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Basic French greetings & expressions

  • "Bonjour" can be said at any hour if you meet someone for the first time in the day, but if it's late, it's very weird to say "bonjour" as the "jour" (the day) is ending, you would say rather "bonsoir" (good evening). If you say "Bonjour" to someone and it's already the start of the evening, people will reply "Bonsoir" and you'll have to say: "oh, yes, sorry, "bonsoir" because it's already the evening now." (Oui, c'est vrai, bonsoir, c'est déjà le soir, maintenant...)

  • You never use "Bonjour" when you take leave of someone.

  • "Bonjour" can be also "good morning" in the morning.

  • "Bonne nuit" is "good night". It's the greeting we say before going to bed, (or you can say it when you take leave of someone in the night)

  • "Bonsoir" is "good evening", so you say it in the evening. And you also can say it when you leave of someone in the evening. You can say it also when you meet someone in the evening instead of "bonjour". (since "bonjour" is weird when it's late)

  • "Bon après-midi!" (sometimes spelled "bonne") is "good afternoon", you can say it when you take leave of someone in the after-noon.

For instance: I go to my grocery store, and I met the sales assitant, I say: Bonjour/Bonsoir I buy my groceries, and when I take leave of him, I say: Au revoir/ Bon après-midi/Bonsoir/Bonne nuit.

  • "Salut": (very informal, you can't say it to your boss, but only to friends) = Hello/HI

How are you?

Note: It's idiomatic, you can't use the verb "to be" (être) in French to say that, you have to use the verb "to go" (aller), a irregular verb (Je vais, tu vas, nous allons, etc...)

  • Formal form: Comment vas-tu? (comment allez-vous?)

  • Less formal form: Comment tu vas? (comment vous allez?)

  • Even less formal form: ça va bien? / ça va?


  • Formal form: Je vais bien. (Nous allons bien, for a group)

  • Less formal form: ça va bien/ ça va.

Slang greetings

  • Quoi de neuf? (litteraly: what is new?) = What's up?

Here the famous "What's up doc?" in French: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eljJZ9mvI9w (Quoi de neuf docteur?)

The joke is to reply "Que du vieux". (Nothing's new, all is old)

  • Quoi de beau? (litteraly: what is beautiful?) = What's up?


"Salut" is very informal, you can't say it with your boss for example, you use it when it's too formal to say "bonjour".
For instance, you meet some close friends, you are a students, and you meet some other young students, etc...

"Salut" means:

  • "Hello/Hi" when you meet someone. It's the first word you say when meeting the person. It's the last word you say in this case. For instance:
    -Salut! Comment vas-tu?

  • "Bye!" ("Salut" is less formal than "goodbye"), when you are taking leave of someone.

-Désolé, je dois partir maintenant... Salut! (Sorry, I have to leave now... Bye!)

Please note that:

  • There's only one word for "Salut", unlike English with "Hello, hi, hey", etc...

  • Salut is not used for "cheers" or anything else, it's only "hello" and "bye".


When somone is sneezing, you will say in French, one of the following:

  • A tes souhaits (= Make a wish)

  • A tes amours (= I wish you good love relationships)

  • Dieu te bénisse (= God bless you)

When you drink with some friends you would say, while clinking your glass with the other person glass:

  • Santé! / A ta santé! (=I wish you a good health)

  • Tchin' or even Tchin'-Tchin' ( I don't know how to write "tchin' " because it's only an interjection, not a word)




Pardon/ Excusez-moi

  • Remember, the English "Pardon" is a French word, so, you already know the meaning.

  • "Pardon" is the noun from the verb "pardonner" (to forgive)

  • When you mean to say "Sorry", you say "Pardon!", it's used when you bump into someone for instance or if you have to make a passage through a crowd, etc...

  • You can use also "Pardonnez-moi" (see the conjugations table for the verb "pardonner" to adapt to the person), but it's much more formal, and can be used when you cut off when someone is talking, or if you made a wrong thing to ask for forgiveness.

Examples: -Pardonnez-moi, mais vous avez dit "100 €"? (Sorry, but you said "€100" ? (when cutting off someone)

-Pardon, je voudrais passer s'il vous plaît. (Excuse-me, I have to pass please)

  • "Excusez-moi" (see the conjugation table for the verb "excuser"), it "excuse me", the English "excuse" is also from the French. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=excuse

  • You use "Excusez-moi" also to cut off someone who is speaking, but it's less formal.

  • You use "Excusez-moi" when you want to ask a favour, or ask a question the polite way.

  • You use "Excusez-moi" (or the more formal "Pardonnez-moi") when you want to call someone's attention.

Examples: -Excusez-moi, vous avez dit "100€"?

-Excusez-moi, pouvez-vous fermer la fenêtre s'il vous plaît? (Excuse-me, can you close the window please.)

-Excusez-moi, avez-vous un train pour Paris? (Excuse me, do you have a train to Paris?)

  • Je suis désolé(e)/ Je suis navré(e).

The English "desolate" and "desolation" are from the French).
"Je suis désolé" means "I'm sorry"/"I feel sorry". It's stronger than "pardon" or "excusez-moi", it means you are really sorry.

  • If you're a male: Je suis désolé.
  • If you're a female: Je suis désolée. (because "désolé" is an adjective)

  • Used when you feel sorry for something. If you bump someone really hard for instance, or if someone had a very bad experience and you feel sorry for the person.

  • You can say "Je suis vraiment désolé" = I'm really sorry.

  • "Très" désolé is not proper at all, the adverb has to be "really" not "très". (really = vraiment, très = very)

  • You can say also the short "désolé(e)!" = In this case, it's not so strong, and you can say it instead of "pardon!", it's a bit stronger and it's more formal than "pardon".

  • " Je suis navré (e)" / Navré (e) Same thing than for "désolé", but "navré" is stronger and more formal.

You bumped someone really really hard: Navré! But it's very formal, and can be weird in some situations.

"Je suis navré" is very formal, and is a strong regret.

  • I beg you pardon, but... = Je vous demande pardon, mais.... To ask a favor.

  • Je vous demande pardon?? = Is used to ask the person to repeat again what he/she was just saying. In you say it in an offended tone, it can be a mean to show your strong desaproval about an offending word the person just said.

-Je vous demande pardon, mais pourriez-vous vous taire? (I beg you pardon but can you be quiet?)
- Je vous demande pardon !!! Vous avez dit "idiot"?? (I beg you pardon!!! Did you said "an idiot"?) -Pardon/Excusez-moi, pouvez-vous répéter? (Excuse me, can you repeat)

  • Some people aso use "hein?" when they didn't hear what you said, or when they want to show incredulity/disaproval, but it's slang, the correct and very formal form is "Pardon?"
April 15, 2014



You should add some more slangy ones like: Quoi de neuf ? Quoi de beau ? (What's new? What's up?) You feel very lame saying "ça va ?" and "comment allez vous ?" all the time as a French newbie.

Also, parting greetings! I think a lot of us anglophones get caught up on that. Salut can also mean "bye," of course. Bonne journée and bonne soirée are more often said at parting, I think.


You're right, I will try to add some.


Coucou for hello. Something kids might say.


My penpal always writes "Coucou, c'est Mireille" in the subject heading in her emails. Google translates it as "Cuckoo" but I didn't think she was calling me "Cuckoo". I wasn't sure what it meant.


the thing is that it basically comes from the old traditionnal european clock and it became then an expression to get the attention and due to it, to cheers and salutate people that you generally know pretty well.


Updated: I added the section on "salut" and the sneezing greetings.


Thanks a lot for the clarification! Very helpful.


I am jealous ! I would like the same kind of explanation in English...


Well, let's see if I can help you out with American English...

In-person greetings:

--"Hello" is pretty common, but it has a lot of syllables, so it usually gets shortened to "hi".

--"Good morning" actually means good morning; "good afternoon" means good afternoon; and "good evening" means good evening. "Good night", however, means goodbye (but only at night; if you say "good night" in the morning, people will think you have no idea what time it is).

--Because "good morning" isn't used throughout the day (unlike "bonjour"), you need to pay attention to the clock if you want to say this. If you're close to noon and unsure whether you're before or after, best avoid "good morning" or "good afternoon" and instead say "hello" (or "hi", which takes less effort), so people don't think you have no idea what time it is.

--After the initial greeting, people often say "how's it going?" or "how are you doing?" NOTE: they do not actually want to know how it's going, or how you're doing (see exception below). This is just a polite phrase, not an informational question, and if you actually tell them how you are they will start to squirm with boredom. Best answer with something completely non-substantive that shows you heard the question but understand that they don't want an answer. "Fine" usually works.

--Conversely, when you ask someone how they're doing, don't be offended when they give you a single-word answer.

--Sometimes, however, people do genuinely want to know how you're doing, and will be offended if you say "fine". There is no way of knowing when this is the case. However you answer, you risk offending someone who wants to know or boring someone who doesn't.

Telephone etiquette:

--"Hello" is generally acceptable for answering the phone.

--In the office, one might answer with one's name and/or place of business.

--Caller ID has changed phone etiquette somewhat. If you see it's someone you know, you can just launch into a conversation with them without the formality of a greeting. If you want to be especially polite, you can open with something like "[name]! I was just thinking of calling you!" They will appreciate that you went to the trouble of lying.

--If you see from the caller ID that it's a telemarketer, the polite way to answer the phone is "STOP CALLING ME!" There are less polite ways to answer, but I won't go into them here.

Hope this helps. ;-)


Thanks, very useful. You should do a discussion, it would be helpful to have it on its own page for people who want to learn English, and are not interested in French.


Thanks a lot, TomHilton1. If you have others expressions, don't hesitate to post them. Je suis preneur.

Here are useful for me...


Wow, that's not a flattering description of us at all. Unfortunately it does prove to be true in a lot of situations but what people seem to forget is that America, like most (or ALL) countries, is made up of people, and not all people are the same. But, your description was somewhat amusing, regardless of its unfairness lol


It was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, not meant to be taken as absolute universal truth. Anyway, glad you were amused.


-Je vous demande pardon, mais pourriez-vous vous taire? (I beg you pardon but can you be quiet?) My question: : I cut and pasted this to a translator, and the translation was: I beg your pardon but could you SHUT UP" (MY EMPHASIS) When I typed in "I beg your pardon, but could you be quiet?" They translated it as "Je vous demande pardon, mais pourriez-vous être tranquille?' In English to tell someone to "shut up" is …. pretty out there. You save that phrase for the second or third time you've asked for quiet. Is there the same idea about "shut up" in French?


I study French and to me 'se taire' sounds rude, something in between 'be quiet' and 'shut up'... It's less rude than shut up, but certainly you shouldn't use it if you want to ask someone POLITELY to be quiet.


I once heard that saying Bonjour late in the evening turns it into a pick up line. Do you agree? Or is it a different kind of "very weird"? :-)


"Pick up" line = drague? No, it's just not the right time, you can say it, but people will reply "bonsoir", and you will say "ah, oui, pardon, bonsoir, c'est déjà le soir".


Ah OK, thanks :-) Pick up line = chat up line = something silly to say to make someone you are interested in interested in you.

Maybe the person who told me this was just using really weird flirting techniques! :-D


Sinon, j'ai besoin d'avoir une confirmation pour une expression française, enfin on peut dire ça. Vous avez tous déjà entendu ces deux mots là A table. Quand on vous invite à vous mettre à table pour un repas, quelque soit le repas, d'ailleurs...

Avez-vous la même expression en Anglais ? Pour rigoler, je dis parfois To table ! (Lol) Mais je sais que ce n'est pas correct. Et d'ailleurs, j'ai fait la recherche récemment sur le net concernant ce sujet, apparemment, la langue anglaise n'a pas cette expression, on est obligé de dire : Breakfeast is ready, Lunch is ready or Dinner is ready. Alors j'ai raison ou pas ?

D'avance merci.


For food being served I might add some variations on the theme:- "food's up" or "grub's up" ("grub" is a not very nice slang word for food - you might find it used in pubs that don't really do proper food but advertise what they sell as "Pub Grub". Other phrases used in our family for when food is served include:- "it's on the table" / "come and get it" / "food's going cold" (used as a pun if ice-cream). It might still take my (now adult) children a few minutes to arrive.


Let's eat! (Very informal.)

Otherwise, I don't think there is a common idiom for this in (British) English.


Thanks. It confirms well my research on the internet. And what's about Au lit ? When the parents say to their children to go to bed. Can we say To bed, the children ?:)


"Go to bed, children" or, in a very loud voice, "BED, KIDS!"


Well, I love the short terms. So it will be Bed, kids ! For me. :)

Merci BillofKempsey. Dès que j'ai d'autres questions, je reviendrai vers vous, si cela ne vous dérange pas.


In the UK, we would say "Off to bed!".

Or "Off to bed with you!".

Seeing that written down, I've just realised that an adult might take it the wrong way. Which I guess is also a possibility with the French. But I can assure you, a British kid is not likely to see it as innuendo.


You can also shorten good afternoon when talking by simply saying "bon aprem' "


Thank you! This is really useful! I have always wondered what 'a tes souhaits' meant because my French teacher told us to use it when someone is sneezing instead of 'bless you'. However, she didn't tell us how it was spelt or what it meant so I just thought it was spelt similar to 'atishoo' or something like that like 'atissuet' and that it was just a word to say to sort of acknowledge someone's sneeze (:-D) because we don't say 'atishoo' we just say 'bless you' and 'atishoo' was just the sound of the sneeze like onomatopoeia. It was interesting to find out that it actually meant something similar to 'bless you' ('make a wish') and that the word 'atishoo' probably came from the French (unless someone just heard someone sneezing, thought it sounded like 'atishoo' and then realised that it sounded like 'a tes souhaits' and it stuck! Although the first theory seems more likely). Thanks again! A lingot for you!


Thanks, I didn't know atishoo. The funny thing is that is midway between "à tes souhaits" and the onomatopeia we say in French for a sneezing, "atchoum!"


Really? I didn't know that 'atchoum' was the sound of a sneeze in French. Just wondering, do we really make an 'm' sound at the end of a sneeze? But then again do we even say 'atishoo'?! A sneeze doesn't really have a word - it is just a sort of explosion, isn't it! I don't know why we give these sort of sounds words.


The mystery of onomatopoeia, lol, why a French rooster make "cocorico!" rather than "cock-a-doodle-doos".


(Sorry, only just seen your reply because I haven't been on Duo for a few days!) It is amazing how different the onomatopoeia words are in different languages and how they sound really quite different to each other (and also to the actual sound that they depict)! However, about the rooster sound, I think that the English one sounds more like the rooster call than 'cocorico' because the sound has five syllables like 'cock a doodle doo' and 'cocorico' only has four, so the French one should be extended to something like 'cocoricodoo'! Going back to my point about how the onomatopoeia words that we use sound nothing like the real sound, an example would be (although it is not exactly onomatopoeia because humans made it up and it is not a sound that we heard and tried to make ourselves) 'awww', when typing it out instead of saying it, to be the sound some people make when we see/hear something cute. It should be more like 'arrgh' but I think people would look at it and think of it as a sound someone makes when they are charging forward or something! It's not a very good example, I know, but I think it is weird. Are there any other examples of French and English onomatopoeia sounding different? (P.S. sorry for writing such a long passage to read!) ;D


It depends the length of the syllabes, you can imagine the sound "cocoriii-co" here:


When French people see something cute, I think the sound is "Ooooooh".

For the difference between onomatopeias: I think almost all are different in English and in French, and all the animals sound too.

Cui- Cui (fr) / Piou-Piou (en) - a bird
Ouah Ouah (fr) / Wouarf (en) - .a dog
bêêê - a goat or a sheep
hiiiiii han - a donkey
hiiiii - a horse
sss - a snake
Meuh -a cow
Crac - a tree branch cracking
Miam Miam (fr) / Yum Yum (en) - I see a yummy cake.
Miaou (fr) / Miaow (en) - a cat Cocorico / cock-a-doodle-doo Aïe! (fr) /Ouch! (en) - it hurts. Chut (chuuut) (fr) / Shhhhh (en) - Be quiet! Beurk (fr) / Yuk - degusting! Pouah (fr) / Ugh - degusting!


Thanks PERCE_NEIGE! Yeah it actually does sound more like cocorico when you listen to that rooster in the video! It's interesting all those onomatopoeia words. Thanks for sharing them with me!


I agree too, this is useful!


Is 'T'chin-t'chin' used because it's the sound that the glasses make when clinked together? I think I've heard people in England say 'chin chin!' before doing it as well, although not very often


that's nice, I made a graphic to remember these rulles at http://www.frenchspanishonline.com/magazine/hello-in-french/ you may like it!


Very helpful! Thanks for posting this.

I'm wondering about phone etiquette in France. If someone calls you, what would be the standard thing to say when you pick up the phone (formal and less formal)? If you call someone else, what's the standard way to open the conversation? Are the usual in-person greetings carried over to telephone usage, or is it different?


It's always "allô". Some very impolite people (like me ^^) considers it means also "hello" and don't start the conversation with "allô, bonjour" (except if I'm in a formal situation where I have to be very polite ^^)

Formal: "Allô! Bonjour... Je suis monsieur.X. Puis-je parler à monsieur Y s'il vous plaît?

Unformal: "Allô: Je suis X..., je voudrais parler à Y (s'il vous plaît).

If you are called, you also say "Allô???"


yes but some times you would say salut to some one


Yes, "salut" is in the list.


How do you say "I feel sick" in French?


"Je me sens mal." (se sentir = to feel, litterally it's I feel myself ill/bad.


Oh thank you! :)



Is "Je me sens malade" also correct?


Is hello informal? Why not to write just hi as a translation of salute, except hi/hello. Confuses a bit...


YES. I've been looking for this! Merci Beaucoup.


(under slang greetings) "Quoi de neuf? (litteraly: what is new?) = What's up?" that would be spelled L-I-T-E-R-A-L-L-Y….. ( I am embarrassed to admit how nice it is to correct you for once :) )


Merci beaucoup!


Didn't know hein could also be used in French when you didn't hear/don't understand, like in Portuguese.


It is a good discusion


That's really helpful! Thank you :)


This is very helpful. Thank you very much for putting this up!

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