A Guide to Basic French Words and Phrases to Help You Fake It Until You Make It

If you’re planning to travel to Martinique or Seychelles to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, it may be a good idea to brush up on a few common French words for everyday life.

Although many people in French cities and French overseas territories speak English, they may not always feel confident in their ability to hold a conversation.

Learning just a bit of French will go a long way in helping the French feel more comfortable and make conversation easy. There are many different ways to learn French and this guide will give you a jump start on the basics. Don’t worry if your pronunciation isn’t perfect – it’s the thought that counts… and to a greater extent the words falling out of your mouth.  

Basic Greetings in French

Greetings in French are simple and easy once you learn the basic rules. They are an important part of everyday life and it is a good rule of thumb to greet anyone you meet with a simple bonjour, even when entering a shop or sitting down at a table in a café. French people are friendlier when you learn a bit of vocabulary in their native language and will appreciate the effort even if you don’t speak impeccable French.

Another good general for the French beginner is to always use the more formal vous form when engaging in daily conversation. Using the informal tu form can be considered offensive in certain contexts, so to avoid being seen as the “rude tourist”, it’s best to stick to vous when out and about.

Hello in French

To avoid a faux pas, it’s best to always say “hello” when meeting someone or entering an establishment. There are many different ways to say “hello” and a few are listed in the table below. If you want to learn all the different ways to say hello, you can check out our article on how to say hello in French.

FrenchEnglish translation
BonjourHello/good morning
BonsoirGood evening
Ça va ?How are you?

Goodbye in French

Oddly enough, it is also considered polite to say goodbye when leaving, whether it is a store, restaurant or a party with friends. The basic ways to say goodbye are listed in the table below, but if you want to go even further, we have listed more ways to say goodbye in French to add some breadth and depth to your departures.

FrenchEnglish translation
Au revoirGoodbye
Bonne journéeHave a good day
Bonne nuitGood night

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La politesse or politeness

As we keep insisting, politeness, or la politesse, is very important in France. The important and easy things to remember are to always say “hello” and “goodbye” and to stick to the formal vous form in most conversations. It’s also a good idea to stay away from gros mots (curse words or swear words), which may be received as insults in French, like chiant(e), bordel and others.

Thank you in French

You probably already know the French word for “thank you” and have seen it written on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs. Merci, the French word for “thank you”, can be used in all social situations. If you are up to the challenge, there are many other ways to show your gratitude in French that can add some nuance. In the meantime, check out the table below for the basics.

FrenchEnglish translation
MerciThank you
S’il vous plaîtPlease
De rienYou’re welcome

Apologize in French

If you accidentally run into someone in the street, or need someone to move out of the way so you can exit a metro car, you can say either pardon or excusez-moi. Both of those words mean “excuse me” in English. If you want to say “I’m sorry”, the easiest way is to say désolé(e), or simply pardon.

More useful basic French vocabulary

Learning numbers in French will come in handy when learning how to say the date in French and it’s generally a solid plan to know a few numbers. Counting with French numbers from one to ten is easy and you might already be familiar with numbers such as un, deux, trois. Counting gets a bit trickier once you hit eleven, which is why we’ve devoted an entire article on how to count all the way to one hundred in French. 

Basic French phrases for daily conversations

Introductions are an essential part of meeting new people and making new friends. In the table below, you’ll find easy questions and answers for basic conversations in everyday life. Many of these phrases serve as conversational building blocks. As you become more and more fluent over time, you will inevitably become more familiar with French slang, or argot. If you want to make a French person laugh or smile, slipping in a word in argot as a foreigner will almost always do the trick.

FrenchEnglish translation
Je m’appelle…My name is…
Je suis…(américain, britannique, australien…)I am…(American, British, Australian…)
Je viens de (city name).I come from (city name).
J’ai…ans.I’m…years old.
Quel âge avez-vous?How old are you?
Comment dit-on…en français ?How do you say…in French?
Enchanté(e)Nice to meet you.
J’ai faim.I’m hungry.
J’ai soif.I’m thirsty.
J’ai chaud.I’m hot.
J’ai froid.I’m cold.
Je suis en retard.I’m late.

Basic French phrases for traveling

FrenchEnglish translation
Désolé, je ne parle pas français.Sorry, I don’t speak French.
Parlez-vous anglais ?Do you speak English?
Où sont les toilettes ?Where is the bathroom?
Je ne sais pas.I don’t know.
Je ne comprends pas.I don’t understand.
Je suis perdu(e)I’m lost.
Où est….(l’arrêt de bus 85) ?Where is…(the bus stop for bus 85)?
Je voudrais…(un café, de l’eau, un verre de vin, une bière, une pinte, boire, manger…)I would like…(a coffee, water, a glass of wine, a beer, a pint of beer, to drink, to eat…)
Je suis allergique à…I am allergic to…
Combien coûte…(cette carte postale, cette chambre, ces chaussures, ce t-shirt…) ?How much is…(this postcard, this room, these shoes, this t-shirt…)?
Quelle heure est-il ?What time is it?
Au secours !Help!
L’addition s’il vous plaît.The bill, please.
Pouvez-vous répéter s’il vous plaît ?Could you repeat, please?
Je cherche…(le Louvre, la rue Rivoli, le métro…)I am looking for…(the Louvre, the rue de Rivoli, the metro…)
Une table, s’il vous plaît.A table, please.
Nous sommes…(deux personnes, trois personnes…)We are…(two people, three people…)

Et voilà! Now that you are equipped with all the French basics, consider ordering some of these ambitious dishes at a restaurant, if you are ready for new and uncharted gastronomic frontiers. Pro tip: while in France, take advantage of the apéro to practice your French with the locals!

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With our French lessons for beginners, you will be ready to take on the French-speaking world in no time! Start with our easy French sentences and work your way to fluency.

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