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Good Luck in French: When to use Bon Courage vs Bonne Chance

Celine Segueg

When wishing someone good luck in French, you may have heard the phrase “bon courage !” Other times, you’ve heard “bonne chance !” While both of these phrases indeed mean “good luck,” there are some important differences between them that you should know before sending someone off with your best wishes in French.

The main difference between these two phrases is the amount of influence the person has over what awaits them. In other words, it comes down to whether they have some power over the situation, or whether they are reliant on luck itself.

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In this post, we’ll explain exactly when to use bon courage vs bonne chance, while examining the important distinctions between each of them. Let’s go!

Bon courage

The phrase “bon courage” in English literally translates to “good courage,” and is usually used in this context of wishing someone encouragement. It’s a relatively general phrase with a few different English equivalents, appropriate in many different situations and contexts. It is just as suitable in formal and informal situations.

You’ll use bon courage when wishing someone luck as they embark on a task that will be hard work, but that they are fully capable of doing. It indicates that you believe this person can accomplish the task in question, but that their success is dependent on their effort.

It’s common to bid someone bon courage before they take an important test or sit for an interview. In these contexts, the equivalent English expression could be “good luck,” “best of luck,” or “best wishes.” (Note that “bon courage” is reserved for encouragement, whereas for wishing congratulations on occasions like birthdays or anniversaries, the equivalent expression for “best wishes” in French is “meilleurs vœux.”)

  • Demain, c’est ton grand entretien d’embauche ! Bon courage ! – Tomorrow is your big job interview! Best wishes!
  • Je vous souhaite bon courage et une bonne réussite sur l’examen ! – I wish you all the best of luck and full success on the test!
  • Tu revois ton ex ce soir ? Bon courage avec cette conversation difficile, mon pôte ! – You’re seeing your ex tonight? Good luck with the difficult conversation, my friend!

Bon courage can also acknowledge the role of the person’s continued effort in their success, as in “you’re doing great,” “you’ve got this,” or even “you can do it.” Similar to the uses described above, the emphasis in this context is placed on the person’s active involvement in their fortune: the operative word in each English equivalent is “you.”

  • Je commence mon nouveau job demain. / Bon courage ! – I’m starting my new job tomorrow. / That’s intimidating, but you can do it!
  • Vous êtes à plus de la moitié de la course ! Bon courage ! – You’re over halfway through the race! You’ve got this!

Similarly, “bon courage” can also be translated into English as “hang in there” or even serve as an equivalent for the archaic English expression “godspeed.” In this context, it expresses much the same as above: a verbal expression of support as the person you’re speaking to faces a difficult challenge, albeit one that they can overcome with their own effort and motivation. Additionally, using the phrase in this way also imparts a sense of commiseration.

  • Elle continue à me gêner, je ne sais plus quoi faire. / Bon courage, ce n’est pas facile. – She’s still bothering me, I don’t know what to do anymore. / Hang in there, it’s not easy.
  • C’est enfin le moment du départ sur ce gros trek. Dans quatre semaines j’arriverai à Compostelle ! / Bon voyage, et bon courage ! – It’s finally time to start hiking on this big trek. In four weeks I’ll arrive in Santiago de Compostela!  / Have a great trip. Godspeed!

During the Covid-19 pandemic, “bon courage” actually became the default way for the French people to thank the so-called frontline workers such as grocery store employees and nurses. While most citizens were obliged to quarantine themselves at home during months of confinement, service workers were suddenly put at high risk of catching the virus by interacting with so many people every day.

This cultural shift in the use of bon courage persists even now that the pandemic has subsided: it remains common for French people to wish our cashiers bon courage as we take our groceries and walk away, wishing them continued courage and strength.

  • Vous êtes très courageux. Bon courage ! – You are very brave. You’ve got this!

Finally, there is a shorter way to express this French expression, by simply saying “courage.” This abbreviation can be used exactly the same way as the full phrase, and is not necessarily any more informal.

  • À plus, mon cours difficile commence. / Courage. – See you later, my difficult class is starting. / Best of luck.
  • Je suis débordée de travail. / Courage, c’est presque le weekend. – I’m overwhelmed with work. / Hang in there, it’s almost the weekend.

Bonne chance

In contrast to the multiple possible translations of “bon courage,” “bonne chance” almost always means “good luck” in English. This expression implies that the person doesn’t really have control over the difficult situation they are about to face. When we wish someone “bonne chance” in French, we’re acknowledging that the outcome will depend largeley on pure luck or other uncontrollable factors.

This French expression is appropriate in situations like someone playing the lottery, looking for a specific item at an antique store, getting a good seat on a packed train, or the classic example of winning a coin toss. Of course, there are many other possible situations in which luck plays a larger role than the person’s own hard work! Good luck!

  • J’ai acheté un billet de loterie, souhaite-moi bonne chance. – I bought a lottery ticket, wish me good luck.
  • J’attends le résultat de mon test. / Bonne chance ! – I’m waiting for the results of my test. / Good luck!

Good luck in French for theater performances

Just like in English, there’s a taboo against wishing “good luck” in French to actors before theater performances, as there’s a common superstition that this is actually bad luck. Whereas the English expression is “break a leg”, the French equivalent is “je te dis merde,” often just shortened to “merde.” Be careful, though, since this slang expression borders on vulgar, so use it with care.

  • C’est la première ce soir. / Je te dis merde ! – It’s opening night tonight. / Break a leg!

Bonne chance et bon courage !

So far, we’ve introduced each of these two French expressions on their own, showing their main uses in their own specific contexts. But what if the context could be suited to both? Well then either choose one to express the nuance you’re going for, or even better, use them both together!

Just remember that although both have similar meanings, each French expression still remains distinct in the message it conveys. When we use both together, we’re wishing both meanings at once.

  • Eh bien, l’équipe adverse a remporté le championnat l’an dernier, mais nous nous sommes beaucoup entraînés cette saison. Essayons de les vaincre dans ce match. Bonne chance et bon courage, l’équipe ! – Well, the opposing team won the championship last year, but we’ve practiced a lot this season. Let’s try to beat them in this game. Good luck and all the best, team!
  • Notre pays a la chance d’avoir de braves soldats comme vous pour défendre le front. Bon courage et bonne chance à vous tous ! – Our country is fortunate to have brave soldiers like you to defend the front. Godspeed, and good luck to all of you!
  • Tu acceuilles treize gamins pour fêter les cinq ans de ton fils ? Hopla ! Bon courage et bonne chance! – You’re hosting thirteen little kids to celebrate your son’s fifth birthday!? Whoa! Hang in there, and good luck!

Conclusion

We’ve spent this post examining the two most common expressions for expressing “good luck” in French: bon courage and bonne chance. While both are used to offer encouragement, their particularities lend their use to different types of situations. For the most part, choosing between bon courage vs bonne chance comes down to how much control the person has over the outcome.

Where a successful result is likely as long as the person puts in enough hard work and perseverance, we wish them bon courage to encourage them to keep up their efforts. While an easy translation could be “good luck,” some other English expressions meaning “bon courage” include “hang in there,” “keep it up,” “you can do it,” “you’ve got this,” “best of luck,” “all the best,” or even the dramatic expression from a bygone time: “godspeed!”

For contexts in which the result is truly dependent on luck or other external factors beyond the person’s control, we use the French expression “bonne chance.” Translating directly as “good luck,” this is the best way to encourage someone when they face an unknown outcome.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this post about good luck in French, and that our blog entries continue to help you improve your skills in the French language. Bon courage !

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