How to Say “How Are You” in French and Sound like a Local

You walk to your friend, ask him “comment allez-vous ?” (how are you) and expect a passionate answer about what’s he’s been up to lately.

Instead, your friend simply answers “good, and you?”.

What did you do wrong?

Not much.

In fact, the only mistake you made was to use the wrong “how are you”.

In French, there are at least 15 ways to say “how are you”.

Use the right “how are you” and French people will open up to you and gladly tell you about their day, thoughts and feelings.

Use the wrong form and they’ll tell you “bien merci” while you’re left wondering what to say next.

Today, I’d like to show you 10 common ways to say “how are you” in French and explain when and how to use each variation so you can easily connect with people, start conversations and show how much you care.

Comment allez-vous: The classical “how are you”

“Comment allez-vous “ is the most common “how are you”. You can safely use it with anyone in any situation.

I say safely, because you won’t offend anyone by using it. However, it’s not the best “how are you” to use in informal situations.

It litterally means “how go you”. In French, we don’t use the verb “to be” in “how are you” and alwayse use “to go” instead.

That’s similar to the way “how is it going” is constructed except that “comment allez-vous” is way more formal.

Comment vas-tu: The awkward “how are you”

“Comment vas-tu” is the “informal” version of “comment allez-vous” as indicated by the use of “tu”, the informal French “you”.

However, it also uses the inversion way of asking questions which is considered formal.

The end result is a “how are you” stuck between formal and informal French.

I personally never use it, because I prefer “comment allez-vous” in formal situations and “ça va ?” in informal situations, and feel that “comment vas-tu” doesn’t belong anywhere and ends up being either too informal or too formal.

However, some people like to use it when they write to people they know well, but still want to sound serious. “Comment vas-tu” would fit nicely in a romantic letter for example.

Comment ça va: The friendly “how are you”

“Comment ça va” literally means “how is it going” or “how it goes”.

You can use it with friends, family members and people you know well. Basically, with anyone you’re on a “tu” basis with.

Ça va: The short “how are you”

ca-va

French people love deleting words and letters when they speak.

You can use ça va ? the same way you’d use “comment ça va ?”.

You just need to know that “ça va” is often considered less serious than “comment ça va” and other French “how are you” starting with “comment”, so people are less likely to give you a deep answer.

In fact, the most common answer to “ça va ?” is…”ça va” (literally: it goes), meaning everything is going well.

“ça va” is similar to the English “how are you” greeting. You use it more to say “hello” than ask a person how she is doing.

You can also start with “ça va” as a greeting and later ask “comment tu vas ?” to indicate that you now expect a more detailed answer. This is common if you meet someone in a public space or in a group and want to wait to be in a more intimate setting to talk.

If you like to be positive, you can also say “ça va bien ?” (is it going well?), but again, don’t expect a deep answer.

Sa va: The French slang “how are you”

“Sa va” is the slang “how are you”. It’s used the same way as “ça va ?” and the only difference is that it’s written wrong since “sa” normally means “her” and has nothing to do with “ça” (even though both are pronounce the same way).

Using it doesn’t make much sense since it’s not even shorter than “ça va”, so I recommend you not to use it at all unless you want to annoy your French teacher. 

It’s important to know it exists though, because lots of young French people use it on Facebook.

The most typical answer is “sa va”.

Comment vous sentez-vous: The deep “how are you”

comment-vous-sentez-vous

“Comment vous sentez-vous” literally means “how do you feel?”.

You use it when you know someone was sick or had a problem and want to know if they’re now doing better.

A possible answer would be “ça va mieux” (I’m feeling better) or “pas terrible” (not great).

The concerned “how are you”

You can use  “comment tu te sens”  to ask a friend who was feeling sick or maybe a little depressed if he’s now feeling better.

This is simply the informal version of “comment vous sentez-vous ?”.

Like all other French “how are you” starting with “comment”, it usually requires a deep answer and not a simple “ça va”.

The casual “how are you”

“Quoi de neuf” is the French “what’s up” and literally means “what’s new?”.

You can use it with friends you haven’t talked to in a while or with anyone you’re on a “tu” basis with.

When you ask “quoi de neuf”, expect a detailed answer of what the person has been up to lately.

Quoi de beau: The positive “how are you”

“Quoi de beau” literally means “what’s beautiful?”. It’s a positve and casual way of asking how a person is doing.

Most people will answer by telling you about the nice things happening in their life, but you may also hear “pas grand chose” (not much) if the person feels that there is nothing nice happening in her life.

The relaxed “how are you”

Literally “it’s rolling”,  “ça roule” is a colloquial way to ask if everything is going smoothly.

You can use the French expression “comme sur des roulettes” (literally: like on wheels) as a positive answer.

How to answer “how are you?”

French people generally expect an answer when they ask “comment allez-vous ?” or “comment tu vas ?”, but the answer doesn’t have to be long.

In fact, it’s common to simply say “ça va” (it’s going well) whether you actually feel good or not.

Like in English, you usually keep more detailed answers for your friends and people you know well.

Here are a few formal answers:

The last three answers sound formal, but you’re actually unlikely to use them in a formal context, because they sound negative and many people consider that your answer to “how are you” should always be positive in a formal context.

And a few informal answers:

After answering “how are you”, it’s polite to ask the person how she is doing.

In this case, you can say:

Over to you

Have you ever asked “how are you?” in France? How did it go? Share your story in the comment section below!

Benjamin Houy
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.

12 thoughts on “How to Say “How Are You” in French and Sound like a Local”

  1. Ok, first, forgive me for plugging one of your phrases into Google Translate, but I’ve been curious about how well their translators keep up on slang. When I plugged “ca roule” in, up popped “ca roule ma poule.” What is that one all about?

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  2. Bonjours!
    Je voudrais a posé une question. Pourquoi ne pas dire terrible(terrible) mais pas terrible( not terrible) semble (Great)? Je vois cela assez souvent mais ne pas comprendre. J’aimerais que tu l’expliques. Merci.

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    • If I may, I think it’s because you’re saying, “Not terrible…” — in a sense it’s a cynical phrase. It would be like saying, “Well I’m still alive / still breathing” cynically implying that things are not going well but you’re still hanging in there. I hope that makes sense. It’s my best assessment of that phrase.

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    • No, you would not pronounce the “t” at the end of Comment. The only time you ever pronounce the letter at the end of a word is if there is a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) at the end of the word.

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      • t is pronounced in comment allez vous… right?
        The last consonant is pronounced if the next word starts with a vowel. Right?

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    • Yes, technically. You would pronounce the ‘t’ with the ‘allez-vous’ instead of with the comment. So, it would be pronounced like “Commen tallez-vous?”

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    • If you’ll read the whole article the author gives 2 examples. Paragraph 1.6 and 1.7. The paragraphs have spoken examples too

      Reply
  3. Language is always evolving with short cuts, expressionism and adoption of other cool words.

    Back at school we were taught “je ne sais pas” that was shortened to “je sais pas” in the 60’s…..On a school boat trip over to Boulogne I spoke to a French guy taking a thouroughbred back to Chantilly…..he complimented me on trying to speak French and gave me pointers re pronounciation as their language swings along like a symphony with no stopping points between words. He also asked if I bet and told me to bet “le cheval Foxford Boy at ascot in 6 weeks, alors! he won’t win at Newmarket in 2 weeks…” and sure enough Foxford Boy ran 4th of 4 runners at Newmarket and 2 weeks later trotted up at Ascot……

    Loved french and its literature..and my kids are learning it now……

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  4. Bonjour

    I usually use comment ca va

    and sometimes comment allez vous

    and answer is bien, merci

    j’ai utilisé habituellement ce mot comment ca va en France

    Reply

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