How To Say Hello In French And Respond (Formal + Informal)

  • Adrien Renault
    Written byAdrien Renault
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How To Say Hello In French And Respond (Formal + Informal)

Bonjour! 🇫🇷

It’s usually the first greeting you learn when taking a French course. But if you’re just starting – did you know there are so many other ways to greet and say hello in French?

The standard bonjour is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you want to expand your French greeting repertoire, the list below will help you.

From catching up with friends to speaking with your business colleagues, to addressing your close family, the different ways to say bonjour are just what you’ve been looking for if you want to make a memorable first impression.

Ready to diversify your French greetings?

Before we dive in, let’s first quickly take a look at some of the contexts in which different French greetings are used, before exploring some more interesting French salutations.

Formal vs informal contexts

Just like in English, when using French greetings, you might be speaking to someone in a range of contexts. You might be at the office or a nightclub. You might be speaking to your children or your students. You could be speaking to your close family or your in-laws.

There are formal and informal contexts, which is something you should bear in mind when saying hello to someone in French.

This means you should always try to reserve the proper greetings for the right contexts.

Though if you’re studying as a French beginner you might just be able to get away with addressing someone as tu instead of vous when you greet someone, the further along you are in your journey to French fluency the better it is to use the right tone of address and the appropriate greeting to avoid those looks of disapproval!

Think about it this way – would you greet your boss in English with the word ‘hey’?

In certain contexts, you might be able to – particularly if your boss is like a close friend… But generally, we tend to avoid saying ‘hey’ in formal contexts, which is exactly what you should think about when using French greetings.

14 French salutations to greet others in different contexts

So, we’ve established that context is key to using French greetings correctly.

Now let’s take a look at some alternative greeting options to the traditional bonjour.

We’ve included bonjour first on the list, just in case you’re unsure about the kinds of contexts in which it’s commonly used!

Bonjour

Meaning: good day

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

As we’ve mentioned, bonjour is the typical French greeting commonly used on the streets of France.

It’s recognised and understood as a polite opening phrase that can be used in pretty much any situation or context.

So, regardless of how well, or how little you know someone, bonjour is appropriate for any level of formality.

Bonjour means ‘good day’ in English.

Whether you’re at the checkout paying for groceries, greeting your colleagues, or saying ‘hello’ to the waiter in a French restaurant, you can use bonjour to address them.

Using bonjour when you first meet someone is encouraged as it’s a courteous opening word – just like saying ‘hello’.

Quoi de neuf?

Meaning: what’s up?

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

The typical way to greet your friends in a relaxed, casual way is to say quoi de neuf.

This style of greeting people in French is much more informal than the standard bonjour – that’s why it is used among friends.

For instance, if you haven’t seen one of your friends for a while and want to know what’s new with them, you can greet them with the French phrase quoi de neuf before diving into a conversation about what’s new in their lives.

One alternative, but similar way of saying quoi de neuf is to say Play audio quoi de beau? Which means ‘what’s beautiful?’

Each of these French greetings means the same thing, and they’re used in the same contexts.

Ça va?

Meaning: how’s everything going?

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

As well as bonjour, you’ll also be introduced to the phrase ça va? when you begin to learn French.

It’s used frequently in France – you’ll hear it everywhere and it’s a popular way to ask how someone is.

Ça va? is typically used in informal contests, just like quoi de neuf. We recommend that you avoid using it in highly formal situations, such as when you’re addressing someone with the word vous.

If you greet someone with the phrase ça va, you can expect them to reply with the phrase Play audio ça va bien – ‘everything’s going well’ or, Play audio tout va bien – ‘everything’s good’ if things are going well in their lives.

In contrast, you might hear them say Play audio comme-ci comme-ça – ‘things are so-so’ or ‘things aren’t going too well’ if they’re having a few troubles.

Coucou

Meaning: hi/hey!

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

The ideal way to address your kids in French or to get their attention is to use the phrase coucou.

This word directly translates to ‘cuckoo’ in English, but as a French greeting it means ‘hi’ or ‘hey!’.

It’s normally used more by women or young children, and you’ll rarely hear a man using this phrase. But it really depends on the context.

In contrast to bonjour, we’d recommend that you avoid using this greeting in formal contexts because the phrase is better for those times when you’re addressing your family or best friends.

It would be, well, out of context if you used it in a business meeting, and you might just get a few strange looks if you go around trying to get your colleagues’ attention by saying coucou!

Excusez-moi?

Meaning: excuse me

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

Excusez-moi is typically used to get people’s attention in French.

You’ll sometimes hear the similarly used expression Play audio s’il vous-plait – which literally translates as ‘please’.

Take note that the phrase excusez-moi is used in formal contexts. You can remember this easily because the verb excusez ends in -ez, and takes the vous verb form.

You might also think of it as the opposite to coucou in the sense that it’s only used formally, normally between strangers.

Salut!

Meaning: hi!

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

Salut! is the ideal French greeting to use when you’re meeting with friends that you see all the time.

It can also be used for people that you know very well, which – at a stretch – might just about include your close colleagues. Proceeding with caution when using salut in certain contexts is the key to making the right impression.

Also, bear in mind that salut can also be used to casually say goodbye to someone too.

So, when you’re about to go home after having a few drinks with your friends, you might say to them Play audio salut bonne soirée which translates as ‘bye, have a good evening’.

Allô?

Meaning: Hello?

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

While you might be tempted to use allô in the same way as it’s English cognate, remember that this French greeting is not always used the same way bonjour is.

To start with, allô is not used to say ‘hello’ to people outside or on the street.

Instead, you’ll generally hear people using it to answer their phone. You’ll also hear Play audio oui, allô in this context too.

Take note that this word is normally used as a question to ensure the person you’re speaking to is still on the other end of the line.

Bonsoir

Meaning: good evening

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

In a similar way to bonjour, you can use bonsoir to address people in a range of contexts.

Whether it’s a formal situation or an informal one, it’s appropriate to use bonsoir with anyone (friends and colleagues), as it means ‘good evening’.

What you’ll need to remember about this French greeting is that using it at the right time of day is important!

If you go around saying bonsoir to your colleagues and it’s 9 am, for example, they might just look at you strangely.

Bon après-midi

Meaning: good afternoon

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

What about if you’re about to leave work for lunch and you want to say goodbye to your colleagues?

This occasion calls for the phrase bon après-midi, which translates to ‘good afternoon’ in English.

Take note of this context though.

Because just like the French greeting salut, bon après-midi is also commonly used by French speakers when parting ways with someone or to say goodbye.

This means if you want to be a true francophone, and sound just like a French native, you should try to use it near the end of your conversation.

Ça roule?

Meaning: how’s it going?

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

Looking for the best greeting to use in a casual context with friends?

The phrase ça roule? is the ideal way to say ‘hello’ when you’re catching up with your best friends.

A direct translation of this phrase would give you ‘that rolls’, but this French greeting means ‘how’s it going’.

Just like the greeting ça va we’d recommend that you avoid using ça roule in formal contexts, as it will probably sound slightly out of place being used with your boss or colleagues.

Rebonjour

Meaning: hello again

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

And if what if you’ve just bumped into the same person you’ve seen a couple of minutes ago?

Well, whereas in English you’d say ‘hello again!’, the French equivalent to this is rebonjour.

It’s the perfect phrase to use if you find yourself greeting someone a second time.

A little cultural tip – when you greet someone in French, you’re generally expected to Play audio faire la bise, or kiss them on the cheek.

You would normally faire la bise when you greet them for the first time.

But in the context of bumping into someone for the second time, you would typically say rebonjour without kissing them on the cheek.

Bienvenue

Meaning: welcome

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

For very formal occasions, bienvenue is the ideal way to greet those you don’t know very well.

You’ll commonly hear it when you’re entering a retail shop, for instance, and it’s considered polite to respond in the same way.

Bienvenue means ‘welcome’ in English.

It is a shorter way of saying Play audio je vous souhaite la bienvenue, or ‘I welcome you’.

Remember that without the -e at the end, bienvenu is used as an adjective. You would typically use it in a sentence to describe how ‘welcome’ someone or something is.

For instance, you might say Play audio ce cadeau est particulièrement bienvenu ‘this present is particularly welcomed’ if you’ve received a gift that like.

Bonjour à tous

Meaning: hello everyone

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

In other contexts, you might be greeting a large group of people, colleagues, family members or friends.

How should you greet them all at the same time?

The best way would be to say bonjour à tous, which means ‘hello everyone’.

Remember that there’s a slight difference between using bonjour and bonjour à tous.

You’ll typically hear bonjour à tous in general announcements or when you’re addressing a large group of people in a meeting.

And, to be more formal or politically correct, you might use the phrase Play audio bonjour à toutes et à tous, which emphasises that you’re addressing both men and women at the same time.

Enchanté

Meaning: nice to meet you

Pronunciation: Play audio Listen

After your opening greeting, if you’ve met someone for the first time, you might want to follow up with enchanté.

Enchanté literally translates to English as ‘enchanted’, and in the context of greetings it means ‘nice to meet you’.

Remember that for orthographical use (when you use this greeting while writing) – males follow up a greeting by saying enchanté and females follow up with enchantée.

When speaking, though, they are both pronounced the same way.

Make the best first impression with different French greetings

Now that you’re aware of many ways to greet someone or say hello in French, it’s time to make a long-lasting impression with your French greetings.

There’s no need to stick to bonjour anymore – you can really impress native French speakers from the moment you meet them by using an interesting French greeting.

Always remember that using the right greeting in the right context is important.

Reserve the informal greetings for close friends and family, and be sure to keep the person or people you’re talking to in mind.

One final tip – don’t forget the importance of the faire la bise! As mentioned, it’s a French custom that’s used alongside an opening greeting.

To learn more, see our French resources list.


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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
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