The Ultimate Guide to Greetings in French

French greetings vary widely, depending on the time of day, context, and your relationship with the person. On top of the array of phrases a French speaker may begin a conversation with, there’s also the infamous cheek-kissing to contend with. From polite conversations with your boss, to answering the phone, to writing formal emails, to holiday greetings, there are a lot of options to choose from!

How can you be sure to be ready with the appropriate response?

  1. Use this breakdown of greetings based on the occasion.
  2. Become familiar with French pronunciation and vocabulary using Lingvist’s French course so you can recognize what someone says and respond correctly.
  3. Don’t be afraid to use “Pardon?” if you get stuck.

Formality Guide

Category Situation/Context Examples
Formal Used with people you are meeting for the first time, are older than you, or that you want to demonstrate respect for (think vous) Professors, in-laws, the CEO of your company, the elderly
Slightly formal Used with those you don’t know personally or you want to demonstrate respect for (still vous) Shopkeepers, bank tellers, your boss, family members you don’t see often
Informal Used when meeting new peers; with friends/acquaintances, classmates, colleagues (half vous, half tu) Your friend’s friends, family members
Very informal Used in social settings such as bars or sports teams with those you already know (tu all the way) Close friends and family members close in age
Neutral Appropriate in all settings Anyone

Initial Greetings

Below are the most common ways in which an interaction with a French speaker is likely to begin. These will come in handy for travelers in French-speaking countries or to encourage French speakers to use basic French expressions with you. Have your montre (watch) handy, as these expressions are time-sensitive (as in the time of day).

French English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
Bonjour Hello Good day Mornings (until 12:00 p.m. noon) Neutral
Bon matin Good morning   Only in Quebec Neutral
Bon après-midi Good afternoon   Only in Quebec Neutral
Salut Hi     Informal
Coucou Hey   Cutesy greeting for close friends Very informal
Bonsoir Good evening/night Good evening After 5/6:00 PM Slightly formal
Rebonjour Hello again   If you’ve already greeted someone and see them a bit later (e.g., passing on the street) Neutral

Introductions and Welcome

If this is your first time meeting someone, you’ll need to know how to respond to these expressions!

Introductions:

To ask your name, a French speaker will say: Comment vous appelez-vous? (formal) or Comment tu t’appelles? (informal).

Reply with: Je m’appelle [first name].

French English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
Comment vous appelez-vous ? What’s your name? How do you (second person singular formal) call yourself? Introductions Formal
Comment tu t’appelles ? What’s your name? How do you (second person singular) call yourself? Introductions Informal
Je suis très heureux(/euse) de faire votre connaissance I’m pleased to meet you I’m very happy to meet you Introductions Neutral
Très heureux Nice to meet you Very happy Introductions (usually after an initial introduction has taken place, not as a conversation opener) Slightly informal
Enchanté(e) It’s a pleasure Charmed   Slightly formal
Enchanté(e) de faire votre connaissance Pleasure to meet you Pleasure to make your acquaintance   Formal
Bienvenue Welcome “Good coming:” from a combination of “bien” + “venue” (venir) Introductions Neutral

Secondary Greeting / Checking In

After you’ve given some form of salutation, it’s polite to ask how someone is doing. Bypassing this can be perceived as rude. You’ll notice that phrases for checking in with someone use the verb aller (to go) rather than être (to be).

French English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
Comment allez-vous ? How are you (all)? How are you (all) going? Can be used as formal or for a group. Neutral
Comment vas-tu ? How are you?   If someone has used tu with you, feel free to use this instead of vous. Slightly informal
Comment ça va ? How’s it going? How it goes?   Slightly informal
Vous allez bien ? Are you well? Are you going well? For example, checking up on a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Slightly informal
Ça va ? How’s it going? It goes? More informal, definitely for people you knew previously. Informal
Comment vous sentez-vous ?/Comment tu te sens ? How are you feeling?   If you knew someone was feeling sick, this is a polite way to check up on them. Neutral
Quoi de neuf ? What’s new?     Informal
Ça gaze ? How’s it hangin’?   A little antiquated but still a fun way to check in with friends. Very Informal
Quoi de beau ? What’s up? What’s beautiful?   Very Informal
Ça roule ? What’s up? It’s rolling?   Very Informal
Ça baigne ? What’s up? It bathes?   Very Informal

French greeting kiss cheeks

Faire la bise

If you’re in a situation where you are using one of these secondary greetings, chances are you are meeting someone with whom you will have more continued contact (rather than a quick “Bonjour” to a shopkeeper), and it may be customary to give an “air kiss” on the cheek. If you’re male, in some places you may just shake hands with other males and “kiss” females on each cheek in greeting, but in many places males also font la bise. Females generally give “kisses” (“bises”) to everyone. The amount of bises, as well as which cheek, varies heavily depending on the region of France (and context), so it’s always best to wait for someone else to initiate and follow their lead. This may inevitably lead to starting on the wrong side and coming very close to kissing on the mouth, but don’t worry, it happens to everyone! Just slow down, don’t get flustered, and you’ll be okay.

Options for Replying to a Secondary Greeting

When asked how you are, the most common responses are Ça va bien (“It’s going well”) or Tout va bien (“Everything’s going well”). Just as in English, it is uncommon to reply with Ça va mal (it’s going badly), even if you aren’t 100%. You can use something like comme-ci comme-ça (“like this, like that”) to reply that things are “so-so” and could be better. Once you get comfortable with this, try out these more creative responses!

French English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
Bien, merci ! Good, thanks!     Neutral
Très bien, merci. Very well, thanks.     Neutral
Ça va. I’m good. It goes. Especially when asked (Comment) ça va ? Neutral
Ça roule. Going well. It rolls.   Informal
Comme-ci, comme ça. It’s going alright. Like this, like that. If things are just okay Slightly informal
Pas mal. Not bad.   More vague, but acceptable Neutral
Pas pire. No worse than usual. No worse. More common in Quebec Neutral
Comme d’hab. Same as always. Like usual. Shortened of comme d’habitude Slightly Informal
Assez bien. Quite well. Well enough. Still a positive response Neutral
Ça va bien. It’s going well. It goes well.   Neutral
Tout va bien. Everything’s going well.     Neutral

Departing

Heading out? Use these expressions to signal your departure or wish someone farewell. Note that the time-of-day expressions change form (become feminine) when wishing someone farewell.

French English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
Au revoir Goodbye Until we see each other again Customary to say au revoir more often than in English, as in when leaving buses, small shops, etc. Neutral
Salut Bye     Slightly informal
À plus (tard) See you later Until later When you know you’ll see someone later Neutral
Bonne journée Have a nice day Good day Also appropriate to say when leaving public places like hair salons Neutral
Bon après-midi Have a good afternoon Good afternoon After 12:00 PM Neutral
Bonne soirée Have a good evening Good evening After sunset (5/6:00 PM) Neutral
Bonne nuit Good night Good night Used to signal you’re leaving for the night or going to sleep Neutral

Answering the Phone

Once you’ve successfully given someone your number in French (hint: the numbers are grouped differently in French), what do you say when you pick up the phone? Don’t worry – this one should be easy enough to remember: Allô?

Written Letters or Emails

French English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
Monsieur/ Madame Dear Sir/Madam,     Formal
Chers amis Dear friends     Slightly informal
Cher Monsieur/ Chère Madame Dear Sir/ Madame)   With those you know Slightly informal
Amitiés Best,     Slightly formal
Cordialement (à vous) Sincerely, Cordially (yours)   Formal
Chaleureusement Warmly,     Slightly formal

Holiday Greetings

French English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
Bon/Joyeux anniversaire! Happy Birthday!     Neutral
Joyeuses fêtes! Happy Holidays!   In December Neutral
Joyeux noël! Merry Christmas! Joyful Christmas! In December Neutral
Bonne année! Happy New Year!   On Dec. 31 – Jan. 1 Neutral

Congratulations! You’ve got the beginning and end of the conversation covered. What about the middle? Check out Lingvist’s French course to learn the rest!