Are you learning French?
Would you love to chat to French speakers with ease, without stumbling over your words?
Getting to a decent level in any language takes time because there's lot of vocabulary you need to learn.
But, one big shortcut you can use at the beginning is to work out which words and expressions you are likely to need right from the start and focus on those.
And the good news is you don’t have to worry about it doing it for yourself – because I’ve done it for you!
Here’s my list of the 79 essential French phrases you need to start speaking right away.
Thanks to these common French phrases, you'll know exactly what to say in your first conversations with native speakers.
They'll serve you for your first interactions and well into the future.
Note: Want to go beyond basic French phrases and learn French with confidence and fluency? The best way to do so is by working through a comprehensive and well designed course. My top recommendation is French Uncovered, my in-depth online French course for beginners that teaches you through the power of story.
Anyway, back to our common French phrases…. let's discover what they are!
Before We Get Started
Before we dive into the phrases themselves, there are a couple of need-to-knows about French that'll help you make the most of this list of common French phrases.
I’ve included an approximate guide for how to pronounce each of the phrases in this post based on phonetic English. Although this is no substitute for listening to recordings or native speakers pronouncing the words, it'll help you get started.
I've used ‘j’ to represent the French ‘j’ sound. But be aware that in French, it has a soft pronunciation, not like the English ‘j’ in ‘John’.
For a more detailed look at dive into pronunciation, you can check out my comprehensive French pronunciation guide.
A Note On ‘Tu' And ‘Vous'
French, like many other languages, has two ways to say “you” depending on your level of familiarity with the person you are speaking to.
The basic rule is:
- When you're speaking to strangers, especially people who are older than you, you should use vous.
- When you're speaking to someone you are on familiar terms with or when you speak to children, you can use tu.
In my list, I've given the form you are most likely to need for that each phrase. Where you might need either, I've included both.
Finally, in very informal spoken French, tu es and tu as can be abbreviated to t’es and t’as respectively.
While this might not be considered strictly ‘correct’, it is quite common.
So I've used this form in my list for a couple of the more informal expressions to show where you might come across it.
By the way, if you're interested in informal language, you can also check out this post on 23 colloquial French phrases for impressing the locals.
Common French Greetings You Already Know
First, let's look at the basic greetings in French. These are fairly simple. And you no doubt already know at least some of them.
- #1 Bonjour! – Hello! (the standard greeting in French)
- (bon jour)
- #2 Bon soir! – Good evening! (replaces bonjour in the evening)
- (bon swah)
- #3 Salut! – Hi! (a more informal greeting)
- (sa loo)
- #4 Enchanté(e)! – Nice to meet you! (a standard expression when meeting someone for the first time)
- (on shon tay)
Common French Phrases For Continuing The Conversation
After greeting someone, you'll want to move the conversation on with some small talk. Here are a few of the standard questions and answers.
- #5 Ça va? – How are you? (the basic way to enquire how someone is)
- (sa va)
- #6 Ça roule? – How’s it going? (a much more informal way to ask the same question, to be used with people you are on very informal terms with)
- (sa rule)
- #7 Comment vas-tu/comment tu vas? Comment allez-vous? – How are you? (a slightly more elegant version of ça va? in both the formal and informal forms)
- (komon va too, komon too va, komon tallay voo) – the ‘n’ is nasal and not pronounced strongly
- #8 Ça va/je vais bien – I’m well (the first version is the same as the question but with different intonation. The second is another way to say it)
- (sa va/juh vay byan)
- #9 Et toi? – And you?
- (ay twah)
- #10 Ça va le travail/le boulot/le taf? – How’s work? (boulot and taf are much more informal words for ‘work’ that you may hear)
- (sa va luh tra vai, luh boo low, luh taff – the last syllable of travail rhymes with ‘eye’)
- #11 Comment va ton père? Ton père va bien? – How’s your father? (two ways to express this)
- (komon va ton pair, ton pair va byan)
- #12 Tu fais quoi comme travail/c’est quoi ton travail? – What’s your job?/What work do you do? (can also be used with the vous form)
- (too fay kwah kom tra vai/say kwah ton tra vai)
Must-Know French Phrases For Being Polite
Next, here are the basic expressions of courtesy that you need to know right from the start.
- #13 Merci – Thank you (the standard word for this)
- (mair see)
- #14 Merci bien – Thank you (the bien adds some extra politeness or friendliness to the expression)
- (mair see byan)
- #15 Merci beaucoup – Thank you very much (when you want to express extra gratitude)
- (mair see bo coo)
- #16 De rien – It’s nothing (the standard reply to merci)
- (duh ryan)
- #17 Il n’y a pas de quoi – It’s nothing/don’t mention it (another, perhaps stronger, way to respond to merci)
- (ill nee ah pah duh kwah)
- #18 Excusez-moi/pardon – Excuse me, sorry (both can be used to apologise or when trying to get past)
- (eh skyoo zay mwah/pah don)
- #19 Excusez-moi?/Comment? – Sorry? Excuse me? Pardon? (used when you don’t hear what someone says. Note that the French word pardon shouldn’t be used for this)
- (eh skyoo zay mwah/komon)
- #20 Je suis desolé(e) – I’m sorry (a stronger apology than excusez-moi/pardon)
- (juh swee dehsolay/ pah don)
- #21 Vas-y, Allez-y – Go on, go ahead (a way to tell somebody to advance, move forward; also to tell someone they can do something: vas-y, sers-toi! “Go ahead, help yourself!”)
- (va zee, allay zee, sair twah)
Basic French Phrases For Dealing With Problems
Another situation you might find yourself in is one where you have to deal with a problem. Here are some important questions and expressions to use when you are having difficulties or when everything is not going according to plan.
- #22 Pouvez-vous…? – Can you…? (can be combined with a range of other verbs)
- (poo vay voo)
- #23 Pouvez-vous parlez plus lentement s’il vous plaît? – Can you speak more slowly please?
- (poo vay voo parlay ploo lon tuh mon sih voo play)
- #24 Pouvez-vous le répéter s’il vous plaît? – Can you repeat it please?
- (poo vay voo luh reh peh tay sih voo play)
- #25 Pouvez-vous m’aider s’il vous plaît? – Can you help me please!
- (poo vay voo mayday sih voo play)
- #26 Je ne comprends pas – I don’t understand
- (juh nuh compron pah)
- #27 Je n’ai rien compris! – I didn’t understand anything/I haven’t understood anything
- (juh nay rien compree)
- #28 Je ne parle pas (beaucoup de) français – I don’t speak (much) French
- (juh nuh pahl pah bo coo duh fron say)
- #29 Je suis perdu – I’m lost
- (juh swee pair doo)
- #30 Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? – What does that mean?
- (kess kuh sa vuh deer)
- #31 Parlez-vous français/anglais? – Do you speak French/English?
- (parlay voo fron say/ong glay)
- #32 Je ne me sens pas très bien – I don’t feel very well
- (juh nuh muh son pah tray byan)
- #33 Je suis malade – I’m ill/sick
- (juh swee ma lad)
- #34 J’ai envie de vomir – I’m going to vomit (literally, “I feel like vomiting”)
- (jay onvee duh vomeer)
- #35 Attention! Fais/faites attention! – Careful! Be Careful!
- (ah ton sion, fay/fet ah ton sion)
- #36 Au secours! – Help!
- (oh suhcoor)
French Question Words
Learning the basic question words can get you a long way, even if you don’t know much else of the language. Here they are in French:
- #37 Quoi? – What?
- #38 Quand? – When?
- #39 Qui? – Who?
- #40 Comment? – How?
- #41 Combien? – How many?
- (kom byan)
- #42 Où? – Where?
- #43 Pourquoi? – Why?
- (pour kwah)
- #44 Quel(le)? – Which? (this question word agrees with the noun. The four possible forms are quel, quelle, quels, quelles – but they are all pronounced exactly the same)
Common French Questions
Ok, so now you know the essential French question words. But what about using them to form real questions? Here are some of the most common French questions you're likely to ask or be asked.
- #45 Comment tu t’appelles? (tu t’appelles comment?) – What’s your name? (the first one, you are more likely to find in a textbook – the second is more likely in spoken French)
- (komon too tappel, too tappel komon)
- #46 Quel âge as-tu? (t’as quel âge?) – How old are you? (the same here – the first version is the “textbook” form, the second is more common in informal spoken French)
- (kel aj ah too, too ah kel aj)
- #47 Quelle heure est-il? (il est quelle heure?) – what’s the time (both forms are possible, the second is more common in informal spoken French)
- (kel er et ill/ill ay kell er)
- #48 C’est combien? Ça coûte combien? – How much is it? How much does that cost?
- (say kom byan, sa coot kom byan)
- #49 Tu viens d’où?/t’es d’où? – Where do you come from?/where are you from?
- (too vyen doo/tay doo)
- #50 Tu comprends? – Do you understand? (make the question with intonation)
- (too kom pron)
- #51 Tu parles anglais/français? – Do you speak English/French? (spoken, informal version – make the question with intonation)
- (too pahl ong glai/fron say)
- #52 Parlez-vous anglais/français? – Do you speak English/French? (formal, polite version)
- (parlay voo ong glai/ fron say)
- #53 Où est la salle de bains?/Où sont les toilettes? – Where is the toilet?
- (oo ay lah sal duh ban/oo son lay twah let)
Important Answers In French
Here are some indispensable expressions for giving information about yourself as well as answering some other basic questions in French.
- #54 Je m’appelle… – My name’s… (the standard expression)
- (juh mappel)
- #55 Je suis (Roger/Irlandais(e)/professeur) – I’m Roger/Irish/a teacher (can be used to give your name, nationality, job or many others)
- (juh swee roh jay/ear lon day/ear lon days/proh feh suhr)
- #56 J’ai 30 ans – I’m 30 (literally, “I have 30 years” – and note that you must not omit ans at the end or the sentence won’t make sense)
- (jay tront on)
- #57 Je viens de l’Écosse/je suis de l’Écosse – I come from Scotland/I am from Scotland
- (juh vyen duh lekoss/juh swee duh lekoss
- #58 Oui – Yes
- #59 Non – no
- #60 Peut-être – Maybe
- (puh tetr)
- #61 Tout le temps/tous les jours – All the time/every day
- (too luh ton/too lay jour)
- #62 Parfois, des fois – sometimes
- (pah fwah, day fwah)
- #63 Jamais – Never
- (ja may)
- #64 Bien sûr – Of course
- (byan sure – pronounced with an ‘s’ sound and not a ‘sh’)
Simple French Phrases For Special Occasions
If you're lucky and make some French friends, you may even be invited to some special occasions in France. Here are the phrases you'll need for those situations.
- #65 Amuse-toi bien! Amusez-vous bien! – Have fun!
- (ah myooz twah byan, ah myoozay voo byan)
- #66 Bon voyage! – Bon voyage! – Have a good trip!
- (bon voyaj)
- #67 Bonnes vacances! – Have a good holiday!
- (bonn vah konce)
- #68 Bon appétit! – Bon appétit! (note that the final ‘t’ is not pronounced in French – and nor should it be in English for that matter!)
- (bon appuh tee)
- #69 Félicitations! – Congratulations!
- (fay liss ee tah sion)
- #70 Bienvenue! – Welcome!
- (byan vuh noo)
- #71 Joyeux anniversaire! – Happy birthday!
- (jway uh zannee ver sair)
- #72 Joyeux Noël! – Happy/merry Christmas!
- (jway uh no ell)
- #73 Bonne année! – Happy New Year!
- (bonn annay)
Essential French Expressions For Saying Goodbye
Finally, here are a few useful phrases for saying goodbye.
- #74 Au revoir! – Good bye! (the standard phrase)
- (oh ruh vwah)
- #75 Bonne journée! – Good day! (the feminine form of bonjour is used at the end of a conversation)
- (bonn jour nay)
- #76 Bonne soirée! – Good evening! (again, the feminine form of bon soir is used)
- (bonn swah ray)
- #77 Bonne nuit! – Good night!
- (bonn nwee)
- #78 À bientôt! – See you soon!
- (ah byan toe)
- #79 À demain! – See you tomorrow!
- (ah duh man)
Never Get Lost For Words In French Again
So there you are! 79 common French phrases to help you take your first steps in your new language.
You'll be amazed by how far these greetings, questions and basic courtesy phrases will get you in your first conversation with a French speaker.
With this list, you'll be able to greet a French speaker politely, introduce yourself, get to know them better and deal with any problems that might come up.
So now, all that remains is for you to go find someone to talk to in French. Armed with this list, you'll never be lost for words again.
And maybe, it might just be the start you need to go on to learn to speak French fluently!
If you're at beginner or false beginner level in French and want to learn to speak the language confidently, then I recommend my French Uncovered course. It's a complete beginner programme that teaches you through the power of story. So you not only will you improve your French quickly, you'll have fun doing it!
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Are you ready for your first conversation in French thanks to this list? Which other common words and expressions would you add to it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.