Basic French Words and Phrases to Help You Get By

As much as we all want to be fluent in French, sometimes you just need some basic words and phrases to get by. Knowing how to say hello or order food is typically the first step of a long journey to fluency. Here at Frenchplanations, we write about all sorts of French vocabulary and French grammar, but in this piece we just want to go over some basic French words and phrases that can get you started in your French-language journey.

Basic French Greetings

No matter where you are in your French-language journey you’ll never be able to get away from basic greetings. Although there are always countless ways of greeting someone in French, here are the most commonly-used ones.

Bonjour – Hello (Literally “good day” and used during the morning or afternoon)

Bonsoir – Hello (Literally “good evening” and used in the evening)

Salut – Hi / Goodbye (Can be used for both and is considered informal)

Although the above greetings are used very often and are the probably some of the most commonly-used words in the entire language. However, there are a few things you should know about their use.

Both Bonjour and Bonsoir aren’t considered super formal by any means, but they aren’t really used in super informal settings (salut is more appropriate for that).  If you’re with friends or people you otherwise know well then salut is fine. You could also use salut if speaking to a child. If you’re with people you don’t know or in an otherwise formal setting then bonjour / bonsoir is better.

Saying Nice to Meet You

The first part of meeting someone typically involves saying hello while one of the next parts is saying nice to meet you (if you’re meeting for the first time of course). Here are the most common and simplest ways to say “Nice to meet you” in French.

Enchanté(e) – Nice to meet you (looks like enchanted as in enchanted to meet you)

This is by far the most common way to say nice to meet you to someone. Both enchanté and enchantée are pronounced the same way, but when writing you must use enchanté if you are a male and enchantée if you are a female. This has nothing to do with the gender of the person to whom you are speaking.

Ravi de faire ta connaissance – Nice to meet you (think of it like pleased to meet you)

Ravi de faire votre connaissance – Nice to meet you

Both ravi de faire ta connaissance and ravi de faire votre connaissance are on the more formal side of things, but ravi de faire votre connaissance is a step up.

Saying Goodbye in French

Every interaction you have with someone comes to an end at some point and it’s at this point where you say goodbye. Fortunately for us, saying goodbye to someone is just as easy as saying hello. Here are the most common ways to say goodbye to someone.

Au revoir – Goodbye

Au revoir is easily the most common way to say goodbye to someone in French. You can pretty much use it with anyone and if there is only one way of saying goodbye that you want to learn then this is the one you should go with.

Salut – Bye

Remember how we already covered that Salut means hi? Well, it can also mean goodbye. It’s more informal than au revoir and is best used with family, friends and people that you know well. You can think of it as the French equivalent of bye.

Remember how we already covered that Salut means hi? Well, it can also mean goodbye. It’s more informal than au revoir and is best used with family, friends and people that you know well. You can think of it as the French equivalent of bye.

Saying Thank You in French

While it may not come up in every interaction, saying thank you to someone is certainly a common occurrence. This, along with bonjour, is often something that even those who’ve never spent a day learning French already know, but just in case you don’t here it is.

Merci – Thanks / Thank you

Merci is pretty universal and can be used in virtually all scenarios. If you only use merci when thanking others then you shouldn’t ever have any issues. If you’d like to make it a bit stronger you can say,

Merci beaucoup – Thank you very much

Also very much universal, merci beaucoup just makes it a little bit stronger just like thank you very much is a bit stronger than just thank you. Context should help you decide which one to use. You can also check out our article on saying thank you in French for more complete and thorough explanations.

Saying You're Welcome in French

It’s almost certain to assume that when one person says thank you that it will be followed up with at least some version of you’re welcome. We go into great detail on saying you’re welcome in our article How to Say You’re Welcome in French, but here are the most common ways.

De rien – You’re welcome (literally means of nothing)

De rien is the classic way of saying you’re welcome to someone and definitely used more than any other way. Another common way of saying you’re welcome is,

Je t’en prie / Je vous en prie – You’re welcome (An alternate way)

While both of these are polite alternatives of saying you’re welcome je vous en prie is more formal and should only be used in such contexts.

Saying Please in French

Another common basic French word you should learn is how to say please. For the most part there are really only two ways to say please which are both below.

S’il te plaît – Please (informal)

S’il vous plaît – Please (formal / plural)

As mentioned above, s’il te plaît is the informal way to say please whereas s’il vous plaît is the formal way. S’il te plaît can be easily used around family and friends whereas s’il vous plaît is used more for people you don’t know well or those who are in a position of respect (teacher, doctor, etc..) S’il vous plaît is also used when saying please to more than one person even if they are your friends or family.

Saying Sorry in French

Unfortunately learning how to say sorry isn’t quite as easy as saying please or thank you, but it’s still far from difficult. Here are a few different ways to say sorry in French as well as the contexts in which you would use each,

Désolé(e) – Sorry (The most common text-book way to say sorry in French. It’s best used when you actually make a mistake that you would like to apologize for)

Pardon – This is for when you want to apologize for something really small such as not hearing what someone said or accidentally bumping into someone

Excuse-moi (informal) / Excusez-moi (formal/plural) – Both of these can mean sorry, but are probably used most to get someone’s attention, not unlike how excuse me is used in English.

Introducing Yourself in French

Another part of learning basic French is being able to introduce yourself to someone you meet for the very first time. Although there are a never-ending list of things that you could say when introducing yourself to some (some of which we have already covered), but here are some of the most common things you might want to say,

Je m’appelle… – My name is…

Comment tu t’appelles ? / Comment vous appelez vous ? – What is your name? (informal / formal or plural)

Comment vas-tu ? / Comment allez-vous ? – How are you? (informal / formal or plural)

Ça va ? – How are you? (Another informal way to ask someone how they are. This is probably more informal than comment vas-tu ?)

Je viens de… – I am from… / I come from… (and then the place you come from)

D’où viens-tu ? / D’où venez-vous ? — Where are you from?

Here are a handful of examples of places you might be from,

Je viens des États-Unis – I am from the United States

Je viens du Canada – I am from Canada

Je viens de l’Angleterre – I from England

Je viens de l’Australie – I am from Australia

Je viens du Royaume-Uni – I am from the United Kingdom

Saying Yes and No in French

Saying yes and no are as simple as they are in English.

Oui – Yes

Non – No

Saying that you don't speak French

Sometimes you just want to tell someone that you don’t speak French because you either flat out don’t speak it or don’t feel that you are at a level where you can hold any sort of reasonable conversation. No matter the situation, you can say,

Je ne parle pas français – I don’t speak French

If, by contrast, you DO want to say that you speak French you can say,

Je parle français – I speak French

Je parle un peu français – I speak a little French

If you want to ask someone if they speak French you can say,

Parles-tu français ? / Parlez-vous français ? – Do you speak French (informal / formal or plural)

Ordering Food In French

Knowing how to order food can be very helpful on your next Paris vacation (or whatever you decide to go). Although it may seem like a somewhat complicated subject there are really only a few things that you absolutely need to know to be able to order food successfully.

Je voudrais – I would like

L’addition, s’il vous plaît – The bill please

La carte, s’il vous plaît – The menu please

De l’eau s’il vous plaît – Water please

Un café s’il vous plaît – Coffee please

Sur place – Dine in

À emporter – Take out / Take away

Qu’est-ce que vous conseillez ? – What do you recommend

In the case of an emergency

Hopefully you’re never in the situation where you or someone with you has a medical emergency, but in the event that it does happen here are some words and phrases that you may find useful.

J’ai besoin d’un médecin – I need a doctor

J’ai besoin d’un médecin qui parle anglais – I need a doctor who speaks English

Je suis tombé(e) – I feel down / I have fallen

Je me suis brûlé(e) – I burned myself / I have burned myself

Je me suis coupé(e) – I cut myself / I have cut myself

Où sont les urgences ? – Where is the emergency room?

Au secours ! – Help!

J’ai une douleur ici – I have pain here

J’ai une assurance médicale – I have health insurance

Asking for Various Bits of Information

During your French travels there will no doubt be various bits of information that you’ll need to help you get by. Here are some of questions you may want to ask that can be tailored to all sorts of different things.

Où est… – Where is…

Où est la tour Eiffel – Where is the Eiffel Tower?

Où est le Louvre ? – Where is the Louvre?

Où sont… – Where are…

Combien ça coûte ? – How much does this cost?

Comment dit-on______ en français ? – How do you say ______ in French?

Pourriez-vous parler plus lentement, s’il vous plaît ? – Would you be able to speak more slowly please?

Parlez-vous anglais ? – Do you speak English

Vous avez compris ? – Do you understand ?  (what I just said)

Pouvez-vous m’aider ? – Can you help me?

Ça s’écrit comment ? – How do you spell that?

Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire ? – What does that mean?

Où sont les toilettes ? – Where is the bathroom? / Where is the toilet?

Quelle heure est-il ? – What time is it?

Whether you are starting your French journey or are just looking to get by on a vacation learning some basic French is absolutely where you need to start. If you are looking to take the next step you can take a look at our French grammar or French vocabulary pages.