common French phrases
If you have managed to learn how to pronounce Timothée Chalamet's name, learning some common French phrases will be simple. Source: AFP

Learning common French phrases is more important than you think. 

Today, over 53 countries speak French as an official language. Over half, 29 of these, such as Luxembourg and Canada, speak French as an official language, while Mauritius and Morocco are two of 24 countries that speak it as a second language.

Whether you’re travelling, studying or working there, grasping some basic words and phrases will be tres (French for “very) important.

Before you get scared away because of how complex French may sound, you can rest assured that it’s actually one of the easiest languages to learn

A Reddit user mentions, “French is one of the easiest languages to learn for native English speakers. Because the alphabet and grammar are similar to English, it’s much easier to learn than, for example, Mandarin.”

So, if you’re hoping to score some brownie points with the locals, check out these schools with summer programmes in French for you to get your head start on the language:

Common French phrases for greetings and responses

1. Good morning

How to say it in French: Bonjour 

Pronunciation: Bō-zhür

When you use the word “bonjour,” you wish the person a “good day” or greet someone with “hello.” Adding the concept of time of day to this word also means good morning. You can use this word to say good morning: “bonjour à tous,” which means “good morning, everyone.”

2. Good afternoon

How to say it in French: Bon après-midi

Pronunciation: Bpn ah-pre me-dee

Bon après-midi is often used to greet someone with a “good afternoon,” but only when you say goodbye. For example, “Passe/Passez un bon après-midi” means “have a good afternoon” when walking away from a conversation. You can use the word bonjour when greeting someone with a good afternoon at the start of a conversation.

3. Good evening and good night

How to say it in French: Bonne soirée and bonne nuit

Pronunciation: Bohnn swahray and bohnn nuwee

Drop these words when you’re about to end the night with your French-speaking friends and want to impress them. Many people get confused and use the word bonjour; however, it is encouraged to use bonne soirée and bonne nuit to express the time of day in your greeting.

4. How are you?

How do you say it in French: Comment ça va?

Pronunciation: Co-mon sah-vah

Commonly known in the francophone world, many often use this phrase to inquire about someone’s welfare formally and casually. If you’re hanging out with a close friend and want to ask how they are, you can say, “ça va?”

Another way to say how you are is “vous allez bien?”, which means “are you well?”

5. Thank you

How to say it in French: Merci

Pronunciation: Mair-see

You probably would have heard that “merci” is thank you in French. When a stranger is helping you with directions in France, you can use this word to express your gratitude to them. Alternatively, use “Je vous remercie” in a business setting.

common french phrases

Not only does learning the local language make you appear more respectful of the culture, you’ll be more welcomed too. Source: AFP

6. Nice to meet you

How to say it in French: Enchanté(e)

Pronunciation: Ohn shontay(ee)

When meeting your new French-speaking coursemates, it’s always good to greet them with “nice to meet you” in French to leave a good impression. If you’re in a formal setting or meeting your professors for the first time, you can use “Je suis ravie de vous rencontrer”.

Note: French nouns have gender, meaning they can be masculine or feminine. Enchanté is for males, to say, and enchantée is for females.

7. What’s your name?

How to say it in French: Comment tu t’appelles?

Pronunciation: Coh-mon too tah pel

Imagine sitting at orientation and wanting to make a new friend you can yap away with. Start the conversation by asking their name, which could help you break the ice and practice your French.

In a formal setting, you are encouraged to use “comment vous appelez-vous?” rather than “comment tu t’appelles?”

8. My name is…

How to say it in French: Je m’appelle…

Pronunciation: Juh mah pehl…

Meeting someone new and speaking in French together can be daunting. However, learning to introduce yourself could help ease the nerves and ensure a pleasant introduction.

For example, if your name is Michael, you would say, “Je m’appelle Michael, “which means “My name is Michael.”

common french phrases

You never know when some of these common French phrases will come in handy. Source: AFP

Common French phrases when you are lost 

1. I’m lost

How to say it in French: Je me suis perdu(e)

Pronunciation: Juh suwee perdo(e)

Getting lost in a foreign country can be stressful and scary. You can walk up to a local and say, “Je me suis perdu,” which translates to “I got lost.” Note that “perdu” is for males, and “perdue” is for females.

2. Excuse me

How to say it in French: Excusez-moi

Pronunciation: Ex-q-say mwah

The way you say “excuse me” in French is pretty straightforward. It is a widespread phrase you use in any situation, especially when asking for directions or bumping into someone. Another way for you to say it is “pardon”, the same way we would say it in English.

3. Do you speak English?

How to say it in French: Parlez-vous Anglais

Pronunciation: Parlay voo ung lay

If you’re not well-versed in French or are having trouble forming sentences due to brain fog, there’s no harm in asking the person you’re talking to if they speak English. Even if they need to be fluent in English, they will likely help you or point you in the right direction. 

4. Can you help me?

How to say it in French: Pouvez-vous m’aider?

Pronunciation: Poo-bay woo meh-day

Be bold when asking for help, especially if you’re lost and asking someone for directions. “Pouvez-vous m’aider?” is a formal way to say “can you help me?” If you’re looking for a polite way of saying it, it’s “Pourriez-vous m’aider?”

5. I don’t understand

How to say it in French: Je ne comprends pas

Pronunciation: Juh nuh comprond pah

“I don’t understand” is one of the most handy phrases to learn in another language. It lets others know that you need help understanding what’s being said. You can also say “Je ne comprends pas le français” if you want to say “I don’t understand French.”

6. Where is the toilet?

How to say it in French: Où sont les toilettes?

Pronunciation: Oo sohn lay twahlet

There are two other ways of asking where the bathroom is:

  • “Où sont les toilettes?” translates to “Where is the toilet?”
  • “Puis-je utiliser les toilettes, s’il vous plaît?” translates to “Please, can I use the toilet?”

7. Where can I get a taxi?

How to say it in French: Sais-tu où je peux prendre un taxi?

Pronunciation: Says two jeh poo prond on tax

Although this phrase may be too long to remember, it will be helpful when you have too many bags to lug around.

common French phrases

You’ll find yourself at restaurants to try out local cuisines. Ordering your food in French will make your experience at the restaurant enjoyable. Source: AFP

Common French phrases for ordering food

1. How much does it cost?

How to say it in French: Combien ça coûte?

Pronunciation: Combee-N sah coot

Before purchasing anything, it’s always good to check how much it costs. You would want to stay within your budget, especially as a student on a budget.

2. What would you recommend?

How to say it in French: Que recommandez-vous?

Pronunciation: Coo rocka-mondes voo

When you’re overseas, it may get overwhelming to read a menu in a foreign language and need to know the best dish to try. With this phrase, you can ask the servers to recommend a must-try dish at their restaurant.

3. I am allergic to…

How to say it in French: Je suis allergique aux…

Pronunciation: Jeh suwee sah-lur-jeek oh…

This phrase is one of the most important things to learn when travelling abroad, especially when you’re allergic to certain ingredients.

If you’re allergic to nuts, you can say, “Je suis allergique aux noix.”

4. The bill, please

How to say it in French: L’addition, s’il vous plaît

Pronunciation: Lah-dish on see voo play

There’s a universal gesture many would use when asking for the bill, and no words are needed to be said, but to be polite, this a phrase you can use when requesting the server for the bill.

5. I’m a vegetarian

How to say it in French: Je suis végétarien(ne)

Pronunciation: Juh suwee vegeetehreen

“Végétarien” is the masculine form, while “végétarienne” is the feminine form.

There’s a phrase for vegans too. “Je suis végétalien(ne)” is a way for you to say “I’m vegan.”

6. Can I get some water, please?

How to say it in French: Puis-je vous demander un peu d’eau, s’il vous plaît?

Pronunciation: Pwee jeh voo duhmonday oon puh doh see voo play

Sightseeing is almost always exhausting, and you’ll want to quench your thirst after a day of exploring. 

A shorter phrase would be “Puis-je avoir de l’eau?”

Fun French phrases worth learning

common French phrases

“Ah, la vache,” which means angry, is similar to the English word “oh my god.” Source: AFP

1. Oh, my cow

How to say it in French: Ah, la vache!

Pronunciation: Ah la vash

Don’t worry — no cows are running loose in France. This phrase best used in informal situations to express surprise, excitement, admiration, or disappointment. It is not rude, but it’s also a rare expression that the French will use.

An equivalent to this word in English is “oh my god” or “oh damn.”

2. Stop your chariot

How to say it in French: Arrête ton char

Pronunciation: Ah rare ton char

You would think that this saying would mean asking someone to slow down or stop their car, but it doesn’t. It’s a phrase that the French used comically, meaning “stop bluffing.” It is encouraged to say this to friends, but if you use it with a stranger, they might find it rude, depending on your tone.

Other equivalents to this word in English are “give me a break,” “come off it,” and “stop your nonsense.”

3. To get knocked back

How to say it in French: Se prendre un râteau

Pronunciation: Suh pronda rat oh

If someone’s asking you out and you’re not interested, this is the best phrase to use to reject them. “Se prendre un râteau” means “give you the rake,” and it’s about when you walk on a rake, and the stick hits your face, like in Tom and Jerry. This definition can also describe the failure and embarrassment of not being able to get the person you’re chasing after.

An equivalent to this word in English is “to be shot down” or “to eat dirt.”

common French phrases

In France, the closest to you becoming a goat is when you find something extremely annoying that makes you go crazy. Source: AFP

4. To become a goat

How to say it in French: Devenir chêvre

Pronunciation: Duh veneer sheh vuh ruh

If you’re getting worked up, angry, or frustrated because your groupmate is not completing their work on time, this is the word for you. The French like to express their anger in ways that let people know they are channelling it and not in the right state of mind. Devenir means “become,” and chêvre means “goat”.

An equivalent to this word in English is “to be driven mad”, with mad possibly meaning angry or crazy.