Bonjour: Meaning in English, history, and uses

Celine Segueg

What does bonjour mean in French? In today’s post we’ll focus entirely on bonjour, which is the most common greeting in the language. We’ll cover the standard bonjour meaning in French, its translations, and some history of the term. We’ll discuss when bonjour is used, we’ll see which expressions include bonjour, and we’ll explore a number of variations of the term.

Bonjour meaning

What does bonjour mean, and when is it used? Bonjour in French can mean good morning, good afternoon, or simply hello. We use the same word early in the day to say good morning, then its meaning switches to good afternoon for the rest of the day. We don’t use the direct translations of bon matin or bon après-midi in France, though they’re used sometimes in Québec.

So what is bonjour in English? The easiest translation is just hello, while other options may include hi, hey, or even the rhetorical how’s it going? or what’s up?. The old-fashioned greeting good day is another bonjour translation in English.

When do we use Bonjour in French?

Bonjour is used absolutely everywhere in French. Bonjour is the most common way to greet people, both formally and informally, until about 6pm. We don’t use bonjour once it’s evening, opting instead for bonsoir.

Strangers greet each other with bonjour when they cross paths on a trail. Clients and employees greet each other in shops or restaurants with bonjour. Colleagues greet each other with bonjour when they see each other at work. If you get a phone call you’ll answer with allô, but the caller will immediately respond with bonjour. Friends greet each other with bonjour when they meet for drinks. Family members greet each other with bonjour when they get home. Close friends might embellish it a bit and say coucou bonjour, which adds a bit of sweetness.

Remember that some social exchanges require more than a simple bonjour in French. See our post on how to ace French happy hour for a good intro on how to meet up with friends, or our post on les bisous for an explanation of the French greeting kisses. To spice up your interactions with your sweetheart, see our posts on French terms of endearment, French love quotes, how to say I love you in French, and the real meaning of Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?.

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For related lessons on meeting and greeting people in French, check out some of our other posts for a full list of French greetings, how to say How are you? in French, different options for Hello in French, Goodbye in French, Nice to meet you in French, and ways to say Good night in French.

What’s the history of Bonjour?

Bonjour is the simple contraction of bon and jour, which translate literally as good and day.

Historically, bonjour wasn’t always written this way. Before around 1230, it was written as bon jor. This expression was the equivalent of jour favorable, temps heureux, which translates to favorable day, happy time.

The greeting saw its spelling evolve from bonjor to bonjour in the second quarter of the thirteenth century, the way we know it now. In other words, the most common French greeting we use today has been unchanged for around 800 years!

Expressions and variations of Bonjour

How do we use bonjour in a sentence? Let’s see the most common verbs and expressions we use with bonjour in French.

We can make our French bonjour plural, just as you can make hello plural in English.

  • Je dois dire des bonjours. – I need to say some hellos.

To say hello is simply dire bonjour.

  • Je vais dire bonjour à Max. – I’m going to say hello to Max.

In French, we say je dois passer le bonjour, which loosely translates as needing to give hello. We use this expression when we need to extend a simple greeting to one or many people. Passer le bonjour is a common expression to explain the need to say hello to others, or to extend the hello to someone who’s absent.

  • Veuillez passer le bonjour à Marc de ma part. – Please say hello to Marc for me.
  • Excusez-moi, je dois aller passer le bonjour à mes anciens collègues. – Pardon me, I have to go say hello to my old colleagues.

To transmit a hello to someone, we can also say donner le bonjour.

  • J’ai donné le bonjour à mes parents de ta part. Ils te passent le bonjour aussi. – I gave a hello to my parents on your behalf. They send a hello to you too.

If you want to say hello to a group, you just say bonjour tout le monde.

  • Mes amis, voici mon pote Alain. / Bonjour tout le monde, je suis Alain. Enchanté ! – My friends, this is my buddy Alain. / Hey everyone, I’m Alain. Nice to meet you all!

Rebonjour means hello again, since the prefix re- signifies a repetition. If we said hello a little while ago and then we see each other again, rebonjour is the right greeting.

  • Ah, on se croise à nouveau. Rebonjour ! – Aha, we’re crossing paths once more. Hello again!

When is it ok to use Bon jour in French?

As a greeting, we always use the combined word as bonjour in French. It’s rare that we can actually use the separate words bon jour in French.

You may be tempted to use un bon jour to describe a day that is good, but in French we rather use une bonne journée for this meaning.

  • Hier, j’ai passé une bonne journée. – Yesterday, I had a good day.

It’s possible that we use le bon jour in a sentence, but in this sense we’re referring more to the right day compared with the others.

  • Elle voulait rompre avec son copain, mais, comme tous les autres jours, aujourd’hui n’était toujours pas le bon jour. – She wanted to break up with her boyfriend, but, like all the other days, today still wasn’t the right day.
  • Après trois jours de pluie, le soleil sort enfin. Je crois que c’est le bon jour pour planter les fleurs. – After three days of rain, the sun is finally coming out. I think it’s the right day to plant the flowers.

Bonjour vs Bonne journée

You may have heard people say bonne journée, which also translates into English as good day. Bonne journée is not a greeting, but rather a way to say goodbye in French. In English, the best bonne journée translation would be have a good day.

  • Merci d’être passé. Bonne journée ! – Thanks for passing by. Have a good day!

Beaux jours vs Belle journée

Bon means good in French, while beau and belle mean pretty or beautiful. When we use these adjectives with our two French words for days, however, we get very different expressions.

Les beaux jours is an expression that’s always used in plural, translating literally as the beautiful days. While we can certainly use it in this literal sense regarding weather, the general meaning of les beaux jours is to refer to the warm seasons of spring and summer.

  • J’en ai marre de la neige. J’ai hâte des beaux jours ! – I’m tired of the snow. I can’t wait for warm sunny days!

Une belle journée, on the other hand, refers to a beautiful day. This might be in reference to nice weather, or it could also allude to all the sweet things that one does during a given day. Wishing someone a belle journée is much more intimate than saying bonne journée.

  • Durant nos vacances au Portugal, nous avons profité d’une semaine entière de belles journées. – During our vacation in Portugal, we made the most of a full week of beautiful days.
  • Je te souhaite une très belle journée, Antoine. J’espère te revoir bientôt. – I wish you a wonderful day, Antoine. I hope I see you again soon.

Conclusion: Bonjour meaning in French

In today’s post we went over the meaning of bonjour in French, its history, its use, and its expressions. We saw that the easiest bonjour meaning is hello, while its other common translations include good morning, good afternoon, good day, or just hi.

Bonjour in French is the ultimate greeting, used indiscriminately whether we’re meeting family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, clients, or strangers. Indeed, the term harks back to the thirteenth century, so it seems that our French bonjour will never go out of style!