Top 25 Common French Phrases For Beginners & Travelers

My name is David Issokson. I’m an American but French people think I’m French when I speak. I’ve been teaching French online since the end of 2013 and have helped hundreds of people to learn French.

Based on my life experience and over seven years of teaching, I’ve put together this list of twenty-five essential French phrases for beginners. Of course there are hundreds of phrases you could learn but this is a great list to get started.

Before going on a trip to France it would be a great idea to get a phrasebook. I always start off with a phrase book when learning any language. Personally, I’ve always stuck with phrasebooks from the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide.

Reading words out of a book in a foreign langauge can be extremely difficult. Without hearing the audio there’s little to know chance you will pronounce the words correctly.

Thus, it would be a good idea to listen to an audio coruse such as À Moi Paris by Camille at Frenchtoday.com or the podcast series FrenchPod101.

On this website’s French Pronunciation page you’ll also find a detailed explanation of the French reading rules. These rules should come in very handy when trying to learn these new phrases.

Without any further ado here’s my phrase list.

Bonjour

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 thoughout the day until around 5.00pm.

If you’re meeting up with a group of people you can say, ‘salut tout le monde!’, which translate to ‘hello, everybody!’ At that point you switch to bonsoir, which means good evening.

Salut!

Salut is the second way of saying hello. However, this is an informal word and you should only use it with people you know. You can use salut at any time of the day or evening.

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’.

Ça va?

This 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 imformal forms!

Au revoir

To say good-bye in French use ‘au revoir’. This phrase can be used in both formal in informal settings. In real spoken French the French don’t pronounce the ‘re’. 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.

Merci beaucoup

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’.

De rien

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 thank you is ‘Je vous en prie’. You can use this in more formal settings and situations.

Oui / non

Most people know oui and no already but they have to be on this list. Simply, put, ‘oui’ means yes and ‘non’ means no. Make sure you nazalize the ‘on’ on non. In French slang you can say ‘ouais’ to mean ‘yeah’.

Enchanté

The next most imporant word which you’ll absolutely want to know is ‘enchanté’, which translates literally to ‘enchanted’ but really means ‘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’.

Je m’appelle

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 their name, ask, ‘Comment vous appelez-vous?’ To ask a younger person thier 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!

Je comprends / je ne comprends pas

‘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.’

Pardon, excusez-moi

There are two ways to say ‘excuse me’ 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’. Don’t be afraid to use the informal form with younger people – it’s perfectly normal and acceptable in France.

Je suis désolé

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’.

Répétez, s’il vous plaît

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 vosu 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.

Je sais, je ne sais pas

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?’.

Où est? Où sont?

If you’re looking for something or trying to find a place, then ‘où est…?’ and ‘où sont…?’ will come in handy. ‘Ou est’ translates literally to ‘where is’. Use this when looking for soemthing 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’?

Je cherche

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.’

Je suis perdu

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.

Êtes-vous ouvert?

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? 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?’

Avez-vous?

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 tomatos’? To ask for tickets, say, ‘Avez-vous des billets’?

Je voudrais

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’

Allez-vous

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?’

C’est combien?

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 bauette?’

Qu’est-ce que c’est?

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 instantantly teach you a new vocabulary word!

Que veut dire _?

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.

Parlez-vous anglais?

When you’re on your trip you’ll definitely encouter 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’.

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