"Bien" vs "Bon" in This Example:

Bonjour! I've been having trouble understanding this lyric from a Stromae song:

'Maman dit "travailler c'est bien" '

I know that 'Maman dit' means 'Mama says,' and that '"travailler c'est"' means 'working/to work is good.'

I understand that the French often use 'c'est' even when 'est' is all that's necessary in the sentence, AND that they leave out the comma before the unnecessary 'c'est' that we would need in English. (Par example, we would have to to say 'Mama says "working, it's good,"' not 'Mama says '"working it's good.'"

I also understand that you don't need to say 'Maman dit QUE "travailler c'est bien,"' because '"travailler c'est bien"' is in quotes.

What I can't figure out, is why you say 'bien.' 'Bien' means well, but you don't say 'working/to work is well.' You would say 'working/to work is good.' Therefore, 'bien' would be replaced with 'bon,' in the sentence, right?

I even asked Google Translate, because it may have just been slang or an expression that Stromae used in his song. I replace 'to work' with 'to eat' and asked Google Translate to translate 'eating is good' from English to French. Sure enough, it said 'Manger est bien.'

Any help would be greatly appreciated. What grammatical rule makes this use of 'bien' correct? If it is just another exception/cultural thing (please, no!), can you give some more examples so that I might get a "feel" for this exception and when and how the French use it?

Merci beaucoup d'avance! -Pickletoepi

December 29, 2017


I believe that the reason one uses "bien" here is that it is referring to a verb, rather than a noun.

December 29, 2017

(le) Bien vs (le) mal = Good vs evil / Goodness vs evilness (noun)

Bien aimé vs mal aimé = Well loved / Poorly loved

Bien joué = Well done

Bien être = Well being

Bon vs mauvais = Good vs bad (adjective)

Bien meaning well is not the most common meaning, bien is most often considered as good vs evil. Axis of evil = axe du mal, in this case, evil is a noun in English, evilness and goodness are rarely used in English. What's important to realise is that we are talking of a very common word in both French and English and that such basic words often have tons of meanings and use cases. It's like "do" in English.

Also c'est/cela est /ceci est = it's/this is/that is

Bon vs mauvais applies to things like taste/smell/school grades

Bien vs mal and also Bon vs mauvais applies to behaviour

December 31, 2017
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