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

CategorySituation/ContextExamples
FormalUsed 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 formalUsed 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
InformalUsed when meeting new peers; with friends/acquaintances, classmates, colleagues (half vous, half tu)Your friend’s friends, family members
Very informalUsed 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
NeutralAppropriate in all settingsAnyone

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).

FrenchEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
BonjourHelloGood dayMornings (until 12:00 p.m. noon)Neutral
Bon matinGood morning Only in QuebecNeutral
Bon après-midiGood afternoon Only in QuebecNeutral
SalutHi  Informal
CoucouHey Cutesy greeting for close friendsVery informal
BonsoirGood evening/nightGood eveningAfter 5/6:00 PMSlightly formal
RebonjourHello 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].

FrenchEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Comment vous appelez-vous ?What’s your name?How do you (second person singular formal) call yourself?IntroductionsFormal
Comment tu t’appelles ?What’s your name?How do you (second person singular) call yourself?IntroductionsInformal
Je suis très heureux(/euse) de faire votre connaissanceI’m pleased to meet youI’m very happy to meet youIntroductionsNeutral
Très heureuxNice to meet youVery happyIntroductions (usually after an initial introduction has taken place, not as a conversation opener)Slightly informal
Enchanté(e)It’s a pleasureCharmed Slightly formal
Enchanté(e) de faire votre connaissancePleasure to meet youPleasure to make your acquaintance Formal
BienvenueWelcome“Good coming:” from a combination of “bien” + “venue” (venir)IntroductionsNeutral

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).

FrenchEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
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!

FrenchEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
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 okaySlightly informal
Pas mal.Not bad. More vague, but acceptableNeutral
Pas pire.No worse than usual.No worse.More common in QuebecNeutral
Comme d’hab.Same as always.Like usual.Shortened of comme d’habitudeSlightly Informal
Assez bien.Quite well.Well enough.Still a positive responseNeutral
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.

FrenchEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Au revoirGoodbyeUntil we see each other againCustomary to say au revoir more often than in English, as in when leaving buses, small shops, etc.Neutral
SalutBye  Slightly informal
À plus (tard)See you laterUntil laterWhen you know you’ll see someone laterNeutral
Bonne journéeHave a nice dayGood dayAlso appropriate to say when leaving public places like hair salonsNeutral
Bon après-midiHave a good afternoonGood afternoonAfter 12:00 PMNeutral
Bonne soiréeHave a good eveningGood eveningAfter sunset (5/6:00 PM)Neutral
Bonne nuitGood nightGood nightUsed to signal you’re leaving for the night or going to sleepNeutral

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

FrenchEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Monsieur/ MadameDear Sir/Madam,  Formal
Chers amisDear friends  Slightly informal
Cher Monsieur/ Chère MadameDear Sir/ Madame) With those you knowSlightly informal
AmitiésBest,  Slightly formal
Cordialement (à vous)Sincerely,Cordially (yours) Formal
ChaleureusementWarmly,  Slightly formal

Holiday Greetings

FrenchEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Bon/Joyeux anniversaire!Happy Birthday!  Neutral
Joyeuses fêtes!Happy Holidays! In DecemberNeutral
Joyeux noël!Merry Christmas!Joyful Christmas!In DecemberNeutral
Bonne année!Happy New Year! On Dec. 31 – Jan. 1Neutral

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!