Do You Know the Basic French Words and Phrases Needed to Survive in France?

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Every time I go abroad, I always try to learn a few basic words and phrases.

My pronunciation is often atrocious and I make lots of mistakes but it always makes my trips much nicer because people appreciate the effort and don’t see me as yet another tourist.

If you go to Paris and only speak English, locals will often feel that you don’t respect them and may treat you rudely.

They may also avoid you because they are afraid to speak English, a language they don’t necessarily know well.

That’s why it’s essential to learn a few basic French words and sentences before going to France.

This article won’t make you fluent (the French Together course may, though) but it will teach you all the words and phrases you need to know to be polite in French.

A few basicFrench greeting words you need to know

The words below are the most basic French greetings.

These are the words you must know before a trip to France because knowing them is an easy way to show people that you care about France and its culture.

How to say hello in French

2 people shaking hands

Bonjour is the perfect everyday greeting. You can use it with anyone at any time.

Feel that it’s not formal enough? Add monsieur or madame to immediately sound more formal. This is particularly useful if you talk to someone older or to your boss.

If it’s a bit late, switch to bonsoir (good evening).

To discover other ways to say hello in French, check out this article.

How to say hi in French

The most common way to say hi in French is salut.

But while salut translates as hi, using it the way you would use hi is dangerous because the French language tends to be much more formal than the English language.

You wouldn’t say salut to a seller or someone you don’t know for example (unless you’re talking to a kid).

And saying bonjour to someone you know well isn’t a great idea either because bonjour often comes across as cold and distant if used in the wrong setting.

My recommendation? Use bonjour with people you don’t know and in formal settings, and salut with people you know well.

In case of doubt, use bonjour. It’s better to come across as a little cold than to be overly familiar.

How to say nice to meet you in French

After saying bonjour, bonsoir and salut, it’s sometimes a good idea to say enchanté(e).

This simple word is the French equivalent of nice to meet you and can do wonders provided you use it with sincerity.

You use enchantée if you’re a woman and enchanté if you’re a man. The extra e indicates the gender of the person writing.

This distinction doesn’t matter when you speak because enchanté and enchantée have the same pronunciation.

How to say goodbye in French

Already time to leave?

Au revoir is the word to use.

Think of it as the goodbye equivalent of bonjour. You can use it with anyone in any circumstance.

This said, salut (it means both hi and bye depending on the context) is a better choice when talking to friends, family, and people you know well.

How to say thank you and you’re welcome in French

Coffee cup on wooden table with "thanks" written

Here is a word you probably already know. Merci simply means thank you and can be used in any situation even though you may want to use other words and phrases to add more nuance.

Want to say thank you very much? Merci beaucoup is the phrase for you.

After people thanked you, simply use de rien to say you’re welcome.

How to apologize and get someone’s attention in French

There are several ways to say sorry in French and knowing which to use isn’t easy which is why I wrote an entire article dedicated to the subject but here is a quick summary.

  • Use excusez-moi (excuse me) to get someone’s attention.
  • Use désolé(e) to say sorry.
  • Use Pardon to apologize for bumping into someone or if you didn’t understand what someone just said and would like them to repeat.

How to say please in French

S’il vous plaît simply means please and is a phrase you can use in any situation.

As often though, there is an informal version: s’il te plaît.

How to say you don’t speak French

As a foreigner going to France, you won’t always understand what people say and that’s okay.

The phrases below will help you make the whole experience easier.

How to ask for information

Young Blonde Girl Shopping at the Clothing Store

The basic French phrases below will help you get the information you need during your trip to France…and find out what the wifi password is :).

And the phrases below will help you understand basic directions in French.

How to order food in French

Breakfast food on table with French-style tablecloth

Many French restaurants have an English menu but restaurants with an English menu are rarely the best place to go if you’re looking for authentic French cuisine which is why I wrote an entire post to help you order food in French restaurants.

If you don’t have time to read it, here are a few important phrases to know:

How to make basic conversation and introduce yourself

Just met a Frenchman or woman you would like to get to know better?

Here are a few basic phrases you can use to start the conversation.

And you? What are the basic French words and phrases you used the most on your last trip to France?

Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together™ to help English speakers learn the 20% of French that truly matters. You will also find him giving blogging advice on Grow With Less.