Have you decided to learn French? Congratulations ! But where to start?
You must be wondering : will people understand me, shall I find the right words?
Let me tell you that it's all a matter of time and practice. But the most important thing is to start.
In that purpose, I'll be sharing with you some basic French sentences for beginners. These basic French words or sentences will boost your vocabulary and help you have a little conversation in French.
Bonjour is the all-purpose word to say hello in French. You can use it anytime of the day. It can be followed by Monsieur, Madame ou Mademoiselle to make it more formal. Bonjour Monsieur would then be Hello sir, while Bonjour Madame and Bonjour Mademoiselle are Hello Mrs and Hello Miss...
Bonsoir is used when it is late, generally after 6 pm. It means Good evening. It can also be followed by Madame, Monsieur, Mademoiselle.
Salut is an informal way of saying hello. The equivalent word in English is Hi! It is used with friends and family, people we know well.
Au revoir is the all-purpose word that we use when it’s time to leave. However, depending on the situation, some other words might be more appropriate.
For example :
À plus tard will be the right way of saying goodbye when we are supposed to meet few hours later during the same day.
À demain is used when we are sure we’ll be meeting the next day.
À bientôt stands for see you soon.
À la semaine prochaine is used if we are seeing each other during the following week.
Salut can also be used in an informal context with friends and family members.
2. Talking about your knowledge of the language
When interacting with French people, you might want to ask them if they speak your language. Then, you can just say Vous parlez... ? Do you speak English => Vous parlez anglais?
If you are asked wether you speak French or not, the basic sentence is Je ne parle pas français, meaning I don’t speak French. If you are lucky and you speak French, then say Je parle français. If you speak a little then use Je parle un peu français.
Sometimes, understanding French people can be difficult especially when they speak fast. The best reaction in these situations is to say Je ne compends pas, I don’t understand. You can also ask them to repeat by saying Vous pouvez répéter s’il vous plait ? Or you can ask them to speak slowly : Vous pouvez parler plus lentement s’il vous plait ?
When you are asked a question and you don’t know the answer, simply say Je ne sais pas. It’s not a crime to say I don’t know something. Your sincerity would be greatly appreciated.
When we are at our first steps in learning a language, we can ignore a lot of vocabulary. You are then tempted to make a lot of pauses while speaking in order to look for your words. And that makes it difficult for people who are listening to you. Don’t allow this to stop you from communicating with others. Rather than that, ask for their help. Kindly ask Comment dit-on “the word in English" en français ? Your French interlocuteur will tell you the word and you can then continue with your sentence. For example if you don’t know the word To read, you can say : Comment dit-on to read en francais?
3. Saying thank you and you’re welcome
When somebody is nice to you, as in any culture, "thank you" should be the way to show the person that we are grateful. Merci is the common word for thank you! If you think it’s not enough, you can say Merci beaucoup for thanks a lot!
Je te remercie or Je vous remercie can also be used to say I thank you, depending on your relationship with the person.
The common answer to thank you is De rien meaning you’re welcome. Je t’en prie also can be used with friends and relatives. Je vous en prie is appropriate in a more formal context.
Il n y a pas de quoi can also be used and it means there is no need to say thank you.
When you consider that you are the one who should be saying thank you, just say c’est moi qui te/vous remercie depending on the type of relationship you have together.
4. Introducing yourself
The basic French sentence to ask somebody’s name is Comment tu t’appelles or Comment vous vous appelez ?
The answer would be Je m’appelle … My name is …
You can also introduce yourself using Moi c’est … which means I am ….
You should learn how to say your nationality and your country. Then you will be able to say where you come from with ease. Je suis + nationality or Je viens de + country name express your origins. Je suis français (I am French). Je viens de France (I come from France).
To the question Où habites-tu? (where do you live), the answer will be J’habite à + name of the City (I live in ….). For example J’habite à Paris (I live in Paris).
After introducing yourself, it’s good to show your interlocutor that you are glad to meet him/her. Use Enchanté ou ravi de faire ta connaissance if you are a man or Enchantée ou ravie de faire ta connaissance if you are a woman. Notice that you can also say ravi de faire votre connaissance in a professional or formal context.
5. How to say Please and sorry
These basic French words are essential in any language. S’il te plaît or s’il vous plaît are the perfect fit for the English word please! As you must know, S’il te plaît is used with family, friends,… And s’il vous plaît is formal.
Désolé(e) or Pardon means Sorry. It's used when you do something you feel bad about.
Excuse-moi/Excusez-moi is the expression when you want to ask for forgiveness. You can also use it to hail somebody(formal), like a waiter. Excusez-moi, l’addition s’il vous plait!(Excuse me, the bill please!)
5. Asking for information
In a French speaking city, you may want to ask for some information. That’s where the following word or sentences will be very helpful.
Comment vas-tu? or Comment allez-vous? is the way of saying how are you? To this, you can reply Je vais bien, merci. Et toi/ vous? (I am fine, thanks. And you?)
To know a location you can say Où est + the place? For example Où est la pharmacie? => Where is the pharmacy ?
The same way, you can say Où se trouve la pharmacie ?
Or in the street, you can ask, Excusez-moi, je cherche la pharmacie s'il vous plaît (excuse me, I am looking for the pharmacy, please).
Make sure you know what tout droit (straight forward), à gauche (on the left) and à droite (on the right) mean because people will probably use these basic words to tell you were it is.
As you would have noticed, there are different ways of saying the same thing in French. The use of Tu and Vous is common depending on the relationship you have with the person you are talking to.
Once you memorize these basic French sentences for beginners, your survival in a French context is guaranted. So, from now, you have no more reason not to use them. Vous n’avez plus d’excuses!
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