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Oh la la: How The French Really Use This Colorful Expression

Oh la la: How The French Really Use This Colorful Expression
Oh la la meaning

Even before learning French (and the famous oh la la meaning), there were a few French phrases I knew. Even though French isn’t commonly spoken in the United States, phrases like C’est la vie, Je t’aime, and Ooo la la have permeated our culture.

Whether in movies, on coffee mugs, or on t-shirts, it’s likely you’ve seen a few French phrases here and there. That’s why it surprised me when I found out that the French say “oh là là” way more often than they say “ooo là là.”

I had never heard of the French pronunciation “oh là là,” much less if the different pronunciation had a different meaning or not. So if you’re here to learn the meaning of oh là là, you’re in the right place. Because after a few years in France, I have a pretty good understanding of when and how to say oh là là, the difference between ooo là là (alternatively: ouh là là or ooh la la) and oh là là, and its meaning. 

Oh la la meaning

Before we dive in fully, let’s go ahead and share the answer to the question of the hour: “What does oh là là mean?”

Oh là là has a few different translations including oh!, oh dear!, oh boy!, wow, and yikes. It’s a French interjection that can be used in both positive and negative situations.

Oh là là can be used in moments of joy, surprise, excitement, admiration, compassion, empathy, sadness, disappointment, and even to show you’re interested in someone romantically. 

Oh la la meaning in positive situations

In positive situations, the meaning of oh là là is most similar to oh boy!, wow, or oh my! You might say oh là là in the following circumstances:

  • You’re watching someone bring out a big chocolate cake at a birthday party.
  • A very classy, vintage car drives by you and you find it beautiful. 
  • While shopping, your friend tries on a dress and it looks really good on her. 
  • You’re touring a new home and you walk into the completely redone kitchen. 

Here’s what you might say in French in the previous situations:

  • Oh là là, ce gâteau a l’air délicieux.  Oh boy! That cake looks delicious. 
  • Oh là là, j’adore les voitures anciennes comme ça. Wow, I love vintage cars like that.
  • Oh là là, cette robe te va parfaitement.  Wow, that dress fits you perfectly. 
  • Oh là là, c’est beau ! Oh my, it’s beautiful. 
Ooh la la

Oh la la meaning in negative situations

Similar to how oh là là can be used in multiple different positive situations, there are also a few ways you can use it in negative situations. In negative situations, oh là là translates more like oh dear!, yikes, or dear lord. 

You might say oh là là in the following circumstances:

  • You’re out with friends and have a few too many drinks. You wake up in the morning, check your bank account balance, and say oh là là. 
  • You drive by a car that has crashed into another.
  • You’re playing a game of pool with your friends and you’re one point away from winning. But, you miss your last shot and say oh là là. 
  • You get home and open your mail to find a speeding ticket. 

Here’s what you might say in French in the previous situations:

  • Oh là là, j’ai dépensé autant hier soir ? Yikes, I spent that much last night?
  • Oh là là, regarde l’accident de voiture là. Oh dear, look at that car crash.
  • Oh la la, c’est dommage, j’y étais presque, à un point près j’aurais réussi. Oh man, what a shame. I almost had it, just one point away from winning. 
  • Oh là là, pas encore. Yikes, not again. 

Ouh la la vs Oh la la meaning

Ouh là là, or ooo la la or ooh la la when written in English, is another French exclamatory phrase with a slightly different pronunciation than oh là là. You’ve likely heard ouh là là way more often in the English-speaking world than oh là là

But there actually is no difference between the two besides their pronunciation. Ouh là là is pronounced with the long ooo sound: ooo là là. And oh là là is pronounced with the short “oh” sound at the beginning.

For example, these two famous English Ooh la la songs, Ooh la la by Britney Spears and Ooh La La by Goldfrapp both use ooh la la with the long ooo sound. The famous French song, Oh la la la, on the other hand uses the short oh sound.

That being said, the oh là là pronunciation is much more common than ouh là là in the French-speaking world.

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Calli Zarpas

Calli Zarpas, blogger, producer, and content creator, is a lover of all things travel, wellness, and French. Having begun traveling in her teens, Calli visited 30 countries before settling down in France post-college. When she's not writing French-language content for FrenchLearner or traveling the world, you can find Calli creating content for herself and others on Instagram and her blog, Wooish.

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