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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)
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.
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).
- Bise à la française
- La bise en France (video)
- Bonjour, bonjour ! (song)
- De l’importance de dire « bonjour »
- How are you? Fine.
- Ça va ? | Quoi de neuf ?
- Essential French
- Saying good-bye
- Social niceties
Self-study checklist with lessons, quizzes, and comprehension exercises.
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