How to say Hello in French and not just Bonjour

Summer is here and you might be planning a trip to eat all the croissants in the 5th arrondissement, or drink rosé on a sandy terrace in Saint-Tropez.

Maybe the extra daylight hours have finally motivated you to learn a little French? Either way, there’s no better place to start than with “bonjour”, the iconic greeting that means both “good morning” and “good afternoon”. And if you really want to impress people, you can learn a few other surprising ways to say hello in French.

Despite a reputation for rudeness, politeness, or “politesse” is a fundamental part of French culture, and this starts with greetings. There is no quicker way to get on a waiter’s bad side than to sit down without saying hello and start barking orders. Saying a quick bonjour, depending on the time of day, is the foolproof way to avoid such a faux pas. One of the most basic French words, it is used simultaneously for good morning and good afternoon, but after around 6:00 pm, most people switch to bonsoir, meaning “good evening”. There are other ways to greet and start a conversation, such as salut and coucou, but they are less formal and best used with friends and family.  

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How to say good morning in French

Learning French can take some time, but as you may have guessed, the most common way to say good morning is bonjour, which literally translates to “good day”. It can be used in both formal and informal situations, making it the perfect go-to greeting for beginners and experts alike. The most complicated thing about it is the pronunciation. Also, greetings in Québécois are different and a more direct translation of good morning, bon matin, is used in French Canada.

A handshake or la bise ?

Greetings in France involve a bit more touch than in some cultures. The infamous kisses, or la bise in French, involves touching cheeks while simultaneously making a kissing sound as a form of introduction, but the handshake is still preferred in more formal situations. If you don’t know what to do, a good rule of thumb is to wait and follow the other person’s lead.  

6 different ways to say “Hello” in French 

Although we have talked mostly about bonjour, there are many other common ways to say “hello” in French. If you are speaking to friends or family, more informal versions can be used. If speaking to colleagues at work, to a teacher, or to someone you have never met, it’s best to stick to formal uses. Also, the time of day – morning, afternoon, evening or night – changes the greeting. Also, regardless of where you’ll be traveling in a French-speaking country, it’s essential to learn a few of these common phrases to survive. The table below lists the different variations, but when in doubt, always use the formal.

BonjourGood morning/Good afternoonFormal and informal until 6pm
BonsoirGood eveningFormal after 6pm
SalutHey/HiInformal (friends and family)
CoucouHey/HiInformal (friends and family)
AllôHelloInformal (to answer the telephone)
Bon matinGood morningFormal (only in French Canada)

Follow up with “how are you” in French

Even if you’re a beginner, show your vocabulary skills by following up with one of the many ways to ask “how are you?” Just like in English, it’s common to run into someone and say some variation of “Good morning, how are you?” or Bonjour, comment ça va ?

The table below shows the various ways of saying “how are you”, which can be mixed and matched with all the different ways of saying hello listed above. In informal situations, you can even omit the hello and jump straight to “how are you” after being greeted.

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Comment allez-vous ?How do you do?Formal
Comment ça va ?How are you?Less formal
Ça va ?How are you? Less formal
Ça roule ?How’s it going?Informal
Quoi de neuf ?What’s new?Informal

Bonjour with Monsieur, Madame or Mademoiselle

To be extra polite when greeting someone, all you need to do is add a title after bonjour. Or if you want to be more specific and add some flair, you can use one of the expressions in the table below.

MadameMisses, MadamFormal
mon ami(e)my friendInformal
mon amourmy loveInformal
mon chéri / ma chériemy sweetheartInformal

In the table below, you can see how to add “how are you” when using a title. Don’t forget to follow French word order when asking a question and put the verb before the subject when using être.

Bonsoir monsieur, comment allez-vous ?Good evening sir, how do you do?Formal
Salut Victor, ça va ?Hi Victor, how are you? Informal (friends or close colleague)
Bonjour, mon amourGood morning my loveInformal (to a lover)

Bonjour or bonne journée ?

Although they look quite similar, don’t be fooled! Bonjour and bonne journée have very different meanings. Bonne journée is used when leaving as a way of saying “have a good day.” The same is true of bonsoir and bonne soirée. When you leave someone’s company and want to wish them a good night, a simple bonne soirée is all you need to say goodbye.

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Get ready to learn all the different ways to say “thank you” in our upcoming article.

Want to take your French to the next level? Try our online French course Frantastique for free for 7 days here!

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