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
#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 that you 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 :).