation into account when using it.
Believe it or not, although you will absolutely hear French speakers use oh là là it’s actually probably more popular among English speakers.
The main difference between how it’s used in French and how it’s used in English is that in English it often has a sexual connotation. In French, no such connotation exists.
In addition, oh là là is often misspelled / pronounced as “ooh la la” (or something similar) when used in English. As with anything, it’s very important that when you use it in French you spell it correctly.
Oh là là, je suis en retard – Oh no, I’m late
Oh là là, j’ai fait plein de bêtises hier soir – Oh man, I did a lot of stupid things last night
Oh là là ! J’ai oublié mes clefs ! – Oh no, I forgot my keys!
Oh là là, ma mère va être furieuse – Oh boy, my mother is going to be furious
Oh là là, c’est tellement gênant – Oh my, that’s so embarrassing
Oh là là, c’est trop beau ! – Wow, it’s so beautiful!
Although you don’t have to do this yourself you’ll sometimes hear French speakers add additional là‘s to the end. So instead of just oh là là, you’ll hear oh là là là là, etc.. It’s usually done in pairs with the more pairs being added to the end, the stronger the emphasis.
Although neither of these are as common as oh là là, you’ll also see hou là là and ouh là là. Just something to keep in mind.
Pretty simple, right? The next time you are around native-French speakers make sure you listen to see if they say oh là là. Because it’s is an expression of emotion the best way to truly understand how to use it is to take note of in which situations people say it. Once you hear it used in context enough times, using it will become second nature.
If you’d like to learn more vocabulary or expressions then take a look at the French vocabulary page.