For most of us, learning French (or any language) comes with a few ultimate goals. One of them is to have a conversation with a native speaker. Luckily, this isn’t a difficult goal to accomplish. Even if your conversational French is at beginner level, with a few key words and phrases, you can have a meaningful exchange with a French speaker.
Here are some essential words and phrases you need to know to have a basic conversation in French. Good news: You probably know a lot of them – maybe even all of them – already!
Essential conversational words and phrases to have meaningful exchanges with locals
Before we begin….
Just a quick note before we start this list. The words and phrases included here are intended to be the simplest and most basic options that remain polite and are in standard (not literary, overly formal, slang, etc.) French.
This means that if you’re a more advanced student, you’ll probably know other ways to express many of these phrases in French. It also means that these phrases may not always be the most eloquent choice. The goal here is to show beginners that it is possible to have a conversation in French with a limited amount of vocabulary.
As you continue in your French learning journey, you will learn more vocabulary and find many other ways to say most of the phrases on our list. But those included here are perfectly valid ways to get started.
Remember that the most important thing about French conversation is…speaking! If you’re too caught up in using advanced vocabulary and unfamiliar phrases, you won’t be natural and have a conversation. Hopefully, when you know that what you know is already enough to talk to someone in French, you’ll begin doing that and will learn even more along the way!
And now, without further ado, here are our essential words for a simple French conversation, divided into categories:
Greetings and goodbyes
Bonjour – Hello
This is the most common way to say “Hello” in French and can be used in formal and informal situations.
Bonsoir – Hello (Good evening)
Although “Good evening” is polite (or gives vampire vibes) in English, it’s actually a very common way for French people to greet one another in the evening or nighttime hours. Don’t worry: You don’t have to use Bonsoir if you draw a blank – Bonjour works 24 hours a day.
Salut – Hi
Au revoir – Goodbye
À bientôt – See you soon
Bonne journée/Bonnne après-midi/Bonne soirée – Have a nice day/Have a nice afternoon/Have a nice evening/night.
French people often use these time-related “goodbyes”, but if you blank, remember that au revoir works at any time of the day or night.
Je dois y aller. – I have to go.
You can say Désolé(e) (Sorry) before this to be more polite.
Bon voyage – Have a nice trip
Bon appétit – Have a nice meal
Bonnes vacances – Have a nice vacation/holiday (UK)
Joyeux Noël/Bonne année/Joyeuses fêtes – Merry Christmas/Happy New Year/Happy Holidays
For more options, feel free to have a look at our article on French holiday greetings.
French conversation example:
How are you?
Ça va ? How are you?
Literally, “It goes?”, Ça va is an easy and very common way to ask how someone is doing in everyday, informal French)
Ça va. – I’m all right./I’m fine.
You can add merci” to the end, for “thanks (for asking)”, if you want to be polite.
Ça va bien. – I’m doing really well/I’m doing good.
As with the previous example, you can also add merci to the end, for “thanks (for asking)”, if you want to be polite.
Interestingly, native French speaker Benjamin points out that it could be seen as impolite to say that things aren’t going well if the exchange is meant to be a casual one with someone you don’t know well.
Comment allez-vous ? – How are you doing?
This is a somewhat more formal alternative to Ça va ?.
Très bien merci et vous ?/Très bien merci et toi ? – Very well, and you?
Want more options? Feel free to check out our article on how to say “How are you?” in French!
French conversation example:
– Ça va.
Je m’appelle…. – My name is….
Je suis…. – I’m….
This phrase can be used in many ways in a conversation. One way is as an informal, less common alternative to Je m’appelle….
Comment vous appelez-vous ?/Comment t’appelles-tu ? – What is your name?
https://frenchtogether.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/enchante.mp3Enchanté(e) – Pleased to meet you/Delighted to meet you.
When you say it, it won’t matter whether or not you include the extra “e” at the end, since it’s pronounced the same either way. But when writing this word, be sure it agrees with the gender of the person saying it.
Enchanté(e) may seem fancy but it’s used in both formal and informal conversations. For some other options, have a look at our article on ways to say “Nice to meet you” in French.
French conversation example:
Giving and getting information
Où habitez-vous ?/Où habites-tu ? – Where do you live?
J’habite à… – I live in…
Note that the preposition can change depending on the gender and number of the place name. For instance: J’habite à Paris, J’habite aux États-Unis, J’habite au Maroc.
Quel âge avez-vous ?/Quel âge as-tu ? – How old are you?
Depending on how the person or people you’re talking feel about getting older, this could be a loaded or inappropriate question. It’s typically best to use it with kids or teenagers, or with someone who is in your own age group, and only if it’s necessary.
J’ai ___ ans. – I’m ___ years old.
Est-ce que vous aimez…?/Est-ce que tu aimes…? – Do you like…?
A good go-to question, this can be used with nouns and verbs alike. For example: Est-ce que tu aimes les films de Tim Burton ? (Do you like Tim Burton’s movies?) or Est-ce que tu aimes aller au cinéma ? (Do you like going to the movies?)
Qu’est-ce que vous faites comme travail ?/Qu’est-ce que tu fais comme travail ? – What do you do for work?
Remember that in France, it’s considered rude to ask/talk about how much money someone makes at their job.
Qu’est-ce que vous aimez faire pendant votre temps libre ?/Qu’est-ce que tu aimes faire pendant ton temps libre ? – What do you like to do in your free time?/What are your hobbies?
French conversation example:
– Oui, je joue un peu.
Polite conversational phrases
Don’t listen to stereotypes! The French are actually very polite, even in informal speech and situations, so knowing these phrases are a must.
Merci – Thank you/Thanks
This is the standard, go-to way to thank someone in French. It can be used in formal and informal situations. If you’d like some additional options, check out our article on other ways to say “Thank you” in French.
De rien. – You’re welcome.
This is one of MANY ways to say “you’re welcome” in French. De rien is very common and slightly informal but could still be used in a formal situation by non-fluent French speakers without seeming rude. If you’d like to find another way to show your gratitude, feel free to check out our article on ways to say “You’re welcome” in French.
Pardon – Excuse me/Pardon me
As in English, this can be used in a physical way (trying to get past someone, etc.) or to get someone’s attention. It’s slightly more formal than Excusez-moi.
Excusez-moi – Excuse me
This is usually used in a physical context (moving past someone, apologizing for bumping into someone, etc., or to get someone’s attention.
s’il vous plait/s’il te plait – please
Although this is a mouthful, it’s the most common way to say “please” in French, and works in both formal and informal situations.
Désolé(e). – Sorry.
Good news: regardless of agreement (an extra “e” at the end, etc.), this word is always pronounced the same way. Désolé(e) is fine for most contexts and situations. But if you want to make it more formal, you could add Je suis in front of it: Je suis désolé(e).
I don’t understand/Please repeat
There’s no reason to have to apologize if you don’t understand something someone said, but if you feel more comfortable doing that, note that you can add Désolé(e) (Sorry) before most of these sentences.
Je ne comprends pas. – I don’t understand.
Pouvez-vous répéter s’il vous plait ?/Peux-tu répéter s’il te plait ? – Could you repeat that, please?
If you’re absolutely stuck and can’t remember the entire phrase, you could manage with Répétez, s’il vous plait or Répète, s’il te plait. These aren’t particularly eloquent or ideal, but they will get your meaning across.
Pouvez-vous parler plus lentement, s’il vous plait ?/Peux-tu parler plus lentement, s’il te plait ? – Could you speak more slowly, please?
If you’re stuck and can’t remember the entire phrase, you could say Plus lentement, s’il vous plait or Plus lentement s’il te plait. It’s not particularly eloquent and it’s best to use the full phrase, of course, but it can help if you absolutely can’t remember the rest.
Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire ? – What does that/this mean?
If you want to clarify, you could repeat the word or phrase you’re wondering about. For instance: Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire, <<navette>> ? (What does “navette” mean?)
Note that in extremely formal situations it’s best to replace ça with cela (Qu’est-ce que cela veut dire ?) But of course, if you’re a non-native speaker asking this question, people aren’t likely to judge you for a subtle word choice like that.
French conversation example:
Conversational French phrases and words to express a reaction
Waouh/Wow ! – Wow
C’est dommage. – That’s a shame.
Make sure you say this with a neutral or sad inflection; otherwise it may seem sarcastic or flippant, as “Too bad” can sound in English.
C’est triste. – That’s sad.
Quelle horreur ! – That’s terrible/How awful/It’s bad/awful!
This is a very common expression in everyday French, and is often used in an exaggerated way. For instance: Tu as vu sa robe? Quelle horreur! (Have you seen her dress? It’s awful!)
Super ! – Great!
Génial ! – Great/Nice/Cool !
Cool ! – Cool!
A very common anglicism, Cool is used in informal conversations with young and young-ish people.
Oh là là ! – Wow/Oh no!/Nice!/Oh my God!
Yes, French people actually use this (very useful!) phrase all the time in informal everyday language. It can be used to react to something good or bad, so intonation is important.
Other helpful conversational words and phrases
Oui – Yes
Non – No
…,non ? – …isn’t it?/don’t you?/isn’t that so?/right?
Adding non ? to the end of a statement is a very easy way to form a question. For instance, Tu aimes les chats, non ? (You like cats, right?)
peut-être – maybe
d’accord – all right/okay
This is probably the most popular way to show agreement in French. It can be used in both formal and informal situations. If you want more options, feel free to check out our article on ways to say “yes” in French.
okay/O.K. – okay/O.K.
This anglicism is used frequently in informal spoken or online French. But if you’re in a formal or professional situation, or if you just want to sound more French, it’s best to go with the previous entry on our list, d’accord, unless you completely blank and can’t think of anything but this.
bien sûr – of course
alors – so/then
Voici… – Here is/This is….
Voilà – There is…/That’s it/Here it is.
In many cases, this word is used the same way it is in English.
mais – but
aussi – also, too
…et vous ?/…et toi ? – …and you?
This can be used to repeat back a question someone’s asked you. In a conversation, it’s a good idea to include it from time to time to show that you care about the person you’re talking to. Example: J’aime le foot, et toi ? (I like football (soccer), and/do you?)
monsieur/madame – sir/madam, ma’am
The French are so polite that they rarely address a stranger without adding “sir” or “ma’am”. There are some exceptions – for instance in a very informal situation or with children – but generally, if, say, I see someone has dropped something, I would get their attention by saying, Pardon, madame or Pardon, monsieur.
You may be wondering about mademoiselle. This title is no longer used in official French government communications and is only used in everyday life with a little girl or if you’re trying to flatter/chat up someone…and they may not like it.
Où est…/Où sont – Where is…/Where are…
If you’re asking this to a stranger, be sure to preface it with Pardon (Excuse me/Pardon me).
Qu’est-ce que c’est ? – What is it/this/that?
If you absolutely blank during a conversation, you could use the phrase C’est quoi ? instead, but this one comes off as very informal, possibly even rude, depending on the context/company, so use it with caution and try to memorize Qu’est-ce que c’est ?
Puis je…? – Can/May I…? This is a slightly formal phrase, but that means it will work in formal situations and it’s always better to seem a bit formal and polite when asking permission, than the opposite. If you’d like more options, see our article about asking for permission using the verb pouvoir.
Je peux ? – Can/May I do this?
This informal phrase is a good quick one to use when asking permission – but only when it’s clear what you’re asking permission for. For instance, if I point at a light switch and ask Je peux ? the person I’m talking to would understand that I want to turn on/off the light. But if I just asked it without making any kind of physical gesture, they would be confused.
This phrase is informal and comes with a slight connotation that you are probably going to be allowed to do what you’re asking, so use it carefully.
Je ne sais pas. – I don’t know.
Je voudrais…. – I would like….
Comment dire ____en français ? – How do you say ___ in French?
Example: Comment dire <<book>> en français ? (How do you say “book” in French?)
Combien ça coûte ? – How much does this cost?
There are many ways to say this phrase, but this is the most basic. You can add s’il vous plait at the end to make it even more polite. On some lists of simple French conversation phrases, you may see the even simpler C’est combien ? This does work if you really can’t remember anything else, but Combien ça coûte ? is more polite.
French conversation example:
– C’est une…comment dire <<sculpture>> en français?
Are there other ways to say these things?
As I explained at the beginning of this article, this list is made up of the most basic, essential words and phrases you’d need for simple conversations in French.
This means that in many (though not all!) cases, there are a number of other ways to say the words and phrases on the list, but they are more subtle or complicated.
As you get more familiar with French, you’ll probably end up having your own personal preferences or feel more comfortable using different, alternative phrases in different situations.
In fact, if you feel ready to take things to the next level in terms of your French conversation, you may want to have a look at our article on French conversation starters, which is intended for intermediate, advanced, and even fluent French speakers.
How can I improve my French conversation skills?
There are two major ways to improve your French conversation skills:
Increase your French vocabulary.
This doesn’t just mean studying or memorizing vocabulary lists for different topics, although that can certainly be helpful. It also means feeling at ease with how different words and phrases are used in everyday French. Being familiar with them will make it easier to use them when you’re talking to a French person.
So, in addition to studying French vocabulary, you should also read, listen to, and watch things in French as much as you can.
Studying French conversational skills in particular is, of course, also a big help. We don’t like to toot our own horns on this blog, but to be honest, we’re pretty excited about the new French Together app. It features audio recordings of conversations by native French speakers that you can play at regular speed or slowed down. You can also read along with a transcript or get help by clicking on a translation.
Talk to native French speakers.
If you don’t live in a French-speaking country, don’t worry: there are lots of websites where you can find French conversation partners, often for free.
If you are in a place where you can talk to actual French speakers, whether you’re there for a short visit or a long-term stay, don’t be afraid to try to strike up a conversation!
You can start simply and, if you don’t understand something or need someone to repeat what they’ve said, remember the phrases on our list that will let you express this.
If you’re worried that the person you’re speaking to might be mean if you make mistakes, don’t worry – most people anywhere in the world are happy if someone is trying to speak their native language and making an effort to be friendly. It may be tricky or intimidating at first, but trust me: the more you speak with French-speaking people, the more you’ll feel at ease with having a conversation in French.
Have you ever had a conversation in French? How did it go? Feel free to share in the comments!