When it comes to politeness, on a basic level French and English are very similar. Both languages have words and phrases for “please”, “thank you”, “hello”, “goodbye”, and “you’re welcome.”
But as may have discovered already, not all of these words have a single, simple equivalent. This is probably most apparent when it comes to saying “you’re welcome” in French.
Even a quick online search will show you multiple ways to say this phrase. They’re not all interchangeable; each kind of “You’re welcome” in French has its own connotation.
When someone thanks you, you only have a few seconds to answer with the appropriate “You’re welcome”.
This can be very stressful if you don’t know the differences between de rien, je vous en prie and ‘y a pas de quoi.
Is your answer polite enough? Is it too formal? Do French people actually use that phrase?
It can all seem very overwhelming. But don’t worry. After reading this article, you’ll know which French equivalent of “you’re welcome” to use in every situation!
The formal “You are welcome”
Je vous en prie is a formal way to say “You’re welcome” in French, as shown by the use of vous (the formal French “you”).
The construction itself is a bit old-fashioned. It literally means “I pray you,” (I beg you), which is something you’d hear in the Middle Ages.
All right, old-fashioned phrases definitely exist in different languages, but why, you might be wondering, is something that means “I beg you” a way to say “You’re welcome”?
In fact, we’ll rediscover this phenomenon in some of the other ways to say “You’re welcome” on this list. German speakers might also be familiar with it, since in German, “You’re welcome” is the same word that’s used for “please” (Bitte). As a member named DB writes on this language forum thread, the idea is that, essentially, the person saying “You’re welcome” is asking permission to do the act they’re being thanked for – after the fact.
Think about that with this example:
Vous pouvez finir le gâteau si vous voulez.
Merci, c’est gentil.
Je vous en prie.
But you don’t have to overthink it. Certainly, most French people don’t. Je vous en prie is just a normal way to say “you’re welcome”.
Considered more polite than De rien, without being overly formal, Je vous en prie is a great choice for professional situations and anytime you’re in doubt about how formal you need to be.
If you had to learn only one “You’re welcome”, Je vous en prie would be the best choice.
The slightly formal “you’re welcome”
Je t’en prie is a common yet strange way to say “You’re welcome” in French. It combines tu (the informal French “you”) with a rather formal verb and construction.
The result is a “You’re welcome” that you can use with people you’re on a “tu” basis with whenever you want to sound slightly formal and classy.
Due to its more formal construction, Je t’en prie is often considered more serious than De rien and is a better choice when someone thanks you for something important.
The relaxed you’re welcome
Similar to the Spanish De nada, or the English “It’s nothing”/”Don’t worry about it”, De rien literally means “Of nothing” and is the most common “You’re welcome” in France.
You can use it as a way to say “You’re welcome” when someone spontaneously thanks you for something unimportant.
Beware though: De rien is fairly informal and shouldn’t be used in professional or extremely formal situations.
Here is an example conversation from the French Together course to give you an idea. The conversation is available at slow and normal speed.
Il n’y a pas de quoi
Il n’y a pas de quoi is an informal way of saying “You’re welcome” in French.
You’ll also commonly see and hear it shortened as’y a pas de quoi. As you might have guessed, this shortened version is even more informal and mostly used with people you know or are in a relaxed, non-professional situation with.
Il n’y a pas de quoi and ’y a pas de quoi basically mean “There’s nothing to thank for” or “It’s nothing”.
The slang “You’re welcome”
Pas de problème was probably inspired by the English “No problem”. You can use it as an informal way of saying “No worries”.
Some people consider it to be slang, though, so make sure you only use it in informal situations.
The complicated “You’re welcome”
If you thank a seller in a shop, you may hear C’est moi qui vous remercie in response. This literally means “It is I who thanks you”. It’s the equivalent of the English “No, thank you“.
You can use this expression if someone thanks you while you think you should be the one thanking them.
The shortened form, C’est moi (“It’s me”) is actually more common although less formal.
“You’re welcome” in other parts of the Francophone world
Those are the versions of “You’re welcome” you’ll most often hear in France. But what about the rest of the Francophone world?
While some Francophone countries, regions, or cultures follow the same “You’re welcome” rules, a few stand out.
This being said, don’t panic – if you use one of the versions of “You’re welcome” that we’ve just covered, people will understand what you mean, regardless of where they come from. But if you want to say “You’re welcome” like a local, here are a few specific ones to keep in mind.
The southern French “You’re welcome”
As a French learner, you may be tempted to literally translate the “You’re welcome” response “My pleasure” into Mon plaisir.
While lots of French expressions are similar to English expressions, this isn’t the case here. Mon plaisir isn’t something the French would use to say “You’re welcome”.
Instead, use Avec plaisir (literally: “With pleasure”) whenever you want to tell someone you were happy to do what you did. For example, if a friend thanks you for helping him move.
That being said, Avec plaisir is one of many French expressions that’s not used the same way everywhere in France. You’re much more likely to hear it used as an equivalent of De rien in the south of France.
The French Canadian “You’re welcome”
In France, Bienvenue means “Welcome”, as in “Welcome to France” or “Welcome to Paris”.
However, in Québécois French, Bienvenue is also used to say “You’re welcome”. It’s used the same way as De rien.
The Belgian “you’re welcome”
The first time I took the Thalys train to Amsterdam, I was confused to hear the Belgian waiter answer S’il vous plaît after I said “Merci”.
Why would he answer “Please” after I said “Thank you”?
I later found out that while s’il vous plait only means “please” in France, it means both “please” and “You’re welcome” in Belgium!
The reasoning behind using a phrase that essentially means “please”, as a way to say thank you, is the same as the reasoning behind the French “You’re welcome” expressions Je vous en prie/Je t’en prie. Essentially, you’re sort of asking permission after the fact for doing the thing that the person is thanking you for.
Of course, nowadays, as with Je vous en prie/Je t’en prie, French/Belgian people don’t reason with the expression this way, and just use it the way we’d say “You’re welcome” or “My pleasure.”
The Swiss French “You’re welcome”
The most common way to say “You’re welcome” in Swiss French is a single word: Service.
As you can probably guess, this comes from the expression À votre service (At your service).
But as this article points out, while that expression exists in French, just saying Service won’t be understood as a way to say “You’re welcome” outside of Switzerland.
Again, remember that although different French-speaking regions and cultures have their specific expressions and ways of doing things, Francophones also understand standard French. So if you feel lost, don’t be afraid to use one of the standard French ways to say “You’re welcome.” After all, it’s better to be polite but sound like a “foreigner” than not to say anything at all!
Do the French always say “You’re welcome”?
There’s a common stereotype of French people being rude. There are a few explanations for this, including French people generally not being overtly emotional, being intimidated by talking to English-speakers (even if they might speak excellent English), and not liking living in Paris (“Parisians” are considered rude even by the French themselves).
But in reality, speaking politely is a big part of French culture. It would be shocking for a person to walk into a boulangerie and not greet the boulanger/boulangère, not to mention give a friendly general nod or hello to the other customers. In France, you always greet a shopkeeper, never call your waiter over by yelling Garçon!, and usually address strangers as madame, monsieur, or mademoiselleif you need to get their attention (for example, to tell them they’ve dropped something).
And so, needing to say “You’re welcome” in whatever format that’s appropriate for the situation, is pretty much a “must”.
Over to you
As you can see, there are lots of ways to say “you’re welcome” in French. It can seem intimidating and confusing.
The best tip I can give you is to choose Je vous en prie if you aren’t sure. You may sound overly formal, but you’ll never run the risk of offending the person who just thanked you.
Do you have a favorite way to say “You’re welcome” in French? Share it in the comments section below!