Every culture has its social norms: mores or what is considered socially acceptable, and also what is considered reprehensible. French culture is no exception and in fact social etiquette is a highly valued part of it's society.
Therefore, when considering what the ten must-know phrases in french should be, the crucial element is to whom these phrases would be addressed to.
There's a certain expectation of formality within a business setting or upon meeting someone for the first time, but you could use a more casual vernacular with friends, people your own age or younger.
You should also consider the circumstances under which some key phrases would be used. Would you be holidaying in Provence in the South of France? A student at a university, in Paris talking in a cafe with some new friends? In Belgium, perhaps taking a meeting representing your company? Or shopping in Bordeaux at the famous Rue St. Catherine?
Nevertheless, whatever the circumstances and to whom you will conversing with, here are some key French expressions you might want to incorporate into your vocabulary.
Also equally important to consider, are some phrases that you should never say, in mixed company or not.
It's always important to offer a greeting upon meeting someone with a hello or good day, and also never forget to say thank you: you should always say bonjour and merci, no matter what the circumstances of your encounters are.
These are considered basic good manners and etiquette but nevertheless appreciated at any occasion.
One phrase that is not used is bonne nuit, or good night unless it's to someone within your own household. But if you are staying in a hotel and wishing to say good night, it's best to say bonsoir or even au revoir in more formal circumstances.
However, if you are really friendly with the person you are addressing, you could use the informal Salut! as an informal greeting and also when saying goodbye.
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What Should You Say as a Traveler...
You may have just started your french lessons, at the beginner level but you probably know how to say simple things from your French course, but how will you manage getting around as a tourist in France?
Perhaps your much anticipated trip to France is coming up, and you hope to know enough basic French to get by as you visit the seaside villages of Normandy or tour the wine country in the Loire Valley, or take a boat cruise in the South of France.
Here are a few helpful words in French to add to your phrasebook:
- Excusez-moi... or Pardonnez moi – excuse me or pardon me. Both precedes a question or should be used to apologise should you accidentally bump into someone.
- Ou est le WC? - where are the toilettes?....vital to know in asking where the facilities are!
- Ça fait loin? - is it far? If you need to ask directions you will need this phrase.
Allons-y! - Let's go! Your tour guide may urge you on with this common phrase that means let's go! On avance and On y fonce are also two informal ways to express let's go!!
Je ne comprends pas – I don't understand, may also come in handy!
You could have an entire French conversation using these phrases: Pardonnez-moi, ou est le WC? Ça fait loin? Merci! On y fonce!
Many French words and phrases may appear in English, and some are commonly used in our daily conversation, however the context in which they are used may differ from country to country. Consider the phrase below...
J'ai besoin de monnaie - I need money...but the french phrase means that you need to change a large bill into smaller denominations and coins; you need change ..maybe for a parking meter, or to take a city bus. But the translation does not always mean the same thing in it's context.
For example, please don't use j'ai besoin de change; this would suggest that you need a change of clothes!.
Another useful expression to know is comment allez-vous? Meaning: How are you doing? It's a formal greeting to someone you may have seen before, say the person at the boulangerie where you get your morning croissants. If you greet them with a bonjour, comment allez-vous? then you have mastered the French greeting.
A final thoughtful phrase that may come in handy for english travelers who don't yet speak French fluently: parlez vous anglais? - do you speak English?
There are many French speaking people who also speak english, however the French are uniquely proud of their language, and it shows a lot of goodwill if you at least attempt to address them in their native French!
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Students Should Know These Basic French Phrases
Whether you're attending one of France's prestigious universities or backpacking through the pilgrims' trails across the south of France, students would fare well knowing a few French slang phrases!
Let's begin with the informal ...Tu fais quoi? It's literal translation is: you're doing what? a much easier shorter way to say the formal counterpart: Qu'est ce que tu fais? – What is it you're doing?
Equally an english speaker might say what'cha doin'? as an informal greeting, however perhaps you should use the more formal address should you be talking to your grandmother or your boss, or anyone else in a position of authority for that manner. Unless you have really cool grandma or boss!!
You may hear one or the other uttered in spirited conversations Ouais, enfin; whose English equivalent is Yes, well...
It may sound contentious thrown into the middle of a conversation, but in reality there is no bad intent to it.
"Ouais, enfin... je fais le vélo depuis tout petit "....translates into "Yes, well... I've been riding bikes since I was little".
You could use the colloquial Ouais in the place of oui... only if you are among good friends.
The last word to show you are in agreement: mais oui! Or, mais oui, bien sûr! ... translates But yes, of course!!
Bref is another word that is used to summarise a narrative. To conclude a long narrative story to say but in conclusion or in the end bref... it is used informally in casual conversations.
Now remember that spoken French has some amusing phrases or expressions whose meanings don't necessarily translate verbatim, for example this expression: ça me donne le cafard – that gives me the cockroach.
You can also say j'ai le cafard – I have the cockroach, to express a depressed mood or disappointment!
Even though you don't feel like the life of the party, you can't say really say..je suis le cafard/I am the cockroach. You would get some very strange looks!
For all of its formality and tradition, speaking french can be lots of fun especially especially when you discover their interesting expressions! Did you know that the humble cow (vachement in french) denotes things in their extreme, like this expression:
Ça serait vachement bon! (that would be brilliant!)
Who can resist wanting to learn more such French phrases?
In that spirit, we direct you to a list of incomparable words and phrases that you can use in casual conversation, to brighten up any topic!
Maintenant, retournons a nos moutons! literally.. Now returning to our sheep means..Now, back to our topic!
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Some Basic French Words for Business
If you should get assigned to the Paris office of your company, it would be most likely because you're already somewhat fluent in French. But you will also have to navigate a life in France that you will require to know more French.
Everyday life and it's activities like shopping or – heavens forbid if you should need to visit a doctor, a more formal vernacular and vocabulary would also be beneficial.
Here is some useful vocabulary you might use as official language in any transaction.
Monsieur, Madame, Messieurs dames!
These translate to Mister, Missus, and Ladies and gentlemen; formal french greetings that are used at every occasion as a sign of respect, except when young people meet up.
Knowing the language of business can be an intricate affair because normally business is conducted in a very formal manner in France.
The best way to learn French for business, strangely enough, is to memorise a few working phrases that fall outside of professional terminology.
Je vous en prie – I beg of you: can be used to ask someone's opinion, or to acknowledge when someone wishes to speak. It is also a way of saying you're welcome.
Les honoraires - the fees or prices; it concerns collecting fees!
Les matières premieres indicates the first materials – literal translation, but actually means raw materials.
That last phrase should serve as a cautionary note regarding translations, and translation software.
It's highly recommended to ask for the meaning of any phrase or word that you may not fully understand, especially in business environments.
It would be a terrible faux pas to misinterpret French vocabulary in an attempt to appear savvy but might otherwise be embarrassing!
Here is a chart of ten words and phrases you might not yet have used in the course of your French learning, and which you may want to include along with the some useful words and phrases outlined in this article.
|French Word||English Translation||When to use it|
|Bonjour, bonsoir||Hello, good evening||Upon meeting, and leaving someone you don't know well|
|Salut||Hello and goodbye||Used to greet friends|
Je vous en prie
|excuse me; pardon me I beg of you||To precede a question or a light apology; |
another way to say you're welcome
|avoir the cafard||having the cockroach meaning feeling blue||to express a depressing situation or mood|
|vache; vachement||cow; cow-like||to decry something; to express forceful sentiment|
After studying these expressions, you will be saying merci beaucoup!
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