French greetings
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In English, there’s a phrase commonly used with children: "what’s the magic word?" or "say the magic word!" and that magic word is "please." In French, as important it is to say s’il vous plaît, there’s a word that’s even more magical: bonjour. Saying hello is more than just a matter of greeting someone; it’s the very first word you should say when entering a store, asking for help, or beginning any kind of conversation whatsoever. Even if it’s the only French word you know, you should always say bonjour – it can make the difference between a friendly exchange and a frosty one – learn more.

What to say (and when)

Bonjour means hello, good morning, good afternoon, or good day – but only as a greeting. To wish someone a good day upon leaving, say bonne journée.

Bonsoir means good evening, so you should start using it around 6pm. To wish someone a good evening upon leaving, say bonne soirée.

 Note that the greetings are single words: bonjour and bonsoir, not bon jour and bon soir. In contrast, the good wishes upon leaving are two separate words: bonne journée and bonne soirée. (Also see jour vs journée, soir vs soirée)

Salut is an informal greeting that you can use at any time of day.

Coucou is an informal, playful way to say "hi," especially when calling out for someone, such as when knocking on a half-open door. (It comes from baby talk.)

  What not to say (and where)

In France, there’s no such thing as bon matin – "good morning" is simply bonjour. Bon après-midi exists, but only upon leaving: "Have a good afternoon!" The greeting "good afternoon" is again included in bonjour. In Québec, however, bon matin and bon après-midi can be used as both greetings and good-byes.

French greeting gestures

When greeting friends or friends of friends, you should faire la bise (kiss each cheek) or se serrer la main (shake hands).

 Listening exercises

Related lessons

French lesson plans French lesson plans

French for beginners French for beginners

Self-study checklist with lessons, quizzes, and comprehension exercises.

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French greeting

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3 Responses

  1. Paul Murray 5 August 2016 / 13:59

    Ok…. so I see a bloke 1st thing in the morning. “Bonjour” it is.
    We both have boats on the same quai.
    I pass him again 20 mins later. What then?
    Then 20 mins later I pass him again…. just a smile?
    Then again…. and again…

    • lkl 6 August 2016 / 7:33

      You can say rebonjour the second time – after that, I would just nod and/or smile.

  2. Ravindra 18 August 2014 / 21:53

    Good information…I was under the impression that Bonsoir is said only when one meets someone in an evening party ….otherwise one says only Bonjour…..also the use of Bon apès-midi was unknown to me…Thanks

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