Even if your French isn’t great, learning how to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ means that at least you can top and tail a conversation in the language. Anyone appreciates someone who tries, and people are much more inclined to speak English with you, and help you, if you have a go. Even if you mispronounce something, it doesn’t matter, once the conversation has started you will figure it out between you!
So if you fancy a trip to France or want to make your home here, here is our lowdown on saying hello and goodbye in French.
Bonjour = Hello (Formal)
You can use « bonjour » for any situation in which you need to greet someone during the day. Whether entering a shop, a restaurant or a museum for instance, it is actually expected of you to say “bonjour” or you will be seen a rude person.
Bonsoir = Good evening (Formal)
“Bonsoir” can be a tricky one. Each and every French person has their own rule regarding when to start using “bonsoir” when greeting someone. The most common time is 6 p.m. but, depending on the season, it can start earlier or later. During summer, the sun stays out until around 10 p.m. so you can start saying “bonsoir” around 7 p.m. Before that time, it will be considered a bit early. On the contrary, during winter when it can start to get dark around 5.30/6 pm, you can start using it from then. Although no one will yell at you when you use bonsoir at the wrong time (for them), you will know you got it wrong when the person answers “bonjour” to your “bonsoir”.
Salut = Hi (Informal)
You will use this one when greeting someone you know. It can be your friend, a family member or a colleague that you know well.
Salut ! Ça va ? = Hi! How are you doing? (Very informal)
A variant of “Salut”. This one is actually a bit tricky too. When you use that sentence with people you don’t know that much, you expect an answer to the “ça va” bit but you do not actually “care” about it. It is just a part of the salutation. On the other hand, when you ask the question to someone close to you (friend or family member), you expect an answer and will care about it.
Coucou = Hey there (Very informal)
Usually used between women or when a man greets a woman. You will probably never hear a man use “coucou” to greet another man.
Au revoir = Goodbye (Formal)
When leaving a place, it is expected of you to use “au revoir” to signal your departure. This one can be used at any time of the day since it is neutral, there is no reference to the time of the day in it (morning, afternoon, etc )
Bonne matinée = Good morning | Bonne fin de matinée = Good end of morning (Formal)
You can use “bonne matinée” when you are leaving a place during the morning. Its variant (bonne fin de matinée) is used only as the morning touches to its end, usually around 11 a.m.
Bonne journée = good day | Bonne fin de journée = good end of the day (Formal)
« Bonne journée » is also usually used during the morning when the day is still long. Its variant, “bonne fin de journée”, can be used at any time of the day although it is usually used during the afternoon when the day is already well on its way.
Bon après-midi = good afternoon | Bonne fin d’après-midi = good end of afternoon (Formal)
You can only use “bon après-midi” during the afternoon, as you might have guessed from its name. You can start using it from 12 p.m. Its variant however can be used starting from 4:30 p.m. / 5 p.m. Using it before this time would be too early for most people.
Bonne soirée = Good evening (Formal)
« Bonne soirée » can be used as soon as the night falls or starting at 7 p.m. during summer when the sun is up until late.
A demain = See you tomorrow (Formal)
Used when you will see the person the next day. Can be used with people you know as well as people you do not know that well.
A la semaine prochaine = See you next week (Formal)
Used when you won’t see the person before the following week. Can be used with people you know as well as people you do not know that well.
A bientôt = See you later (Formal)
You can use “à bientôt” when you want to say goodbye to someone you know you will see again in the near future either with no exact date in mind or when the date is set some time ahead from the moment.
A plus = See you (Informal)
A plus is used between people who know well each other (friends, family member…) when they will see each other again in the near future.
Salut = Bye (Informal)
Yes, you did see this one in the “hello” section too. French people use this word in both situations; it is the context of the moment that will let you know if it is a hello or a goodbye. In any case, you can only use it with people you know well.