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C'est bon: The phrases that show why everything is good when you're speaking French

The Local France
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C'est bon: The phrases that show why everything is good when you're speaking French
Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP

The French have something of a reputation as complainers - but really they are very positive, if the number of phrases for something being 'good' is anything to go by.


Ask for a stereotypical view of the French and words like chirpy, sunny or cheerful don't often come up. Instead people tend to focus more on the French habit of complaining.

But in fact in French there is a dizzying array of expressions that have 'good' in front of them - so maybe the grumpy reputation is a little unfair?

1. Times of day

We can probably take it for granted that most people already know bonjour. The most widely used word in the French language by a long way, bonjour plays a very important social function in France. 

Of course there are variations for the time of day - bonsoir and bonne nuit, but there also exist bonne journée, bonne matinée, bonne après-midi and bonne soirée. These are not greetings as such, they are ways of telling people to have a good day/a good afternoon/a good evening.

They are very widely used and not just with people you know well. For example if you get into an elevator in France you will be expected to greet everyone with bonjour/bonsoir when you get in, but then it's also considered polite to wish your fellow travellers bonne après-midi/bonne journée as you leave the lift.

You will also frequently be instructed to have a nice day/evening by shop assistants as you conclude your transaction.

READ ALSO Why even the French can't explain when Bonjour becomes Bonsoir


2. Special days

Similar to bonne journée is bon weekend - have a nice weekend - or bonne fête - for a special day, for example if you want to wish someone a happy mothers' day or fathers' day for example  - bonne fête des mères/pères.

If someone is off on their holidays you can of course also wish them bonnes vacances - happy holidays - or more specifically bon voyage - have a good trip.

Some festivals also have a specific greeting - bonne année, for example means Happy New Year or bon noël if you're wishing someone a great Christmas (if you're seeing them on the day itself you would be more likely to use joyeaux noël - happy Christmas).

And of course bon anniversaire - happy birthday.


3. Specific events

If you're off to watch your favourite sports team scrap it out, don't be surprised to be told bon match - enjoy the game. Likewise if you're buying cinema tickets it's likely the vendor will say to you bon film or bonne séance - enjoy the film.

In fact here bon/bonne can be added to pretty much anything that you're about to do or see - bon spectacle, bonne lecture, bonne classe, bonne manifestation (enjoy the show, happy reading, have a great class, enjoy the protest). Although wishing someone bon enterrement or bon frottis  (have a great funeral/enjoy your pap smear) would probably be pushing it too far.

Having said that, we heard several people use bon confinement - have a good lockdown - during the months when population movement in France was strictly limited, although with a glint of irony.


4. Eating and drinking

Bon appétit is of course the most well known French eating phrase, although you will be interested to know some among the older generation, consider it rather vulgar.

You might be more likely to hear bonne dégustation - happy tasting - or a meal specific phrase such as bon dîner - enjoy your dinner - or bon déjeuner - enjoy your lunch.

At informal events or among younger people bon appétit is far more common, however, is frequently shortened to bon app.

5. Wishing good fortune

Bonne chance is the literal translation of good luck, so you are likely to hear this before you sit a test or go for a job interview but you will also hear bon courage quite a lot as well - be brave or more generally good luck or all the best.

And that's just a tiny sample of the words that regularly have a 'good' appended to them in France, so really life is good in France.


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Anonymous 2020/08/23 12:32
Very interesting!

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