Basic French Phrases for Everyday Life
Do you ever wonder how long it takes to learn French? Well, unfortunately there’s no clear answer. However, learning basic French phrases that are commonly used can help you if you’re in a hurry. Let me show you.
Greeting & Meeting Someone in French
Greeting someone and introducing yourself are the first building blocks of any conversation, not just in French! However, in France it’s considered good etiquette to greet the people who work in stores and restaurants by saying “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” when you enter, and if you find yourself in a social situation, you are going to need to give your name and maybe even ask for someone else’s name, too.
Remember that French, unlike English has two registers – formal and informal. The phrases with vous in them are informal and should be used with people you do not know. Tu can be used with friends and family. If you’re in doubt, use vous – if your conversation partner feels that your relationship is informal, they will let you know!
Bonsoir. Good evening.
Comment allez-vous? / Comment ça va? How are you? (formal/informal)
Je vais bien, merci. Et vous/et toi? I’m well, thanks. And you?
All of the above are great phrases that you can use to begin a simple conversation. To get to know someone better, try out these!
Comment vous appelez-vous? / Comment t’appelles-tu? What is your name? (formal/informal)
Madame/Monsieur Ma’am, Mister
Je m’appelle… My name is…
Enchanté(e)! Nice to meet you!
It’s always good form to refer to someone you don’t know as either Madame or Monsieur, even if you don’t know that person’s last name; these words can be used on their own, simply as a sign of respect. Also, these days it is no longer polite to address someone as Mademoiselle in a professional setting.
Saying Goodbye in Basic French
Just as it’s considered polite to greet someone when meeting them, or when entering a shop or restaurant, you will also want to say goodbye when you leave or when the conversation is finished. The most basic way to say goodbye in French is with “Au revoir”, but here are a few other phrases that you can use as well.
Bonne journée! Have a good day!
Bonne soirée! Have a good evening!
A tout à l’heure/à bientôt/à plus tard. See you later.
Tchao! Bye! (informal)
You should note that in French, “see you soon” is not necessarily literal – it’s just another way to say goodbye!
Asking for Basic Information
If you find yourself in need of requesting basic information from somebody, such as where something is located (perhaps a restroom or the metro if you’re out in public) or how much something costs in a store or market, it may be helpful to memorize a couple of these go-to phrases. Even if your conversation partner has to respond to English, your effort will be appreciated!
Excusez-moi, où se trouve (le métro, les toilettes, la rue ___)?
Excuse me, where is (the subway, the bathroom, ____ street)?
Comment puis-je aller à…? How can I get to….?
Un billet, s’il vous plaît. A ticket, please.
Quelle ligne va à…? Which line goes to…?
Combien coûte…? How much does ____ cost?
Of course, asking the questions above while in a Francophone country means that the person will probably respond in French; if that’s too overwhelming, you can always ask to continue the conversation in English. However, instead of asking straight away if the person speaks English, consider trying out this phrase instead:
Désolé(e), je ne parle pas (beaucoup de) français. I’m sorry, I don’t speak (much) French.
This will get your message across while still remaining respectful of the person and culture in which you find yourself.
Speaking of manners, “please” and “thank you” really are magic words in any language, and French is no exception!
Excusez-moi de vous déranger… Sorry to bother you…
Merci/Merci bien/Merci beaucoup Thank you (very much)
Je vous en prie/De rien You’re welcome
Ordering in a Restaurant
All of this French practice has made you hungry, but the idea of ordering in a restaurant gives you a stomach ache! No worries – you’ve already got a good start with the conversations basics above. Here are a couple of basic phrases that will help make your restaurant experience a positive one.
La carte, s’il vous plaît. The menu, please.
Qu’est-ce que vous me conseillez? What do you recommend?
Je voudrais…s’il vous plaît. I would like…please.
Je ne peux pas manger… I can’t eat…
If you have food allergies, here are a couple of things that might be helpful for you to know and pair with that last phrase above.
le gluten gluten
les produits laitiers dairy products
le soja soy
le poisson fish
les fruits de mer seafood
les noix nuts
les oeufs eggs
Finally, when you finish with your meal, you’ll want to ask for your bill, which you can do by saying l’addition, s’il vous plaît (the bill, please). In France, you do have to ask your server for the bill – they won’t just bring it to you automatically! Also, you will be asked if you want a coffee at the end of your meal. If you do, here are some words you need to know:
un café a coffee – but really, an espresso!
un café crème espresso with hot milk
un café au lait coffee with milk
un café allongé espresso that is made “long” with hot water
Be Patient, but Be Brave!
As I said in the introduction, learning a language takes time! It can be frustrating to not be able to express yourself in the language you’re learning as easily as in your native language, but it’s important to keep trying! The more you practice (yes – even if you make mistakes!), the stronger your language skills will become. However, having a couple of these basic phrases ready to go will help boost your confidence as you develop your proficiency in French.
Megan is currently working on her graduate degree in French and Francophone Studies, prior to which she taught high school French for five years. In addition to French, she self-studies Spanish and is looking forward to starting German classes soon.