French word of the Day: Courage

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French word of the Day: Courage
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Don't worry, you may not need much physical bravery if someone says this to you.


Why do I need to know courage?

Because you will hear it a lot in daily contexts that don't appear to call for much in the way of bravery.

What does it mean?

Courage - pronounced coo-raj - means exactly what it does in English - courage or the quality of bravery.

However, in French it also has a widely used more casual meaning.

In French bon courage means the same as 'good luck' in English - so you'll likely hear it said before exams, a dentist's appointment or as you take your lottery ticket - or simply as a synonym for 'hope it goes well', if for example you're off for a session in the gym.

It's one of many 'bon' phrases widely scattered through everyday conversation as a form of politeness - bon match as you're heading into a sports event, bon film if you've just bought a ticket for the cinema, bonne fête if it's a public holiday. Not to mention of course bonne journée/bonne soirée.

The full phrase is bon courage, but it's frequently shortened simply to 'courage' - which can be a bit disconcerting if someone wishes you 'courage' as you head off to your optician's appointment, wondering what that person knows about the healthcare professional in question and why you might need bravery for a simple eye check . . . Don't worry though, they just mean 'hope it goes well'.

The alternative for good luck is bonne chance - but we think bon courage is more widely used, especially for situations that aren't that serious and don't actually require a lot of luck. Bonne chance is often used in a sarcastic way, rather like in English 'good luck with that' - which means that you think something is unlikely to succeed.

Use it like this

Je dois y aller ou je serai en retard au cours de français. - Bon courage - I have to go or I'll be late for French class. - Hope it goes well

Bon courage pour ton rendez-vous à la préfecture - Good luck with your appointment at the préfecture

Le ministre a déclaré qu'il espérait que les Français accepteraient des réductions de salaire. Bonne chance ! - The minister said that he hopes the French will accept a salary cut. Yeah, good luck with that!



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Paul Griffiths 2023/05/11 13:28
'Bon courage' in advance of something that does need a bit of courage, like a routine injection into the eyeball. Ça pique! 'Bon courage' when your sense of humour is the prime requirement, like a day with our excellent but utterly mad builder… The intonation rings the variations in precise meaning.

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