Greetings and goodbyes in French may appear a little more formal than in English, especially as people do not often go directly for first names in a first meeting situation. Most of the convention lies in the difference between “Vous” and “Tu” – Vous being the more formal and a mark of respect, which can mean many things – age, distance, hierarchy etc.
Tu generally being used for friends and people we know well.
The difference between the two can sometimes seem quite difficult to understand at first but after a while it becomes fairly natural to make the distinction between when we should be using “Vous” and when we should be using “Tu” As a general rule, use “Vous” when you first meet people, some will then invite you to use “Tu” – “On peut se tutoyer?” or “Vous pouvez me tutoyer”
You would also generally, use “Vous” when speaking to seniors – whether it be people older than yourself, or people who may be your superiors at work.
Directly using “Tu” with people can be seen as an insult – except for with children.
So let’s start with some greetings using Vous and we’ll keep things really simple:
- Bonjour Bonsoir (Bon swar) Good evening
- Comment Ã§a va? (Come on sa va) How are you?
- Comment allez-vous? (Come on tally voo) How are you?
Just a note here, in some areas in France, they use the third person when addressing a person:
- Comment il-va? (Come on eel va?) How is he?
You can also say :
- Bonjour, Vous-allez bien? (voo zallay bee-an)
Some responses that you can use:
- Bien, et vous? (Bee-an ay voo) Well, and you?
- TrÃ¨s bien, et vous? (Tray bee-an, ay voo) Very well, and you?
- Ca va bien merci (sa va bee-an mair-see) Very well thank you.
- Pas mal (Pah mall) So -so
Note: Some people will reply to the question:
“Comment Ã§a va? by simply saying “Ca va”
The “Vous” form is also used when addressing more than one person as it is also the plural of “you”.
Now you may not need to use it, and you may well not want to use it but I was completely thrown when I lived in Cognac and my local newsagent asked the question when I was alone in the shop – so she must have been speaking to me.
I was, sort of slightly devastated – thinking that I had, in fact, completely misunderstood all that I had read about French grammar…
With friends or with children:
- Salut! (Saloo) Hi! (this replaces the Bonjour and can also be used as a friendly goodbye)
- Comment vas-tu? (Come on va too) – how are you?
- Comment tu-vas? (come on too va) – How are you?
You can also say:
Tu-vas bien? (Too va bi-an) Are you well? / How are you?
In informal situations – just
“Comment vas?” can also be used – (Come on va)
Just be aware that if you are a proficient speaker of French – using the “Vous” form with friends can annoy or confuse them, if they feel you are doing this on purpose, although most people are very understanding when speaking with non-native French speakers.
When saying goodbye there are a few options:
Au revoir (Ohrvoire) – goodbye
Bonne JournÃ©e (Bon zjornay) have a good day
Bonne nuit (Bon newee) Goodnight
Bonne soirÃ©e (Bon swarray) – Good evening
Bon aprÃ¨s-midi (Bon apray midi) Good afternoon (apparently both the masculine, “Bon” and “Bonne” can be used here)
Bonne matinÃ©e (Bon matinay) Good morning
Bon weekend (nah, you don’t need this one)
Bon dimanche (bon deemonsh) Have a nice Sunday
You can then start getting really fluid, when leaving add “Allez” before the goodbye – i.e. –
Allez, bonne journÃ©e (Allay bon zjournay) or even, if there are sevaral people:
Allez, bonne soirÃ©e tout le monde (Allay bon swarray to le mond) Have a good evening everyone
A bientÃ´t (Ah bee-an toe) See you soon / later
A plus tard (Ah ploo tar) See you later / soon (this is sometimes shortened in conversation to – A plus! (Ah ploos)
Other polite words and phrases that can come in handy are:
S’il vous plaÃ®t (Seal voo play) Please
When using the “Tu” form:
S’l te plaÃ®t (Seal t’ play) Please (the Te is a short ‘t’ sound)
Merci (Mare-see) Thank you
Je vous en prie (zjeuh voo zon pree) You are welcome
Je t’en prie (zjeuh ton pree) You are welcome (Tu form)
De rien (De ree-an) It’s nothing / You’re welcome / think nothing of it
EnchantÃ© (On shon-tay) It’s nice to meet you
Comment vous appelez-vous? (come on voo zappelay voo) What is your name?
Je m’apelle … (zjeuh map-ell) My name is…
Je suis Anglais / AmÃ©rican / Ecossais etc. (zjeuh swee zanglay/ amair-icah/ Aycosay) I am English / American / Scottish
Note that a woman would say – Anglaise / AmÃ©ricaine / Ecossaise (Onglez / Amaireeken / Aycosez) as the adjective takes on the feminine gender
For more than one person, the plural takes the masculine if there a mix of men and women – masculine for all men / feminine for all women:
Nous sommes Anglais (Noo som zonglay) We are English (All men or women and men)
Nous sommes anglaises (Noo som zonglez) We are English (for all women)