Bon vs Bien

Bon vs bien
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French Foes

The French words bon and bien can be tricky for French students because they both belong to three different parts of speech (adjectives, adverbs, nouns) and have similar meanings. This is a good lesson that will get you well on your way to understanding the difference.

1) Adjectives

While bon and bien can both be adjectives, bon is the more common one. It serves to describe a noun as "good" as in valid, high quality, useful, pleasant, and the like.

Par exemple…

C’est une bonne idée.   That’s a good idea.
Le lait est bon jusqu’à demain.   The milk is good until tomorrow.
L’eau est bonne !   The water is nice!
J’ai besoin d’un bon vélo.   I need a high-quality bike.

In contrast, when bien is an adjective, it’s used with copular (state-of-being) verbs and means "good" along the lines of sense of moral, satisfying, healthy, or attractive.

Ce serait bien si tu faisais la cuisine.   It would be good for you to cook.
Ce n’est pas bien de dire ça.   It’s not good to say that.
La nouvelle peinture fait bien.   The new paint looks nice.
On est bien ici.   We’re comfortable here.

2) Adverbs

When it comes to adverbs, bien takes the lead. As an adverb of manner, it means "well":

Ça va bien ?
Tu vas bien ?
  Are you well?
J’ai bien mangé.   I ate well.
Il s’entend bien avec les enfants.   He gets along well with children.

It can also be an adverb of quantity and emphasize another adverb or adjective …

Ça va bien mieux.   It’s much better.
Elle travaille depuis bien longtemps.   She’s been working for a very long time.
Je suis bien content de te voir.   I’m very happy to see you.

… or verb:

Je sais bien que tu l’as fait.   I know perfectly well that you did it.
Est-ce bien une erreur ?   Is it really a mistake?
Il a bien dit la vérité.   He did indeed tell the truth.

With faire and sentir, bon is an adverb meaning "nice, pleasant, good":

Il fait bon au soleil.   It’s nice and warm in the sun.
Il fait bon vivre en France.   It’s nice living in France.
Ça sent bon !   That smells good!

3) Nouns

Le bon means "the good part" or "advantage(s)":

Je vais manger seulement le bon.   I’m only going to eat the good part.
Ses solutions ont toujours du bon.   His solutions always have advantages.

Un bon is the generic term for an official document: bond, form, slip, coupon, voucher, certificate…

un bon d’achat   gift certificate
un bon de livraison   delivery slip

Le bien refers to "good":

C’est pour ton bien.   It’s for your own good.
Ça te fera du bien.   It will be good for you.
le bien et le mal   good and evil

Les biens are "goods" or "property":

les biens et les services   goods and services
les biens immobiliers   real estate
les biens privés   private property

 Related lessons

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Bien vs bon

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