Bien vs Bon: Which One Should You Use?

Should you use “bon” or “bien”? That’s a simple question, with a complicated answer.

Most of the time “bien” means “well” while “bon” means “good”. But there are so many exceptions one can hardly consider that a rule.

To make it easier to understand, here are 11 common situations where you should either use “bien” or “bon”.

5 situations where you should use “bon”

“Bon” is an adjective or noun that’s usually equivalent to “good”. You use it to talk about a state of being, to describe a person or an object.

Here are several common situations in which you’d use “bon”.

#1 To talk about sensual pleasures

Cette soupe est très bonne, tu (ne) sais pas ce que tu rates.

This soup is very good, you don’t know what you’re missing

 

Tu sens bon, c’est quoi ton parfum ?

You smell good, what’s your perfume?

#2 To say something is correct

You can use “bon” to say something is correct or incorrect.

Vous vous êtes trompé monsieur, ce n’est pas le bon ticket.

You made a mistake sir, this isn’t the right ticket.

 

C’est bon comme ça ?

Is it good this way?

#3 To say something is enough

“Bon” can be used to say something is enough.

Vous voulez du sucre avec votre café ? Non c’est bon merci

Do you want sugar with your coffee? No, it’s fine thanks

tu es bonne#4 To say someone is good at something

You can use “bon” to say someone is good at something, but it also has a sexual meaning in modern French, so use it at your own risk.

C’est un bon prof

He is a good teacher

 

La voisine est bonne

The neighbour is good

Normally, this sentence simply means the neighbour is a good and kind person. However, most young French people will understand it as “the neighbour is hot” or “the neighbour is good in bed”. Check out this article to learn more about this meaning of “bon” (and discover hilarious mistakes French learners made).

#5 “Bon” used as a noun

Even though it’s most often used as an adjective, “bon” is also a noun: “le bon” or “la bonne” if feminine.

In this case, it means “voucher”.

Now let’s see how to use “bien”!

6 situations where you should use “bien”

“Bien” is an adverb and is therefore irregular (like all French adverbs). It’s the equivalent of “well” in most situations.

You use it to describe how the action of a verb is. For example, “elle chante bien”. She sings how? Well.

On the contrary, you would say “C’est une bonne chanteuse” (she is a good singer). In this case you describe the person and therefore use the adjective “bon”.

Here are several ways to use bien.

#1 To express how you feel

This is a common mistake French learners make. Since you say “I feel good” in English, it’s tempting to say “Je me sens bon”. But you can’t, you should say “je me sens bien”.

#2 To express satisfaction

If you’re satisfied with something or someone, you can use “bien” to express it.

Alors, il était bien ce film?
So was this movie any good?

 

C’est bien, je suis fier de toi

That’s good, I’m proud of you

#3 To say you like/dislike something or someone

J’aime bien la musique espagnole

I like Spanish music

Strangely enough, “j’aime” means “I love” while “j’aime bien” means “I like”.

#4 To say really

“Bien” is used before some adjectives to intensify their meaning. In this case, it means “really”.

Il est bien moche ce nouveau bâtiment.

This new building is really ugly.

#5 Before a verb to say something is good

In English, you can use “well” before a verb and create constructions like “well built” or well done”. You can also do that in French.

Tu as réussi ton examen, bien joué !

You passed your exam, well done! (lit: well played)

 

La réplique est bien faite, on dirait presque un original

The replica is well done, it almost looks like an original (work)

#6 Bien as a noun

“Le bien” means “the good”. That’s a rather formal term that is mainly used in a legal context.

Over to you

Still a bit confused? Don’t worry! The distinction between “bien” and “bon” is one of the most complex aspect of the French language.

Try to ask French people what’s the difference, and you’ll only get confused answers. The French know when to use “bon” and when to use “bien”, but very few can explain why.

That’s why I recommend you to learn grammar through exposure to the language. The more you read, hear and simply spend time with French, the easier it will be for you to intuitively understand how to use the language.

 

Got a question or a rule you’d like to share? Write your comment below this article, I’m looking forward to reading it :).

11 thoughts on “Bien vs Bon: Which One Should You Use?”

  1. Hi, Benjamin, just a quick comment on English. You can’t really say “…I recommend you to learn grammar…” You can say, “I recommend that you learn grammar” or more simply and less formally, “I recommend you learn grammar.”
    Best,
    Glenn

    Reply
  2. Somewhere in my mind I remembered that “bien” in some situations is considered “bad” French but I have forgotten why! It may have been a particular phrase, I wish I could remember! I had a French teacher (Parisienne, and she wanted us to learn “proper” French in the sense that we would say, “Queens English” .

    Reply
  3. Late to the topic, however…
    Ages ago I learnt “Eh bien” as an equivalent to starting a comment with “Well…” but I expect that that’s very dated now. What would current in 2018?
    I repeatedly hear “Bon ben”, but I don’t like it! Do I have to ?

    Do you mind if I also make a comment about English?
    Just a postscript on current use of “good” in English when asked how you are.
    It’s probably an Americanism that many English people have adopted: “How are you?” “I’m good” instead of “I’m well/I’m fine”. It’s really horrible and I heard an English learner use it yesterday, plus a BBC presenter last week. It sets my teeth on edge but I expect we’re stuck with it. That sort of thing does make teaching another language to the English very difficult because they don’t learn the rules of grammar any more so don’t understand the rules in other languages.

    You’re absolutely right that “I feel good” is normal – unforgettable as well thanks to James Brown! I wonder if that was American originally? It doesn’t jar though. Then there’s “I feel fine” immortalised by the Beatles no less. To me “I feel good” can be more emphatic but it does depend on tone of voice too.

    Reply
    • You can still use eh bien to say “well” but it definitely sounds more formal than “bon ben”.

      I don’t consider grammar to be set in stone so I don’t mind the language changing. In fact grammar often comes from the use of a language. From my point of view, if most people now say “I’m good”, then “I’m good” is now the correct form. That’s just my opinion, of course :).

      Reply
      • Thanks for the first point.
        As regards the second, it’s certainly not most people yet but we wait!
        The problems when going from English into another language are trying to explain why another language won’t use something an English person can’t see in terms of grammar because they don’t learn it at school. So if an English person were to say “Je vais bon” and “Ça va bon” you might know what they wanted to say but… could a French /Belgian person resist correcting!
        Another change in English: English has a problem with singular/plural, eg French has “il y a” & Spanish has “hay” for the two English singular & plural parts, “there is/ there are” so if all English people start saying “there’s” instead of switching to “there are” when plural it won’t make a difference in those langs, but try telling them in Italian to use “c’è”/”ci sono” & oh dear!
        Thanks for all the interesting points on your site.

        Reply
    • This is mostly because of the evolution of ‘I’m fine’. If you ask someone (particularly a young person) how they are and they say ‘I’m fine’ they’re usually politely telling you that they don’t want to talk, so instead of using ‘I’m fine’ in a traditional sense that you actually are fine, you say ‘I’m good which doesn’t have the same connotations that you want the person to leave you alone

      Reply
  4. I learnt that for people and pets, “aimer” means “to love”, but if you add an adverb, like in aimer bien, it means “to like”. For everything else, “aimer” only means “to like”.

    Reply
    • It could. It’s actually quite subjective. For me, the sentence with “bien” is less strong but other people may have a different opinion.

      Reply

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