7 ways to say “hello” in French

7 ways to say “hello” in French

by Anne-Lise Vassoille

Updated July 20, 2022

Alongside polite phrases to say please, thank you and sorry in French, saying hello is one of the most fundamental greetings, that you will need to use several times a day, each day of the week. But fundamental doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Depending on the context, the time of day and your relation with the person you’re talking to, you have several words and phrases to choose from. Just like failing to correctly faire la bise (kissing when saying hello or goodbye in France), using the wrong word may be a major faux pas. Find out now all the right ways to say hello in French:

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The 2 main words to say “hello” in French

To be more specific, these two words are the equivalent of “good morning”, “good afternoon” and “good evening”. They share the same structure of “good+time of day” and the same language register. Let’s learn how to use each one.

1. Bonjour (good morning/afternoon)

Literally speaking, bonjour means “good day”. However, it’s not used to wish someone a good day at the end of a conversation or an email, as this is already done by the expression bonne journée. Rather, it is used to say hello in the morning and in the afternoon. As such, it corresponds to both “good morning” and “good afternoon”. If you happen to be in Quebec, you may also hear bon matin (good morning), which is a common way to say hello in the morning in French Canadian

Bonjour can be used in all sorts of contexts, both orally or as the initial greeting of an email. It can be formal if it is followed by the person’s title, with possibly also their last name:

FrenchEnglishComments
Bonjour Monsieur
Bonjour Monsieur Lagarde
Good morning/afternoon sir
Good morning/afternoon Mr Lagarde
The same word is used both for “sir” and “mister” in French, without any difference.
Bonjour Madame
Bonjour Madame Dumont
Good morning/afternoon Mrs
Good morning/afternoon Ms Dumont
These days, Madame is equally used for “Mrs” and “Ms”.
Bonjour Mademoiselle
Bonjour Mademoiselle Poirier
Good morning/afternoon Miss
Good morning/afternoon Miss Poirier 
Historically speaking, mademoiselle was used for unmarried women. But with the evolution of society, it is now banned from official forms and only used to address young women verbally. With the tricky question of deciding when a woman is no longer considered young enough to be called mademoiselle, as the French singer Olivia Ruiz playfully described in her English song Don’t Call Me Madam.

In a less formal way, bonjour can be followed by a first name or even stands on its own. If you are in a large room, you can greet everyone by saying either bonjour à tous (good morning/afternoon to all) or bonjour tout le monde (good morning/afternoon everyone)

2. Bonsoir (good evening)

As you may have guessed, if bonjour effectively means either “good morning” or “good afternoon”, the greeting has an expiration time after which it’s no longer appropriate to use it.

You can say bonjour approximately up to 6pm before you need to switch to bonsoir (good evening). The term can be used in exactly the same way as bonjour, i.e. with a title or a first name, on its own or with à tous or tout le monde when addressing a group of people.

It’s also important not to confuse bonsoir with bonne soirée (have a good evening) and bonne nuit (have a good night), which are used when saying goodbye to someone, either still early in the evening or later before going to bed.

2 ways to say “hi” in French

If you’re looking for cooler or more casual ways to say hello than bonjour and bonsoir, then you have the choice between these two expressions.

1. Salut (hi)

The original meaning of salut is salute. But it’s commonly used to say “hi” in French to friends and loved ones, as well as (confusingly) to say “bye”. If you’re unsure whether it’s appropriate to say salut to someone in particular, just ask yourself if you are close enough to them to call them by their first name. If that’s the case, there’s little risk in saying salut to them.

2. Coucou (hey there!)

Coucou is more of an onomatopoeia than an actual word. But it’s also fairly common to use it as an alternative to salut, especially with children, as it tends to have a more playful tone. It can also be used to attract the attention of someone, just like “hey there!” in English. 

How to say “hello again” in French in 2 expressions

In French, the part of “again” in “hello again” is achieved by adding the prefix re- to the standard words to say hello:

HelloHello again
BonjourRebonjour
BonsoirRebonsoir

Unsurprisingly, all the rules that apply to each word in the left column of the table also apply to their equivalent in the right column. 

The 1 word to know to say “hello” on the phone

If you’re British, you may already know this one through the iconic TV show, ‘Allo ‘Allo!, though, to be exact, the correct spelling is allô, with the French accent circonflexe. It’s also important to bear in mind it is used exclusively when starting an informal conversation on the phone. The person picking up the phone may utter allô as a question, with a rising tone, especially if they are unsure who’s calling them. The person making the phone call may also reply with allô, this time in a flat tone, before mentioning their name, possibly followed by the phrase à l’appareil (on the phone):

French:

– Allô? 

– Allô, c’est Paul à l’appareil.

English:

– Allo? 

– Allô, it’s Paul on the phone.

In a business or commercial context, the greeting on the phone will be a little different. A receptionist may just give the name of the company, the shop or the venue, followed by bonjour. You can also reply bonjour before proceeding with the subject of your phone call.

Meanwhile, while in Québec, French Canadians have a different way of saying hello on the phone: Instead of allô, they tend to say oui bonjour? (yes hello?)


Learn and use all the cool ways to say “hello” in French

And there you have it: seven words and phrases to say hello in French, depending on the time, the place and the person you are talking to. Even if you’re only beginning to learn French, you will quickly become familiar with them, as you’re likely to keep both hearing and using them every day. 

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Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries, such as hospitality and travel, as well as health and well-being. Settled down in London since the end of her university years, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.

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