99 Essential French Phrases You Must Know If You’re Learning French

If you’re learning French, there are some basics you need to know before you move on to the more complicated things.

So, I’ve put together 99 essential and very common French words and phrases that you must know when you’re learning French.

First things first

Before we start, I need to explain two things. First, the difference between ‘tu’ and ‘vous’. If you already know it, you can skip to the next section.

The difference between ‘tu’ and ‘vous’ in French

The word for ‘you’ in French (when you’re just talking to one person) can be translated as ‘tu’ or ‘vous’. Which one you use will depend on your relationship with the person you’re talking to.

In a nutshell, ‘tu’ is the informal ‘you’, and ‘vous’ is the formal ‘you’.

You can use ‘tu’ with friends and family, people you know well and people who are of similar age to you. You use ‘vous’ with people you don’t know, strangers in the street, shopkeepers, teachers, etc. And, if you’re talking to someone who’s much older than you.

If you’re unsure, use ‘vous’ – nobody will be offended if you’re too formal.

The next thing I need to explain before we move on is feminine and masculine verbs and adjectives.

Feminine and masculine

The form of some verbs and adjectives in French will differ depending on whether it’s a woman or a man saying them. You will see what I mean when you come across this in some of the phrases in this article.

For example, the phrase ‘Je suis désolé’ (I’m sorry). When it’s a man saying it it’s ‘Je suis désolé’. When it’s a woman saying it, there’s an extra ‘e’ at the end, so it’s ‘Je suis désolée’.

Simple! OK, let’s get started then!

1. Salut – hello. It’s quite an informal way of saying ‘hi’. It can also mean ‘bye’ when you say it when you part with somebody. It’s quite informal so you probably wouldn’t want to use it with people you don’t know well.

2. Bonjour – good morning. It’s quite polite so you can use it with friends and with people you don’t know.

3. Bonsoir – good evening. Use it in the evening to greet people. You can use it both with people you know and those you don’t.

4. Au revoir – goodbye. It’s quite polite so you’re more likely to use it with people you don’t know well, or who are older than you.

5. À bientôt – see you soon.

6. À demain – see you tomorrow.

7. À tout-a-l’heure – see you in a bit. You’d use this one if you’re about to see the person again, or you’re going to see them very, very soon.

8. À lundi/mardi, etc. – see you on Monday, Tuesday, etc. You can insert any day of the week there to say you’ll see the person you’re talking to then.

9. Bonne journée – have a good/nice day. You can use this one with friends or people you don’t know. 

10. Bonne soirée – have a good/nice evening. Same as above, you can use it with anyone.

11. Bienvenu – welcome.

Asking about how somebody is

12. Ça va? – how are you/how do you do? It’s a very universal and very common phrase that you can use in any situation.

13. Comment ça va? – how is it going/how are you? It’s pretty much the same as the phrase above.

14. Comment vas-tu? – how do you do/how are you? Another way of asking how someone is. In this case, the phrase uses the familiar ‘tu’ so you’d use it with people you know/friends, rather than strangers.

15. Comment allez-vous? – this one means the same too, but it uses the polite version ‘vous’ so you can use it with people you’re not familiar with or people who are older than you, or if you want to show respect.

16. Ça roule? – how is it going? It’s a very colloquial phrase so you would only use it with good friends.

Saying how you are

17. Ça va – I’m well/I’m fine. Remember ‘ça va’ the question? Well, this phrase is the same, except it doesn’t have the question mark. You can use it as a reply to ‘ça va’ to briefly say that you’re well.

18. Je vais bien – I’m well/I’m fine. It’s pretty much the same as the phrase above. It’s the reply equivalent of the question we covered above – ‘comment vas-tu?’ or ‘comment allez-vous?’.

19. Je ne vais pas trop bien – I’m not great.

20. Je ne me sens pas bien – I’m not feeling well.

21. Et toi? – and you? After replying to someone who asks you how you are, you can ask about them. Note that this phrase uses the familiar pronoun ‘toi’ so you’d use it with friends or people you’re on familiar terms with.

22. Et vous? – and you? This one is the same as the one above, except it uses the polite pronoun ‘vous’ instead.

Introducing yourself / meeting people

23. Comment t’appelles-tu? / Comment vous-appelez vous? – what’s your name?

24. Tu t’appelles comment? / Vous vous appelez comment? – another way of structuring the same question as above.

25. Je m’appelle – my name is.

26. Je suis – I’m [insert name].

27. Enchanté/enchantée – nice to meet you. The first form is the masculine one so you use it if you’re a man. The second version – with the extra ‘e’ at the end – is for women.

Asking about someone’s day/weekend

28. Tu as passé une bonne journée/soirée? – did you have a nice day/evening?

29. Tu as passé un bon weekend? – did you have a nice weekend?

30. Qu’est-ce que tu as fait hier soir? – what did you do last night?

Saying yes and no

31. Oui – yes.

32. Non – no.

33. Si – yes. This one is very different to ‘oui’, though! ‘Si’ is an answer you’d give when somebody makes a negative statement about something and you want to say that, in fact, something is true. For example: ‘Tu n’as pas faim, non?’ (you’re not hungry, right?). ‘Si!’ (but I am!).

34. Peut-être – maybe.

35. Pas du tout – not at all (in the sense that, for example, you don’t like something at all).

36. Bien sûr – of course.

37. Je ne sais pas – I don’t know.

38. Je ne suis pas sûr/sûre – I don’t know. The first one – sûr – is masculine so it’s used by men, and the second one – sûre – is feminine so it’s used by women.

39. D’accord – OK.

40. Pardon – sorry. It’s used as a quick form of apology, for example when you bump into someone. It’s not the equivalent of the English word ‘pardon’.

41. Excuse-moi/Excusez-moi – I’m sorry/excuse me. The first one is familiar, and the second one is something you’d use with people you don’t know or who are older than you, or to show respect.

42. Désolé/désolée – I’m sorry. The first one is masculine so it’s used by men, and the second one is feminine so it’s used by women.

43. Je suis désolé/désolée – I’m sorry. Just like the one above, the first one is masculine (used by men) and the second one is feminine (used by women).

Asking for something

44. S’il te plaît / S’il vous plaît – please. For example: ‘Un café, s’il vous plaît’ – (Can I have) a coffee, please?

45. Est-ce que tu pourrais / Est-que vous pourriez – could you. ‘Est-ce que tu pourrais me passer le sucre?’ – could you pass me the sugar?

46. Est-ce que tu peux / Est-que vous pouvez – can you. ‘Est-ce que tu peux m’appeler ce soir?’ – Can you call me this evening?

47. Peux-tu / Pouvez-vous – can you. Just a different way of asking the same question as above.

48. Pourrais-tu / Pourriez-vous – could you. A bit more polite than ‘peux-tu/pouvez-vous’.

Saying what you want or don’t want

49. Je voudrais – I’d like. You can follow this up with a noun (the thing you want) or a verb (something you want to do). For example: ‘Je voudrais un café’ (I’d like a coffee) or ‘Je voudrais voyager’ (I’d like to travel).

50. Je veux – I want. Same as above, you can follow it up with a thing or an action.

51. J’ai envie de – I feel like/I want to. It’s a phrase to express a strong desire to do something. For example, ‘J’ai envie de partir au soleil’ (I really want to go somewhere sunny).

52. Je ne veux pas – I don’t want. You can follow is up with a thing (‘Je ne veux pas de café’ – I don’t want coffee) or an action (‘Je ne veux pas partir’ – I don’t want to leave).

53. Je n’ai pas envie de – I don’t feel like/I don’t want to. ‘Je n’ai pas envie de partir en Italie pour les vacances’ – I don’t feel like going on holiday to Italy.

Asking someone if they want something

54. Veux-tu / Voulez-vous – Do you want. For example ‘Veux-tu du cafe?’ (do you want coffee?), ‘Veux-tu partir maintenant?’ (do you want to leave now?).

55. Est-ce que tu veux / est-ce que vous voulez – Do you want. Just a different way of phrasing the same question as above.

56. Voilà – here you are. For example, when you’re giving something to somebody.

Thanking someone

57. Merci – thank you.

58. Merci beaucoup – thank you very much.

59. Merci bien – thank you. The ‘bien’ emphasises the ‘thank you’ a little bit and adds a bit of politeness.

60. Je te remercie / Je vous remercie – Thank you. A bit more formal way of saying ‘thank you’. Literally, it means ‘I thank you/I want to thank you’. It emphasises the gratitude the speaker is feeling.

61. De rien – you’re welcome/that’s OK.

62. Il n’y a pas de quoi – you’re welcome.

63. Je t’en prie/Je vous en prie – you’re welcome.

64. Pas de problème – no problem.

65. Je ne comprends pas – I don’t understand.

66. Je ne parle pas français – I don’t speak French.

67. Je ne parle pas beaucoup de français – I don’t speak a lot of French.

68. Pourriez-vous parler plus lentement s’il vous plaît? – could you please speak more slowly?

69. Repetez s’il vous plaît – please repeat/say it again.

70. Encore une fois – one more time.

71. Comment? – what?

72.Comment dit-on … en français? – how do you say … in French?

73. Comment ça s’écrit? – how do you spell that?

74. Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? – what does it mean?

75. Parlez-vous anglais? – do you speak English?

Asking where something is

76. Où est – where is.’Où est la piscine?’ – where is the swimming pool?

77. Où se trouve – where is. ‘Se trouver’ literally means ‘to be situated’ or ‘to be located’. So, for example ‘Où se trouve la gare?’ means ‘Where is the train station (situated)?’.

78. Je cherche – I’m looking for. ‘Je cherche la gare’ – I’m looking for the train station.

79. Est-ce que vous savez – do you know. ‘Est-ce que vous savez ou se trouve la gare?’ – do you know where the train station is situated?

Saying you like something

80. C’est bon – it’s good.

81. C’est pas mal – it’s not bad.

82. J’aime bien – I like. ‘J’aime bien le cinéma’ – I like cinema.

83. J’adore – I love. ‘J’adore le café’ – I love coffee.

84. Ça me plaît – I like that.

Saying you don’t like something

85. C’est mal – it’s bad.

86. C’est terrible – it’s terrible.

87. Je n’aime pas – I don’t like. ‘Je n’aime pas la musique’ – I don’t like music.

88. Je déteste – I hate. ‘Je déteste cette ville’ – I hate this city.

Asking somebody if they like something

89. Aimes-tu / aimez-vous – do you like. ‘Aimes-tu le cinéma?’ – do you like cinema?

90. Qu’est-ce que tu penses? – what do you think?

Asking questions

92. Qui – who.

93. Comment – how.

94. Combien – how much/how many. There is no distinction between countable and uncountable nouns, unlike in English. So, you always use ‘combien’. For example: ‘combien d’eau’ (how much water), ‘combien de maisons’ (how many houses).

95. Pourquoi – why.

96. Où  – where.

97. Quand – when.

98. Quel/quelle – which. ‘Quel’ is used for masculine nouns (‘quel homme’ – which man), and ‘quelle’ for feminine nouns (‘quelle femme’ – which woman).

99. À quelle heure – what time. ‘À quelle heure pars-tu?’ – what time are you leaving?

I hope you enjoyed this list of essential and super common French phrases every learner should know. Don’t forget to share this post and sign up for my free French video series!

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