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10 Useful French words and phrases

We’re all familiar with the basics: “Bonjour”, “Au revoir”, “Merci”. Here is a list of French words and phrases that I’ve found most common and/or useful since arriving in France 2 months ago.

1. Comment allez-vous?

This is the way to ask both someone you don’t know and a group of people “how are you?”. This is more polite than “ça va?”.

2. Bon(ne) [insert period of time here]

The equivalent of the English “Have a good….”. Bonne journée = [Have a] good day, bonne soirée = [have a] good evening, bonne aprés-midi = [have a] good afternoon. That last one doubles as a greeting too.

3. À [insert future time]

Handy and short. This is used to indicate when you will see the other person/people again. The “à” literally translates to “until” in this context. Commonly used are:

  • À demain = see you tomorrow.
  • À ce soir = see you this evening.
  • À seize heures = see you at 4pm.
  • À plus tard/à tout à l’heure = see you later (same day).
  • À bientôt = see you soon.

4. C’est tout/ce sera tout

When paying in a shop the person at the checkout will often ask “c’est tout?” or “ce sera tout?” which mean “is that everything?” and “will that be everything?” respectively. You can reply by simply saying “oui” followed by the question without the inflection at the end. It’s a good idea to say “merci” as well.

5. Tu me manques

Those of you who are familiar with basic French grammar but have not come across the verb “manquer” before might read this as “you miss me” but actually it means “I miss you” since it more literally translates to “you are missed by me”. This will be useful if you had a holiday romance with a Frenchie.

6. Pardon

If you’re in Paris for any length of time and take the Metro you’re more than likely to bump into someone (literally) on the train. You’re fine saying “désolé” (“sorry”) but “pardon” is most commonly heard here, or indeed in any similar situation. “Je m’excuse” is better for “I apologise”.

7. À tes souhaits

Pronounced more like “a tiss-sway”, it is the French equivalent for “bless you” in response to someone sneezing. I had not seen this written down until I was writing this post, so even I’m learning :).

8. Coucou

Pronounced “cookoo” this is a very informal greeting to friends. Stick with “salut” if you’re not comfortable. It took me a while, but I hear it all the time in families and groups of friends.

9. Enchanté

I have memories of films or TV episodes where when introduced to a beautiful woman the man would kiss her hand and say “enchanté”. I never really linked it to being a French word but it seemed reserved for someone sleazy. I meet a lot of Anglophones who aren’t aware that it means “nice to meet you” – to everyone! I love that I can say it and not be sleazy.

10. Ça marche/ça marche pas

Translated to “it works” or “it doesn’t work” (with “pas” [pronounced “pa”]) the French use this regularly when they agree with something. For example agreeing to meet a friend at a location, or when being offered an alternative product if their first choice is not available.

Published inFrenchLanguage Learning