“Bonjour” is one of the most well-known words in French, and also one of the most important! While there are many different greetings in French, the simple “bonjour” is a common greeting that works in a variety of situations. In fact, French greetings are a critical means of expressing politeness in all situations, from walking into a friend’s house to entering a store to passing an acquaintance on the street.
In this post we’ll start off with the humble “bonjour,” then we’ll explore a variety of French greetings. We’ll round out the post with a similar selection of ways to say “goodbye” in French. We’ll provide detailed explanations on how and when to use them, as well as examples for each. For easy reference, we’ll end with a quick summary of the French greetings introduced in the post. Are you ready? Let’s dive in!
Starting off with our best-known greeting, “bonjour” is known to mean “hello” in French. Did you know that it can also mean “good morning” in French? It can also mean “good afternoon” in French! The word “bonjour” is a compound word which literally translates to “good day”, and is used to greet others during the daytime (meaning, in the morning and afternoon), until about 6:00 PM. After 6 PM, another greeting is used (which we’ll discuss below). “Bonjour” is both a formal and informal greeting and can be used with anyone: elders, peers, those younger than you, people you know, and people you don’t know.
It is common to respond to “bonjour” by repeating “bonjour” back, but you can also use another greeting in French, depending on the situation. Also, if you are seeing the same person more than once in the same day, you’ll want to switch to a more informal greeting the second time you see them.
- Bonjour ma chérie, tu as bien dormi ? – Good morning dear, did you sleep well?
- Bonjour, Mr. Dupont ! / Bonjour, Pierre. – Hello, Mr. Dupont! / Hello, Pierre.
Bon matin, Bon après-midi
When you’re first learning how to greet others in French, you might think to literally translate the English greetings “good morning” and “good afternoon” in French. However, these literal translations (“bon matin” and “bon après-midi”) are not commonly heard in Europe. They are slightly more common in French-speaking Canada.
After about 6:00 PM, the proper French greeting to use is “bonsoir”, which literally translates to “good evening” in French. This is a very common greeting, although its English equivalent is not extremely common. Just like “bonjour”, “bonsoir” is both a formal and informal greeting and can be used with anyone.
You’ll want to respond to “bonsoir” by repeating “bonsoir” back, then continuing the conversation.
- Bonsoir, Nicole ! Tu vas bien ? / Bonsoir, Sarah. Ça va, et toi ? – Good evening, Nicole! Are you doing well? / Good evening, Sarah. Yes, I’m okay, and you?
“Salut” is an informal greeting in French, and is the equivalent of saying “hi” or “hey” in English. This is a greeting that you will want to use with your peers, those younger than you, and people that you know. When responding, you can use any other greeting in French, including repeating “salut” back.
- Salut mon pôte, t’es prêt ? / Salut, ouais. – Hey buddy, are you ready? / Hey, yeah.
Interestingly, “salut” can also be used as a way to take your leave or say goodbye in French. Again, it is an informal phrase and is the equivalent of saying “bye” or “bye-bye” in English. When responding, you can use any other way to take leave in French (more details on that below).
- Alors, je pars. Salut ! / Au revoir. – Okay, I’m leaving. Bye! / Goodbye.
Ça va ?
You can greet someone in French by asking them “Ça va ?”, which means “How are you?” in French. This is an informal greeting and is usually used between friends, but can also be used between colleagues or in other informal situations.
For more ways to ask someone how they’re doing in French, check out our dedicated post: Ça va bien? Ten more expressions to ask “How are you?” in French.
Our most informal greeting in this post, “coucou” has no direct translation into English, but functions about the same way as “hi there.” This adorable greeting is mainly used between friends and will also be heard when people are speaking to babies. Keep in mind that this is a very informal greeting – you don’t want to use this with someone you don’t know!
- Coucou, je suis rentrée ! – Hi there, I’m home!
Bonne journée, Bonne soirée, Bonne nuit
Kicking off ways to say goodbye in French, we have “bonne journée”, “bonne soirée”, and “bonne nuit”. These are all ways to tell someone to have a good rest of the day as you are ending the conversation.
“Bonne journée” means “have a good day” in French. Just like “bonjour”, you’ll use this as a way to take leave in the morning and afternoon, until about 6 PM. You may have noticed that it actually contains the words “bon” and “jour”, which makes it easy to remember! To respond, you can repeat “bonne journée” back, or simply say “[à] toi aussi!” or “[à] vous aussi!” – “[to] you too!”.
- Merci, bonne journée ! / À vous aussi, bonne journée. – Thank you, have a good day! / You too, have a good day.
Similarly, “bonne soirée” means “have a good evening” in French, though sometimes in English you might already say “have a good night.” You’ll use this as a way to take leave in the evening, after about 6 PM. Just like the previous phrase, this phrase contains the words “bon” and “soir”. You can respond in the same way as well, repeating “bonne soirée” back or saying “[à] toi aussi” or “[à] vous aussi.”
- Je dois partir. Bonne soirée. / Toi aussi, merci d’être venu ! – I have to leave. Have a good night. / You too, thanks for coming!
Finally, “bonne nuit” means “have a good night” or simply “good night” in French. This way to take leave is only used after dark, and often right before going to bed. It is both formal and informal, and just like in English, you’ll want to respond by repeating it back.
- Bonne nuit, Henri ! / Bonne nuit, papa. – Good night, Henri! / Good night, dad.
Much like “bonjour”, “au revoir” is a well-known phrase in French. It means “goodbye” in French and is both formal and informal. To respond, you can use any appropriate leave-taking expression that fits the situation, but make sure to maintain the same level of formality that you were using in the conversation!
- Au revoir, mes élèves ! / Au revoir, Madame Lenoir ! – Goodbye, students! Goodbye, Mrs. Lenoir!
“À demain” means “see you tomorrow” in French. While it can be used in most situations, it is less formal than “au revoir” and should not be used in very formal situations. Of course, you should only use “à demain” when you know you are going to see that person tomorrow!
- On se voit demain, n’est-ce pas ? Au revoir ! / Oui, à demain ! – We’re seeing each other tomorrow, right? Goodbye! / Yes, see you tomorrow!
À bientôt, À tout à l’heure
Both “à bientôt” and “à tout à l’heure” mean “see you soon” in French. However, these expressions have a nuanced difference in meaning. “À bientôt” is more of a general phrase, meaning that you have no specific plan to see the person again but know you will see them soon. “À tout à l’heure” is more specific, meaning that you have a plan to see the person again quite soon, within a few hours or later that same day. Both leave-taking expressions are informal, and can be followed by a repetition of the same phrase or the use of a similar phrase.
- On a encore du temps pour planifier. À bientôt ! – We still have time to plan. See you soon!
- On se retrouve vers 19 heures. À tout à l’heure ! – We’ll meet up around 7:00 PM. See you soon!
À la prochaine fois, À la prochaine
Similar to the expressions above, “à la prochaine fois” means “see you next time” or “until next time” in French. It’s usually shortened to “à la prochaine” as well, meaning the same thing. This informal way to say goodbye is usually used when you know you will see someone again. You’ll often hear this phrase between people who see each other on a schedule, such as at a school or a club that meets regularly. However, it can also be used like “à bientôt” to mean something more like “see you soon”. To respond, you can repeat the same phrase back or use another leave-taking expression.
- Quelle bonne réunion, et bon travail ! À la prochaine fois. – What a good meeting, and good work! See you next time.
À plus tard, À plus
Our final way to informally take leave in French is to say “à plus tard”, which means “see you later” in French. You can also shorten this to “à plus”, which is equivalent to the informal “later.” There’s even a common shorthand for this one used between friends in text messages: “À+.”
As both “à plus” and “à plus tard” are informal, they should only be used between friends and people who know each other well. Like in English, these phrases will be often used when you have no specific plans to meet up with the person, but can also be used literally if you do have specific plans. Like with previous leave-taking expressions, you can respond to “à plus tard” or “à plus” by repeating the same expression back or using a similar phrase.
- Merci pour une superbe soirée. À plus tard ! – Thanks for a great evening. See you later!
Summary: Greetings and Leave-Taking Expressions in French
|Greetings, French||Greetings, English|
|Bonne nuit||Good night|
|Ça va ?||How are you?|
|Saying goodbye in French||English goodbyes|
|Bonne journée||Have a good day|
|Bonne soirée||Have a good evening|
|Bonne nuit||Good night, Have a good night|
|À demain||See you tomorrow|
|À bientôt||See you soon (no plan)|
|À tout à l’heure||See you soon (with plan)|
|À la prochaine fois, À la prochaine||See you next time|
|À plus tard||See you later|
|À plus, À+||Later|
We’ve covered a lot of ways to say hello and goodbye in French in this post!
First off, remember to respect the different levels of formality with these French greeting expressions: you will want to pick an expression that matches the situation. For example, if you are greeting your boss for the first time, you’ll want to say “bonjour” instead of “coucou.” Conversely, if you are saying hi to a friend in the corridor, you can use any greeting but would probably use “salut.”
You’ll also need to use the appropriate expression for the time of day, with specific ways to say good evening in French or good night in French. We saw that only in Canada is there a literal translation for good morning in French, rather than sticking with “bonjour” for the whole day.
Finally, you’ll want to consider the context of the conversation and whether you will see that person again on the same day, soon, or ever again. “À la prochaine” is fine even if it’s unclear when the next time may be, for example, whereas you know you’ll see each other shortly if you say “à toute à l’heure.”
We hope you can start using these different French greetings and leave-taking expressions to adapt to different scenarios. For now, though – à la prochaine fois !