Ready to say hello to the French-speaking world? French tutor Carol Beth L. shares the most useful phrases you’ll need to start and end conversations…
Heading for France or a French-speaking country? Know someone who’s French? Chances are you’d love to get a head start on some useful French greetings and phrases. Here is the most important French vocabulary you’ll need for greetings, farewells, and introductory phrases, in addition to a few others just for fun.
This is probably the most universally recognized French greeting. It literally means “Good day!” It can be used in the morning or during the day. If it’s still the morning and you are tempted to say “good morning,” though, be careful. The literal translation of the English greeting is “bon matin,” but this phrase doesn’t actually exist in French. Just say “bonjour.”
“Bon” means good and “soir” means evening. Pretty logical. Unlike anglicized attempts at good morning, this one works. Use it appropriately :).
3) Comment-allez vous?
How are you?
Allez technically is a form of the verb aller (to go), but doesn’t translate that way in this situation. French has two levels of formality when speaking to one person. This is the more respectful version. (Note the use of “vous” instead of “tu.”) If you are speaking with a friend, you can also say, “Comment vas-tu?”
4) Je vais tres bien, merci.
I’m doing very well, thank you.
It can be shortened to Tres bien, merci (Very well, thank you).
5) Je ne vais pas bien. / Je vais mal. / Comme ci comme ça.
I am not doing well. / I am doing badly. / (I’m doing) so-so.
Probably you won’t say this to a stranger or to a superior or colleague if you’re trying to be polite. Around family members, friends, or the doctor, however, it may be in your interest and theirs to give an honest response.
6) Et vous?
And you? How about you?
You can use this after someone has asked you a question, you’ve (most likely) responded, and you want to ask them the same question. As in #3, this is the formal form. The informal version is, “Et tu?”
7) Comment vous appelez-vous?
What’s your name?
Appeler is a French verb meaning “to call,” so you are literally asking what they call themselves. Again, this is the more formal form. To speak to a peer, say, “comment t’appelles-tu?”
8) Je m’appelle _____________.
My name is _____________.
Use this to respond to #7, inserting your name in the space.
9) Au revoir!
Until (we) see (each other) again! See you later!
Au means “to the,” and in this context, until. Revoir means to see again.
10) A tout a l’heure!
See you (very) soon!
Usually this is used when two peers, friends, or colleagues must part temporarily, but will see each other later the same day.
11) A demain!
See you tomorrow! More literally: Until tomorrow!
12) A plus tard!
See you later! More literally: Until later!
This can be used if you will see the person again the same day, or also if you will see them again soon, but you aren’t sure exactly when. For instance, in may be that you see them once or several times a week, and so for the two of you, if you see them in a few days, it’s still considered to be relatively soon.
Hopefully you will not have say this one too often. Sometimes it is used dramatically in movies or plays when someone is on their deathbed.
14) J’aime la France!
I like / love France!
Technically, adorer is a stronger “like” verb than aimer, which is safely translated to “like,” and sometimes translated to “love.” If you want to state more strongly how much you like France, say, “J’adore la France!”
15) C’est toute la faute du gouvernment!
It’s all the fault of the government!
When I was in second year French, another French speaker who had studied abroad in France told me that French people tend to blame the government for many things that go wrong. (This sometimes has a ring of truth to it.) She went on to tell me that whenever I didn’t know the answer, I could always use this phrase. So now I pass it on to you. If you’re not sure, just blame it on the government!
Sharpen your French conversation skills by studying with a private tutor. French tutors are available to work with you online via Skype or in-person depending on your location and availability. Search for your French tutor today!
Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!
Photo by Barry Pousman