The Mezzofanti Guild Language Learning Made Simple

30 French Phrases You Absolutely Need When Visiting France


Today I’ve gathered up 30 of the most important French phrases when visiting France to share with you.

France is a dream destination for many and one of the most popular places to travel.

Traveling is a fascinating experience unlike anything else. If you want to get the most out of your journey, try engaging local people in their own language. Maybe your French sounds more like Pepe le Pew and you’re afraid that you’ll be laughed at.

The American stereotype of the French and native French speakers is not necessarily flattering and if you believe that, it might discourage you from trying.

The truth is that Franco-phones are very proud of their native tongue, and as such, they insist that it be spoken properly.

So if a French person corrects your French, take it as a compliment that they want to help you become better at their beloved language.

Try one of these French phrases out on your waitress, hotel clerk, or a passerby and see how much more interested they become! (here’s a pronunciation guide if you need it).

 

Essential French phrases:

1. Bonjour monsieur / madame (Hello sir / madam)

If you only learn one of these French phrases well, let it be this polite greeting.

Bonjour means “hello” or more literally good (bon) day (jour).

It’s more than just a polite phrase; greeting a shop owner or employee with “bonjour monsieur/madame” – “hello sir/ma’am”, is not only a cultural norm, but it changes the tone of your visit drastically.

Just greeting the shopkeeper shows that you respect them and that you want to communicate with them, and no one can help you find exactly what you’re looking for like the owner.

Skip the bonjour and all you’re likely to get is a cold and unimpressive visit.

Some other ways to greet people is “Bonsoir” (bon swah) or good evening, and “salut” (sa loo): hi.

2. Comment allez-vous? (How are you?)

“How are you doing” or more literally “how are you going”.

It’s a formal way of initiating polite conversation.

If you were talking to a friend, you might say ça va (sa va)? meaning “it goes?” To respond, you answer in the same manner, changing your intonation to match your mood. Ça va with a sigh means something very different than ça va said with an exclamation point.

3. S’il vous plaît (Please)

Every traveler should know how to say “please” in the local language.

S’il vous plaît is “if it pleases you”.

Another version you might hear is “s’il te plaît” – the difference is which form of “you” you use. In French, “vous” is you in the plural, and also a formal address.

Te (or tu, but let’s leave pronoun troubles for another day) is for someone you know well, a friend, a family member, or a child.

4. Merci / merci beaucoup (Thanks / Thanks a lot)

Practically everyone knows how to say “thank you” in French.

If you want to make it a big thank you, add on “beaucoup” – many, making the phrase into “many thanks”.

5. De rien (You’re welcome)

“De rien” is the most familiar way to say “you’re welcome”, but not the only way.

“De rien” translates directly to “of nothing”, or in effect, “it was nothing.”

You’ll be safe using this phrase in most cases, but if you want more options, try “pas de quoi” (pah duh kwah) meaning “no need (to mention it)” or “avec plaîtir” (ah vehk plah zeeyuh) – with pleasure.

The latter is more common in the south of France.

6. Oui, s’il vous plaît / non, merci (Yes please / No thanks)

Oui and non are essential words to get you around Paris.

Oui means yes, and you may hear the more casual “ouais” or “ouaip” – the equivalent of “yeah” or “yep” in English. Non means just what it sounds like – no.

Another way to say yes is “si”, though it’s not used the same way as in Spanish.

“Si” is when you want to contradict someone’s statement or question by saying “yes”. For example, a French person asks, “vous n’aimez pas le chocolat – you don’t like chocolate?” to which, if you do in fact like chocolate, you would say, “Si, j’aime le chocolat – yes, I like chocolate.” (duh)!

7. Je m’appelle… (My name is…)

Now we’re getting into some harder French phrases.

Do you want to tell someone what your name is? Use “je m’appelle” or in English, “I call myself.” This is the most ordinary phrase, but if you want to say “my name is” that would be “mon nom est”.

It’s not very common, however, to use that particular wording.

If you want to ask someone else’s name, say “comment vous appelez-vous?” (KOmon vooz AH play voo).

If you were to be asking in a less formal setting, say to a child, you would use the “tu” form of the question: “Comment t’appelles-tu” (KOmon TAPleh too).

The grammar here is called a reflexive verb, where the object of the verb reflects back to the subject. I call myself, you call yourself, they call themselves, all use this reflexive form.

Several verbs use this form, but for the average traveler, they’re not very useful.

8. À bientôt (Goodbye)

You’ve made a friend in your travels and you’ve made plans to meet up again later.

When you say goodbye to them for the day you can say “à bientôt” meaning “see you soon”.

For more formal or long term goodbyes you can use “au revoir” (oh ruh vwah) or “adieu” (ah dyoo).

9. Pouvez-vous m’aider? (Can you help me?)

To ask someone if they can help you, start with “pouvez-vous” which means “can you” or more exactly “are you able to”, then fill in the blank with what you’re asking of them.

Pouvez-vous m’aider is “can you help me”, another handy phrase is “pouvez-vous prendre ma/notre photo? Can you take my/our picture?”

Another handy phrase is “pouvez-vous me dire les directions?” – “Can you tell me directions?” if you’ve lost your way.

 

Phrases for asking questions in French:

10. Combien ça coute? (How much does this cost?)

Not all prices are labeled in shops, so before you get yourself into some major sticker shock, ask the shopkeeper “combien ça coute” How much does this cost? (You would ask for the price after greeting the owner with “bonjour”, right?)

11. Je voudrais cela (I would like this one)

You’ve been shopping at the chocolaterie (chocolate shop – an essential word in Paris!) and you’re ready to indulge in some edible heaven.

To ask for a specific bonbon (or pastry or cheese or perfume or purse or whatever) you tell the owner “je voudrais cela” – “I would like this one”.

12. Comment dit-on _____ en Français? (How do you say… in French?)

You want to say “I’m looking for my wallet”, but you don’t know how to say “wallet” in French.

To ask how you would say a word in French, ask “comment dit-on “wallet” en Français?” (P.S. It’s portefeuille).

Since most French people speak English, sometimes better than you, they’ll be able to understand what you want to know.

A word on the pronoun “on” (pronounced with the nose and without the “n”): Most folks who’ve studied at least a little French know the pronoun “nous” for the collective “we” in English.

In fact, French has two pronouns that work for “we”, and it also means “a person/people in general”.

English used to use a form of this, but one doesn’t use it much anymore, as one might confuse one’s listeners. (See what I did there?)

13. Où sont les toilettes? (Where are the toilets?)

A very important question to ask – where are the toilets?

You might have learned this question as “où est la salle de bain” but people might point you to the nearest bathtub; “salle de bain” is literally the room where you take a bath.

If you’re looking for free public restrooms, good luck – most of the public toilets in Paris are pay-to-use.

Best to just order a croissant at a café and use their restroom.

Food phrases in French:

14. Excuse moi (Excuse me)

Use this self-explanatory phrase to get someone’s attention, like to move out of the way when you need to exit the metro, or when you want to get a waiter’s attention.

A soft “excuse moi” is usually enough to get someone’s attention.

And for the love of French stereotypes of Americans, don’t use “garçon” to call your waiter, it’s demeaning and will mark you as one of “ces Americians” (those Americans).

On the same note as the word “garçon”, another often confused word we use in English that we borrowed from French is “chef”.

In French this doesn’t mean the cook – that would be “cuisinier” – “chef” actually means “boss”.

So if you call the head cuisinier “chef” then technically you’re right – he’s the boss of the restaurant.

But you would also call the head of the bank “le chef”, whether or not he can cook.

15. Je ne peux pas manger… (I can’t eat…)

If you’re concerned that you’ll be served a dish containing foods that you’re allergic to, you can tell your server “Je ne peux pas manger” – “I am not able to eat” or “I can’t eat.”

Some common food allergies in French are:

Les produit laitiers – dairy products (lay prod oohee lay tee ah)

Le gluten – gluten (luh gluten)

Les noix – nuts (lay nwah)

Les cacahuètes – peanuts (lay cah cah oowet)

La viande – meat (lah VEE yand)

Les fruits de mer – shellfish (lay fwee duh meh)

Le soja – soy (luh sojza)

Les œufs – eggs (lays oofs)

Notice the different article forms; like Spanish and Italian French nouns have an associated “gender” and articles and adjectives agree in gender and number with the subject, the assignment of gender doesn’t always follow sensible patterns. There’s little help but to memorize that soy is masculine and meat is feminine.

16. Je suis vegetarien / ne or vegan / e (I am a vegetarian / vegan)

I’m vegetarian or vegan.

The different endings indicated by the slash are masculine and feminine forms, and they have a slightly different pronunciation.

You might get a quizzical look if you as a man said that you were “vegetarienne”.

Another solid choice if you’re uncertain is to say “je ne mange pas la viande/les produits des animeux.” – “I don’t eat meat/animal products.”

17. Le menu / la carte, s’il vous plaît (The menu, please)

Welcome to the wonderful world of French cuisine.

Eating at a Parisian restaurant can be quite the cultural experience. When you ask for “le menu” you surprisingly won’t get the kind of comprehensive list of choices and their prices.

Le menu in a French restaurant is a fixed price and lists a few different choices for each course.

Think of those wedding rehearsal dinners or company Christmas parties where you’re given a short menu to choose from.

La carte, on the other hand, is what you’d expect at a restaurant in America.

This is where you order whatever you want off the list – a la carte, as it were.

18. Je voudrais un verre du vin (I would like a glass of wine)

To say and taste “vin” correctly, you have to use your nose.

Vin is a very nasal sound, similar to the French “on”.

To tell your server that you want a glass of wine to start your meal, say “Je voudrais un verre du vin”.

19. Délicieux! (Delicious!)

Paris is famous for its cuisine scene, with hundreds of restaurants, cafes, and bistros that make you want to become an expat.

If you want to let your waiter know just how good you think your meal is, tell him “C’est délicieux!” – “It’s delicious!”

However, unless you want to sound like a tourist don’t say “tres délicieux”.

It’s redundant since “very” is implied in the “délicieux”.

You could use “c’est vraiment bien”, which translates to “it’s truely good”.

 

Using French phrases to get around:

20. Ou est la gare / le métro / l’aeroport (Where is the train station / metro / airport?)

Sometimes the most stressful part of travel is getting from point A to point B.

Getting lost and trying to get unlost is also a memorable way to connect with the local people.

To ask where something is, say “ou est la gare/le métro/l’aeroport” Where is the train station/métro/airport? “Ou est _____” is a handy little phrase to ask “where is _____”.

Adding any location to the end of it will have you pointed in the right direction in no time.

For example, “ou est le musee du Louvre?” is “where is the Louvre”.

Parisians call this famous landmark by its full name – the Louvre Museum.

21. C’est à droite / gauche / tout droite (It’s to the right / left / straight ahead)

In response to asking direction, if you’re fortunate enough to find a Parisian kind enough to reply in French to your less than perfect French, you might here “C’est a droite (right)/gauche (left)/tout droite (straight)” It is to the right/left/straight ahead.

To remember that “toute droite” is “straight”, think of the literal translation, which is “all right”.

If something is all right, then you don’t need to change your direction.

22. C’est loin d’ici / près d’ici? (Is it far from here / near here?)

It’s far from/near to here.

If you’re unsure how to phrase a question, you can always use the statement form such as “c’est loin d’/près d’ici” which means “it is far from/near to here”, and raise your intonation to indicate you’re asking a question.

You can change the meaning of what you’re asking by replacing “c’est” with what you’re asking about – la gare, le métro, l’aeroport, etc.

The preposition “de” doesn’t translate neatly into English; unless you want to go down the rabbit hole of prepositions now, just know that it can mean both “from” and “to”.

You may be asking “what’s with the apostrophe doing in loin d’ici, and in l’aeroport?” It’s used in French to avoid awkward diphthongs, or two vowel sounds together. This is part of what makes French sound so musical.

So instead of saying de ici, you contract the two words into d’ici.

The same works for the articles “le” and “la” in front of a noun that starts with a vowel sound – including words like “l’hôpital” and “l’hôtel” – both pronounced without the “h” sound.

23. Je cherche un bon restaurant (I’m looking for a good restaurant)

It’s dinner time and you want to know where the locals go for a good meal.

Tell someone “Je cherche un bon restaurant” and you’ve said, “I’m looking for a good restaurant”.

Resist the temptation to put “pour” after “cherche”, the verb “chercher” literally translates to “to search for” something.

Some other handy things to look for in Paris:

une fromagerie – cheese shop (oon frohm ah jzeh ree)

une chocolaterie – chocolate shop (oon shoh coh lah teh ree)

un parc – a park (ohn pahk)

le centre-ville – the town center (luh sehnt reh vee)

la plage (lah plahzj)

24. Au secours (Help)

If you get into trouble on your trip, say “au secours” to ask for help.

I can’t understand you!

25. Plus lentement / parlez plus lentement s’il vous plaît (Slower / Speak slower, please)

Sometimes it’s not what you don’t know, it’s how fast it’s said.

Parisians are notoriously fast speakers and no matter how many words you know, you just can’t understand because someone’s speaking too quickly.

There’s no shame in asking someone to slow down – “Plus lentement” or “parlez plus lentement, s’il vous plaît” will tell someone more slowly or speak more slowly, please.

26. Je ne comprende pas (I don’t understand)

Another essential phrase, when you just don’t understand someone and you need clarification, say, “Je ne comprende pas”.

At this point, the person speaking may just switch to English to help you.

27. Pardon? (Pardon)

Pardon is a handy word that has many uses.

It’s usually translated as “sorry”.

A common use is “I beg your pardon” if you accidentally run into someone or commit a Parisian faux pas.

28. Parlez-vous anglais (Do you speak English?)

Sometimes you just need to communicate in a familiar language and you don’t want to try using the few French Phrases you know.

When that happens, it still shows respect if you initiate communication in French with “parlez-vous anglais?” or “do you speak English?”

29. Je ne parle pas [beaucoup de] francais (I don’t speak [good] French)

In the event that you’re mistaken for a Parisian and another traveler or even a local (it’s been known to happen on occasion) will start speaking to you in French.

To politely say “I don’t speak French”, say “je ne parle pas francais” or “je ne parle pas beaucoup de francais” to indicate that you don’t speak much French.

You could also stammer in confused English or stare in confusion and shock, but just saying you don’t speak French is preferable.

30. Je t’aime (I love you)

And to end our fly-over of basic French phrases here’s one of the most loved phrases for travelers to use.

Tell someone “je t’aime” and you’re telling them that you love them.

Use it at your own discretion!

There’s a difference between the words “aime” and “adore” in French.

They mean the same thing, but “adore” is used for objects and things, like “j’adore Paris”, but for people, use “aime”.

To emphasise how much you love someone, say “je t’aime bien” – I like you VERY WELL.

 

French phrases will make your trip to France so much better

One quick word on the pronunciation of these French phrases: they are written to help the average English speaker, but the sounds are gentler than we would use in English, especially the vowel sounds.

Moving your sound slightly forward in your mouth will soften those American tendencies to flatten vowels and over-articulate consonants.

Speaking a foreign language in front of a native speaker is intimidating, especially with a culture that loves their language the way Parisians do.

But just give it a try – chances are even if your pronunciation is less than parfait (perfect), most people will appreciate that you’ve at least tried to meet them where they are.

The few that don’t appreciate it, well, too bad for them.

There are plenty more who will appreciate it and those encounters are what makes travel so rewarding.


Bon voyage! 🙂

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