List of French survival phrases for a trip to France
If you are traveling in France, it is indispensable that you learn some basic French phrases. The French are notorious for expecting that foreign travelers know at least a few words. Based on countless trips to France, we have put together the following list of essential 25 phrases you can use to get by.
Most common French phrases
Meaning: Hello, good morning
Bonjour means hello in French. It also means good morning. You can use bonjour in both formal and informal situations. However, when you’re in a formal situation you absolutely must use bonjour. You can use bonjour throughout the day until around 5.00pm.
If you’re meeting up with a group of people you can say, “Bonjour tout le monde!”, which translate to “hello, everybody!” At that point you switch to bonsoir, which means good evening.
Meaning: Both hi! and bye!
In addition to meaning “hi”, salut also means good-bye or simply bye! Similar to bonjour mentioned above, “Salut tout le monde” means both ‘”hi, everybody” and “bye, everybody”.
3. Ça va?
Meaning: How’s it going?
“Ça va” is the quintessential phrase that you can use to ask somebody ‘how’s it going?’ If you want to know how they’re doing, ask, “Comment ça va?”. To ask somebody how they’re doing you can also ask, “Comment vas-tu?”.
Note these forms are informal. To ask a stranger how they’re doing, ask, “Comment allez-vous?”. Always be aware of whether you’re using the formal or the informal forms!
4. Au revoir
Thus, it sounds more like “auvoir“. When in doubt over whether to use “au revoir” or “salut” choose the former as it’s more polite.
5. Merci beaucoup
Meaning: Thank you very much
To say, ‘thank you very much’, say ‘merci beaucoup’. Merci means thank you and beaucoup means a lot. This is the standard way of saying thank you in French and you can use it in all sorts of situations.
A very polite way to thank somebody is to say, ‘Je vous remercie’, which means ‘I thank you’.
6. De rien
Meaning: You’re welcome
To say you’re welcome in French, say “de rien”, which translates literally to “of nothing”. Like “merci beaucoup”, you can use “de rien” in all sorts of situations.
A very polite way of saying you’re welcome is “Je vous en prie”. You can use this in more formal settings and situations.
7.Oui / non
Meaning: Yes / no
Most people know “oui” and “non” already but they have to be on this list. Simply, put, “oui” means yes in French and “non” means “no” in French. Make sure you nasalize the “on” on “non”. In French slang you can say “ouais“ to mean “yeah”.
Meaning: Nice to meet you
To make a longer sentence you can say, “Enchanté de faire votre connaissance”, which is longer way of saying “nice to meet you”.
You can also make it longer and a bit more formal by saying, “Je suis enchanté de faire votre connaissance”, which means “I am happy to meet you.”
One other nice way of saying “nice to meet you” is “Je suis ravi de faire votre connaissance”.
9. Je m’appelle
Meaning: My name is
When you’re on a trip in France you will meet many people. To say, “my name is” say, “Je m’appelle” then say your name. Since my name is David, I’d say, “Je m’appelle David”.
To ask a stranger or somebody you don’t know, “What is your name?” ask: “Comment vous appelez-vous?” To ask a younger person their name, ask “Comment t’appelles-tu?”.
Make sure you don’t use the tu form with an adult stranger as people will think you’re being impolite!
This page covers “tu” and “vous”, the two ways of saying “you” in French”.
10. Je comprends / je ne comprends pas
Meaning: I understand / I don’t understand
“Je comprends” and “je ne comprends pas” translate to ‘I understand’ and ‘I don’t understand’, respectively. You can use these to phrases from the minute you get off the plane in French.
They come from the verb “comprendre” which means do understand and is related to the English word ‘to comprehend’.
If you’re in a conversation with another person and want to ask, “Do you understand?”, say, “Comprenez-vous?”.
If somebody just said something and you want to say that you didn’t understand in the past tense, say “je n’ai pas compris”, which means ‘I didn’t understand.’
11. Pardon, excusez-moi
Meaning: Excuse me
There are two ways to say “excuse me” or sorry in French: “Pardon” and “Excusez-moi”. You can use them interchangeably and neither one is better or more formal than the other.
When speaking to a stranger you must use the formal, “Excusez-moi”.
However, you’re speaking to somebody you know or a young person you can use the informal, “Excuse-moi”. Using the informal form with younger people is perfectly normal and acceptable in France.
12. Je suis désolé
Meaning: I’m sorry
When you’re on a trip you will most definitely find yourself in situations where you have to say sorry to somebody. To say, “I’m sorry”, simply say “Je suis désolé”. Note that in the written feminine form you’d write, “Je suis désolée”.
13. Répétez, s’il vous plaît
Meaning: Repeat, please
If somebody is speaking too fast you might need to ask them to repeat. Here you can use, “répétez”, which means “repeat”.
To ask somebody ‘please repeat’ you can say, “répétez, s’il vous plaît”. To make a complete question, you can say, “pouvez-vous répéter, s’il vous plaît?”, which means “can you repeat, please?”.
Note that these are formal forms. If you’re speaking to somebody who you already know or a young person you can use the familiar form: “répète, s’il te plaît”.
14. Je sais, je ne sais pas
Meaning: I know, I don’t know
when somebody is telling you something and you want to tell them that you know, simply say, “je sais”, which translates to “I know”.
If you want to tell them that you don’t know something simply say, “je ne sais pas“, which means “I don’t know.”
If you want to ask somebody if they know something, ask “savez-vous”, which translates to “do you know?” This is the formal form.
If you know the person who you’re speaking to or if they’re a young person ask, “sais-tu?”.
Note that there are verbs for “to know” in French: “savoir” and “connaître”.
15. Où est? Où sont?
Meaning: Where is? / Where are?
If you’re looking for something or trying to find a place, then “où est…?” and “où sont…?” will come in handy. “Où est” translates literally to “where is”. Use this when looking for something in the singular form. For example, “Où est la gare?”, which means “Where is the train station?”.
If you’re looking for something in the plural form, use “où sont”. For example, “Où sont les toilettes?”, which means “Where are the restrooms?”.
16. Je cherche
Meaning: I’m looking for
If you’re trying to find something and want to tell somebody what you’re looking for, use “je cherche”. This translates literally to “I am looking for…”.
For example, if you’re looking for a hotel you could say, “Je cherche un hôtel”, which means I’m looking for a hotel. If you were looking for an ATM machine, you could say, “Je cherche un distributeur automatique.”
17. Je suis perdu
Meaning: I am lost.
During your adventures in France it’s likely that you’ll get lost. To tell a French person that you’re lost, say, “Je suis perdu”. The French person will understand immediately and most likely try to help you find your way.
18. Êtes-vous ouvert?
Meaning: Are you open?
When travelling you will have to deal with many business, such as banks, tourist offices, gift shops, etc. To ask a shopkeeper if they’re open ask, “Êtes-vous ouvert?”, which translates literally to “Are you open?”. “Êtes” is the second-person plural (vous) form of “être” (to be).
To take it a step further, if you want to ask when they are opening their business, ask “À quelle heure ouvrez-vous?”, which means ‘What time are you opening?”. This page covers telling time in French in detail.
Meaning: Do you have?
During your travels it’s very likely you’re going to want to buy something. In this case you’ll need to know how to ask, “Do you have”? In this situation, say, “avez-vous” then follow it by the thing that you want to buy.
For example, “Avez-vous des tomates?” translates to “Do you have tomatoes”? To ask for tickets, say, “Avez-vous des billets”? “Avez” is the second person plural (vous) form of “avoir” (to have).
20. Je voudrais
Meaning: I would like
When making a request or expressing what you’d like use, “je voudrais“, which means “I would like”. This phrase comes in handy in places such as coffee shops and restaurants.
For example, to say, “I’d like a coffee”, say, “Je voudrais un café”. You can also use “je voudrais” to express what you’d like to do. For example, to say, “I’d like to go to the restroom”, say “Je voudrais aller aux toilettes”.
Meaning: Do you have?
If you’re taking public transportation and you want to know if the driver and you want to know if the driver is going to a particular destination, use “allez-vous”, which means “are you going?”
For example, to say, “Are you going to Paris”? ask, “Allez-vous à Paris?” In some instances you might want to ask the driver where they are going. In this situation ask, “Où allez-vous”, which means “Where are you going?”
“Allez” is the second-person plural (vous) form of the verb “aller” (to go).
22. C’est combien?
Meaning: How much is it?
On a trip to France you’ll inevitably find yourself in situation were you have to ask the price. To ask, “How much is it?“, say “C’est combien?”.
To ask the price of a specific item, use “Combien coûte”. For example, to ask “How much does the baguette cost?”, say “Combien coûte la baguette?”
23. Qu’est-ce que c’est?
Meaning: What is it?
If you’re in France and are trying to learn French from street vendors and shop keepers once of the most useful phrases to know is, “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”, which translates to ‘What is it?’.
You can simply to point to an item and as this question and the person answering will instantly teach you a new vocabulary word!
This page covers the various ways of saying “what” in French.
24. Que veut dire _?
Meaning: What does _ mean?
When you want to know the meaning of a word use “Que veut dire?”. Here’s an example of the proper usage: “Que veut dire marcher?”, which means “What does ‘marcher’ mean?”
Two more handy vocabulary words here are “le mot”, which means “the word” and “la phrase”, which means “the sentence”.
Hence, “Que veut dire le mot?” means “What does the word _ mean?” and “Que veut dire la phrase?” means “What does the sentence?” mean.
25. Parlez-vous anglais?
Meaning: Do you speak English?
When you’re on your trip you’ll definitely encounter situations where you have to ask somebody if they to speak English.
To do this, say, “Parlez-vous anglais”? In addition you’ll also have to tell people that you don’t speak French. In this situations, say, “Je ne parle pas français”.
Advanced French phrases
The following is a list of slightly more advanced yet helpful French phrases.
26. Ce n’est pas grave!
Meaning: It’s no big deal!
Pronounced: “Cuh nay pah grahv”. This expression translates to “It’s not serious” but the loose translation into everyday English would be “It’s no big deal”.
Again, in fluent French you can drop the n’ and get “C’est pas grave”. The opposite expression, “Oh là là, c’est grave” would translate to “Whow…that’s serious!”
27. N’importe quoi!
Meaning: Nonsense! B.S.!
Pronounced: “Nim port kwah”. This is more of an exclamation and loosly translates to “Nonsense!”, “Hogwash!” or “B.S.!”
If you put a verb before it, such as “Tu dis n’importe quoi” you get something like, “You’re saying a bunch of crap”. “Tu fais n’importe quoi” would translate loosly to our English question, “What the heck are you doing?”
This page on our site covers expressions using n’importe.
28. Je vous en prie
Meaning: You’re welcome
Pronounced: “Juh vooz unh pree”. This is a polite way of saying “you’re welcome” with a literal translation of “I beg of thee”.
Of course you could also say, “de rien” which means the same thing. If you were speaking to somebody you already know or a younger person you’d need to use the familiar form: “Je t’en prie”, pronounced “Juh vooz un pree”.
29. Un de ces quatre
Meaning: One of these days
“Un de ces quatre” (pronounced “Uhn duh say kat-ruh”) translates to “one of these four” but really means, “one of these days”.
We’re really not sure where the expression comes from. A common saying in French when you want to get together with somebody in the future but you’re not sure when is: “On se fait une bouffe un de ces quatre”. It literally means “Let’s make a meal one of these days” but translates loosly to “let’s get together one of these days”.
30. Quoi de neuf?
Meaning: How’s it going?
“Quoi de neuf?” (pronounced Kwah duh nuhf) literally means, “What of new” and translates to “What’s new?” It’s used as a conversation opener.
This is expression is very informal and would only be used with a good acquaintance or friend. In very fluent French you can almost skip over the “de” and just slightly pronounce it.
“Allez” is the second-person plural or “vous” form of the verb “aller” (to go). This short exclamation and is used in a wide variety of ways in French. One usage is “come on” or “let’s go”. Another usage is “go on”, “go ahead” or “go away”.
In this case you’re add a y to say, “Allez-y!”. Another usage of “allez” is to cheer on a sports team. Hence, “Allez la France!” or “Go France!”.
If pronounced with a slightly negative tone “allez” translates to the English expression “come on” expressing disbelieve or displeasure.
32. Bon, ben…
“Bon, ben” is the shortened version of “Bon, et bien”. These words are used at the start of a sentence and translate to starting an English sentence with “Well…”
33. Tant pis!
Meaning: Oh well!
“Tant pis” (pronounced tahn-pee) translate to “oh well”, “too bad” or “never mind”. “Tant” means “so much” and “pis” means “worse”.
“Tant pis pour toi” is a common expression and translates loosely to “tough luck!” or “that’s too bad for you”.
34. De toute façon
“De toute façon” is a very useful expression and is pronounced “duh toot fasohn”. It’s used at the beginning of a sentence to mean “anyway” “anyhow”.
The literal translation is “Of all way”. An example sentence would be: “De toute façon ce n’est pas la peine!” (Anyway, it’s not worth it).
35. C’est pas vrai!
Meaning: It’s not true
C’est pas vrai (pronounced “say pah vray”) is the shortened version of “ce n’est pas vrai” and translates to “that isn’t true”. A loose translation is “No way!”
36. J’en ai marre!
Meaning: I’ve had enough!
J’en ai marre (pronounced “zhuhn-ay mahr” translates to “I’ve had it!” or “I’ve had enough”. Another way of saying this expression with less severe language is: “J’en ai assez”. “Assez” also means enough.
37. Mais oui!/Mais non!
Meaning: Of course!
Mais oui (pronounced “may-wee) and “mais non!” (pronounced “may-nohn”) translate to “Of course!” “Absolutely!” and “Of course not!” or “Honestly!”. These are usually said with an exclamative tone and may evoke an element of sterness or surprise.
38. Ça ne fait rien
Meaning: That’s ok, that’s fine
“Ça ne fait rien” (pronounced “sah nuh fay ree-unh”) translatest literally to “That makes nothing” but really means “Don’t mention it!”, “No worries!” “That’s okay” or “It’s alright”.
If you’re done somebody a favor and they’re thanking you then you can use this expression to indicate that all is well.
Meaning: That’s to say
“C’est-à-dire” (pronounced “set ah deer”) literally means: “It’s to say” and translates to “In other words”. An example would be: “Elle est magnifique! C’est est-à-dire elle est très intelligente et très belle.” Translation: “She is magnificant! That’s to say she’s very intelligent and very beautiful.”
40. Enfin, bref
Meaning: In short
“Enfin, bref” (pronounced “unfihn brehf” is used when you’re trying to convey the main point of what you’re discussing. It transltates to “In short”.
41. Fais gaffe!
Meaning: Watch out!
“Fais gaffe” (pronounced fay-gahf) is a way of saying, “Watch out!” or “Look out!”. It is the shortned version of: “Ne fais pas une gaffe”, or “Don’t make a blunder”.
“J’arrive!” (pronounced jhah-reev) means “I’m coming!” or “I’m on my way” but translates literally to “I arrive!”.
43. Tout à fait!
“Tout à fait” (pronounced toot-fa-fay) is an interjection that you’re use in conversation to mean “Exactly!”, “That’s it” or “Absolutely!. It translates literally as “all to make/do”.
44. Tu m’étonnes!
“Tu m’étonnes” (pronounced too-may-ton) translates literally to “You surprise me” but really means something to the effect of “Are you kidding me?”
45. Ce n’est pas la peine!
This expression means “It isn’t worth it” or loosely translated, “No need”. The litteral translation is: “It’s not worth the effort.” Actually, “peine” also translates to punishment as well as sorrow and grief! In fluent French you get rid of the n’ and simply say, “C’est pas la peine”, pronounced “Say pah la pehn”.
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