Start with basic French phrases
So, you want to learn French?
Perhaps you’d like to be able to order a fresh baguette from a boulangerie (bakery) in Paris or maybe you just want to enjoy a French film without any subtitles. Maybe you’d just like to have a conversation or make a new friend.
No matter your reasons for learning French, you’ve got to start somewhere. The real question is: where? What are the best phrases for a beginner to know? What will you even say to your teacher during your first French class?
Don’t worry. With enough practise, you’ll be well on your way to pronouncing only half the letters in a word like the rest of us. For now, here are 20 French phrases to help you get started.
You might already know about “bonjour” (hello), but what else can you say when you first see someone?
Bon soir! – Good evening!
When it starts to get dark, switch to “bon soir” instead of “bonjour”.
Salut! – Hi!
“Salut” is the informal version of “hello” that you can use with friends. Interestingly enough, you can also use it to say “goodbye”.
Ça va? – How are you?
The best thing about “ça va?” is that it can be used to ask “How are you?” and answer “Good” or “Fine”.
“Oui, ça va.”
Questions in French
Whether you want to be able to continue a conversation or simply find a public restroom, it’s important to know how to ask questions.
Comment tu t’appelles ? / Comment vous vous appelez ? – What’s your name?
Use the “tu” form in informal situations and the “vous” form when you want to be more formal.
Je m’appelle… / Je suis… – My name is… / I am…
When asked what your name is, answer with this phrase.
Où sont les toilettes? – Where are the toilets?
Trust me. You don’t want to forget this phrase in an emergency.
Ça coûte combien? – How much does this cost?
This phrase is helpful if you want to do any shopping.
Quelle heure est-il? – What time is it?
You can also say, “Il est quelle heure?” to ask this question.
Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? – What does that mean?
If you’re unsure of what a word means, rely on this phrase to help you out.
How to ask for clarification in French
Native speakers speak quickly and use slang. As a beginner, you will definitely need to ask them to slow down or repeat something. Actually, even non-beginners sometimes need these phrases.
Pouvez-vous parler plus lentement s’il vous plaît? – Could you speak more slowly please?
Pouvez-vous le répéter s’il vous plaît? – Could you repeat that please?
If you need to be even more polite, you can use “pourriez-vous” instead of “pouvez-vous” at the beginning of these two phrases.
Je ne comprends pas. – I don’t understand.
You’ll probably get used to this phrase rather quickly.
Vous parlez anglais? – Do you speak English?
Feel free to replace “anglais” with any other language, such as “allemand” (German) or “espagnol” (Spanish).
What can you do that doesn’t involve shouting “Au secours!” (Help!) in the streets? Hopefully, your situation won’t be that serious, so you can just focusing on asking someone politely for help.
Pouvez-vous m’aider s’il vous plaît? – Could you help me please?
This phrase will come in handy if you just need some assistance.
Excusez-moi… – Excuse me…
Before you approach someone with a request, start with a polite “Excusez-moi”.
Merci beaucoup. – Thank you.
Don’t forget your manners!
De rien. – No problem / You’re welcome.
There are many ways to say “you’re welcome”. This is a pretty common one.
Goodbye Au revoir!
Using the right vocabulary to say goodbye is also part of being polite. Do you know what to say besides “au revoir”?
Bonne journée! – Have a good day!
Once you’ve finished a conversation or interaction, be sure to say “Bonne journée!” before you leave.
Bonne soirée! – Have a good evening!
If it’s dark, use this instead of “bonne journée”.
À bientôt! – See you soon!
Unless you’re going away for a while, you’ll probably want to use these French phrases to say goodbye.