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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

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

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.

C'est bon: The phrases that show why everything is good when you're speaking French
It's all good. Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

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.

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Bon – so much more versatile than just for bonjour. Photo Faks87/flickr

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 a full lift 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

 


Expect to be wished 'bon fête' on festival days such as the Fête de la musique. Photo: AFP

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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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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