Robert writes informative articles about language and culture.
How Do You Say Hello in French?
If you are visiting France, there are a few essential words and expressions you should know in order get the most out of your trip. One of the most useful words is "hello" because it is the start of almost every conversation and interaction. Plus, most French people will appreciate it if you try to speak their language, instead of assuming that everyone should speak English. It shows respect for their culture, and will help break the ice.
However, there are many ways to say hello depending in the context, social setting, and whom you are speaking to. Knowing when to use a certain word or expression is just as important as having the correct vocabulary.
This is a brief tutorial that explains how to say hello in French.
Hello in French
Just like in English, French has many ways to say hello, depending on the situation.
The Most Common Ways to Say Hello in French
Here are some of the main words you should learn:
- Hé là!
- Ça Roule?
- Faire La Bise
Bonjour literally means "good day" but is more equivalent to the English "hello." You can use bonjour in every situation, whether formal or informal. When in doubt, use "bonjour" to say hello.
Even though bonjour is a very versatile word, this doesn't mean that you should restrict your vocabulary to one word. You will never experience the full richness of the French language unless you can learn the nuances of various greetings by using and understanding the other ways to say hello. Plus, knowing additional phrases and forms of hello will impress the locals and may let you get to know French culture and daily life in a more meaningful way.
Bonsoir means "Good evening" and is used instead of "bonjour" when saying hello during the late evening or at night. Depending on the context, the same word can also be used to say goodbye at night.
We tend not to use "good evening" except on formal occasions, but in French it is appropriate to use bonsoir even in informal settings and among friends and relatives. Just be careful not to use it too early in the day.
Salut is an informal way of saying hello and is the French equivalent of "Hi." You would use this word in a social setting among friends, relatives or people your own age. Going up to someone you do not know, especially someone older than you or someone with a higher social standing such as an employer or official and saying "salut" would be seen as a bit impertinent.
Coucou is a word for "hi" or "hello" derived from the way parents sometimes talk to their young children. It sounds like koo-koo and alludes to a cuckoo bird popping out of a cuckoo clock. French parents will often play with their very young children by covering their eyes and then uncovering them, exclaiming "coucou!" in the same sense as English speaking parents may say "peek-a-boo."
From these origins, the word coucou has come to mean "hi" and "hello". It is a very informal, cutesy way of saying hello and you would never use it in a formal setting or when you want to be taken seriously. It is used to say hi to friends especially if you are surprising them; it has also become more common to use it in text messages.
Allô? sounds a lot like the English "hello" and in fact is derived from the same word. However the French "allô" is only used to say hello on the telephone.
If you are phoning someone you would say "Allô?" with a questioning tone when they answer the phone, to confirm that they are listening and ready to talk. You never use "allô" to say hello to someone in person.
However as with any rule, there are exceptions. Some people say "allô?" in conversation, and may even jokingly mimic holding a phone to their ears, using their hands when they say this. In addition, French Canadians will often say "Allô" to each other in person, in the same way as the French say bonjour. But this is not common usage in France.
Hé sounds a lot like the English "Hey!" and is used in much the same way. You can use it to say hello informally, such as to a group of people your age.
Hé là! means "Hey there!" and is used the same way you would use it in English. This is a very informal way of saying hello and so you should use it sparingly; you would not use it to greet a sales clerk, for example.
Saying hello on the phone is different than greeting someone in person. Never say "Allô?" to the person in front of you!
Rebonjour literally means "re-hello" and is used in the sense of "Hello again." You would use this phrase when saying hello to someone you had just greeted a short time earlier.
For example, suppose you are introduced to someone and say "bonjour" to them. Then half an hour later you run into them again on the street or the cafe; you could say "rebonjour" to acknowledge that you just so them a few minutes before.
You would not say hello using "rebonjour" if a considerable length of time has passed since the last time you saw and greeted that person. For example, if you say hello to Jean-Paul on Sunday and see him again the following week, rebonjour would be out of context.
Ça Roule? is a very informal, slang way of saying hello. It is the equivalent of saying "How's it going?" in English and should be used in the same contexts.
Never use "Ça Roule?" in a formal situation or when being introduced to someone of higher social status, such as an official. You should also not use it in everyday interactions such as greeting a salesclerk as this would be overly familiar and impertinent.
Enchanté means literally "enchanted" and is used in the sense of "Nice to meet you."
You would say "Enchanté" when someone has introduced themselves to you, never when you are first greeting a person.
Faire La Bise
Faire la bise ("doing the bise") is not an expression you say, but rather a way of saying hello. It refers to the French practice of greeting each other by kissing each other on the cheeks.
The art of kissing someone on the cheeks is foreign to most anglophones and is governed by a lot of unspoken rules and social conventions. Suffice it to say that you do not normally kiss strangers on the cheek in everyday interactions in stores, etc; there has to be a degree of familiarity.
I have included a video that explains the French practice of kissing on the cheeks in better detail.
|French Word||English Equivalent||When to Use it|
Universal usage. Formal and informal day or night.
Use at night.
Hi / Hello
Cutesy, infantile language. Never use in a formal situation.
On the phone only.
Said when someone visits you in your home or office.
Used when saying hello again to a person you just greeted a short while earlier.
How's it going?
Pleased to meet you.
Said in response to someone introducing themselves to you.
Faire La Bise
Kissing on the cheek.
When greeting people in a friendly social setting. Social rules are complicated. See video.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Robert P
Olivia McCarter on May 13, 2019:
Quotidien et pratique. Merci.
Shawindi Silva from Sri lanka on March 11, 2019:
Interesting and helpful