Basic French words and phrases: Essential survival vocab for beginners

Celine Segueg

Are you a total beginner in French, and you’re about to find yourself surrounded by French speakers? This post is designed for you, since we present some of the absolute fundamental vocabulary for getting by in the language. We’ll introduce over 100 basic French words, broken down into categories so you can easily find what you’re looking for.

Think of this post as survival French, where our focus is not on grammar but simply on providing a series of French beginner words. We include plenty of links to our detailed posts on grammar, vocab, and culture that cover these topics in greater detail.

Let’s go! – Allons-y !

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Basic niceties in French

These are the most basic words in French that everyone should know.

  • Yes – Oui
  • No – Non
  • Please (informal) – S’il-te-plaît, stp
  • Please (formal) – S’il-vous-plaît, svp
  • Thanks – Merci
  • No thanks – Non, merci
  • You’re welcome – De rien
  • Sorry – Pardon, Désolé

For a lesson on the difference between addressing someone formally and informally, take a look at our post on choosing the right you in French: tu vs vous.

Basic greetings in French

These basic French greetings are good for walking into a shop or a hotel, or even just passing someone on the sidewalk or the trail.

  • Hello – Bonjour
  • Hey – Coucou
  • Hello, Bye – Salut
  • Bye, Goodbye – Au revoir
  • Good evening – Bonsoir
  • Good night – Bonne nuit

Basic introductions in French

If you meet someone new, you’re bound to need a couple of these basic French phrases for introducing yourself.

  • How are you? – Comment ça va ?
  • I’m fine – Ça va
  • I’m fine, and you? – Ça va, et toi ?
  • What is your name? – Comment tu t’appeles ?
  • I am… – Moi c’est…
  • My name is… – Je m’appelle…
  • Where are you from? – Vous venez d’où ?
  • I’m from… – Je viens de…
  • What do you do? – Qu’est-ce que vous faites dans la vie ?

Check our big geography post for all the country names in French. For a list of jobs, see our post on professions in French.

Basic pickup lines in French

Here we’re getting a little more daring. Whether you’re taking a chance with someone you find attractive, or you’re being approached yourself, these are some of the most basic French pickup lines you’ll encounter. Keep in mind that these are very direct! Subtelty is definitely preferred, but these will certainly break the ice if there’s some mutual interest.

  • Are you married? – Êtes-vous marié(e) ?
  • Do you have children? – Avez-vous des enfants ?
  • Do you have a boyfriend / girlfriend? – As-tu un copain / une copine ?
  • Can I offer you a drink? – Je peux t’offrir un verre ?
  • Do you want to sleep with me tonight? – Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir ?
  • Do we know each other? – Est-ce qu’on se connaît ?
  • Can I have your phone number? – Je peux avoir ton numéro de téléphone ?
  • Your place or mine? – Chez toi ou chez moi ?
  • I miss you – Tu me manques
  • I love you – Je t’aime

If you want to get sappy with your special someone in French, try out these terms of endearment. Or check out our post on French family vocabulary, which has a big section on terms for different relationships in French. For specific compliments, you may also want our post on physical traits in French.

Basic question words in French

These can definitely be considered essential French beginner words, since they’re used to form most types of questions.

  • Who? – Qui ?
  • What ? – Quoi ?
  • When? – Quand ?
  • Where? – Où ?
  • Why? – Pourquoi ?
  • How? – Comment ?
  • Isn’t it? – N’est-ce pas ?
  • What time is it? – Quelle heure est-il ?

We have a full post about these French question words. To go deeper, you can learn how to use est-ce que to form questions, and how to use n’est-ce pas to turn statements into questions.

Basic opinions in French

Believe it or not, these basic French phrases can go a long way in just allowing you to sound like a local. You’ll hear these often enough in conversation, so go ahead and give your opinion in French too!

  • Yeahhh – Riiiight – Ouais
  • It’s good – C’est bon, C’est bien
  • It’s bad – C’est mauvais, C’est mal
  • I like [it] – J’aime, J’aime bien
  • I love [it] – J’adore
  • I don’t like it – Je n’aime pas
  • I don’t know – Je ne sais pas

Basic directions in French

Sure, our smartphones can help a lot, but at some point it’s useful to just ask the locals for assistance. We provide a few of the common responses, since pointing and nodding is often enough anyway.

  • I’m lost – Je suis perdu(e)
  • The train is delayed – Le train est retardé
  • It’s a strike / a demonstration – C’est une grève / une manifestation
  • Where is… / Where are… – Où est… / Où sont…
  • Where are the toilets? – Où sont les toilettes?
  • Left – À gauche
  • Right – À droite
  • Straight ahead – Tout droit
  • At the back – Au fond
  • Upstairs – À l’étage

For more words on relative locations, check our post on French prepositions.

Basic restaurant words in French

Learning how to order food in French is definitely a lesson on its own, so here we’ll just offer some of the most basic French words and phrases that you’ll need when you’re in a French restaurant.

  • Is the kitchen open? – Est-ce que la cuisine est ouverte ?
  • Yes, take a seat – Oui, prenez place
  • The kitchen is closed, sorry – La cuisine est fermée, désolé
  • Hot, Warm – Chaud
  • Cold – Froid
  • More – Plus
  • Less – Moins
  • I want… – Je veux
  • I don’t want… – Je ne veux pas…
  • A glass of red wine, please – Un verre de vin rouge, svp
  • Some water, please – De l’eau svp
  • Without alcohol – Sans alcool
  • Without meat – Sans viande
  • The bill, please – L’addition, svp

Basic shopping phrases in French

We can often shop without even interacting with anyone, but at some point you’ll be glad to know a few simple French phrases for shopping. When it comes to money, check out our post on numbers in French.

  • Can I help you? – Je peux vous aider ?
  • I’m just looking – Je regarde seulement
  • How much is it? – Combien ça coûte ?
  • It’s (not) expensive! – C’est (pas) cher !
  • It’s free – C’est gratuit
  • By cash – En liquide, En espèces
  • By (credit) card – Par carte (de crédit)
  • Can I have a bag? – Je peux avoir un sac ?

Talking about language in French

These phrases are classic for anyone who attempts to interact in a foreign language. The important thing is that you don’t give up, and keep practicing your French!

  • What?, Pardon? – Quoi?, Comment?
  • Slower, please – Plus lentement, svp
  • I don’t speak French – Je ne parle pas français
  • Do you speak English? – Parlez-vous anglais ?
  • What language(s) do you speak? – Quelle(s) langue(s) parlez-vous ?
  • How do you say… – Comment on dit…

Basic French exclamations

These common French phrases all have nuances that we cover in their dedicated posts, but even these basic versions will serve you quite well.

More reading: Basic French

So far we’ve provided a bunch of useful lists of French beginner words and phrases to get you started. We were sure to include lots of links to our posts where we cover specific topics in more detail, since our LingoCulture blog is full of beginner and intermediate learning material for French learners.

For further reading on topics that we didn’t reference within the lists of basic French words and phrases above, check out these other links to our detailed French lessons!

Easy French words

You already know a lot of the basic French words we introduce in these first two posts, while the third showcases words that just sound poetic on the tongue.

French words used in English

More French words used in English

Beautiful French words

Specialized French vocab

We included links to a lot of specific vocab posts already, so we’ll just include a few more here.

Weather – La météo

Days of the week – Les jours de la semaine

Months and seasons – Les mois et les saisons

Animals – Les animaux

Fundamental French verbs

Many of the basic French phrases we saw above incorporated some of these fundamental verbs already. The posts these link to explore each verb in a lot more detail.

To be – Être

To have – Avoir

To come – Venir

To go – Aller

To want – Vouloir

To need to – Devoir

To know – Savoir vs Connaître

To live – Vivre vs Habiter

Conclusion: Basic French words

Whether you’re just spending a weekend in a French-speaking city, or you need to interact with a French speaker in their language, you can get through a lot of situations with just a handful of beginner French words.

In this post we’ve brought you exactly that. Rather than go into a lot of detail like we usually do, today we just covered a bunch of basic French words to know in order to get by. And if you want more, we also provided tons of links to our detailed vocab posts.

Now go ahead and use some of these basic French words, and your efforts to speak the local language will surely be appreciated by native French speakers!