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How to say hello in French beyond the classical bonjour, bonsoir and salut

Updated: Jun 17, 2021

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Greetings are conversation starters, le B-A-BA du français, in other words French basics. It's one of the first things we do when meeting people.

How would you say hello, hi or hey or hiya in France? How to greet a group, in a letter or on the phone? Should you shake hands or rather make a kiss on the cheeks?

Today we will be exploring the different ways of saying hello in French (les salutations en français), beyond the classic bonjour, bonsoir and salut.

1. How to say good morning in French : Bonjour or bon matin?

saying hello in French with handshake

The most common word which is known by almost everyone is Bonjour. But what does the word bonjour mean?

Bonjour can be literally be translated as good day but in fact it means hello or good morning.

If you want to be polite, it would be great adding the title of the person :

  • Bonjour madame => Hello madam/Hello Mrs....

  • Bonjour docteur => Hello docteur/Good morning docteur

  • Bonjour monsieur => Hello sir/Good morning sir

  • Bonjour mademoiselle. Hello miss/good morning miss.

Using the vous instead of the tu vous will be a must in these greetings. In case you want to learn more, you can read the lesson about the difference between tu and vous.

Note that bonjour is followed by the family name. e.g. Bonjour Monsieur Fugère.

It's important to remember that unlike what some French learners think, bonjour cannot be translated as bon matin.

2. How to say good afternoon : Bon après-midi or bonsoir ?

Après-midi is the French word for afternoon. It's both a female and masculine word.

Even if a lot of people are tempted to say bon après-midi/bonne après-midi, you should note that for greeting someone in the afternoon especially when you are just meeting, you shouldn't use this expression. Bon après-midi/bonne après-midi is rather a wish, said when you are leaving. It means have a nice afternoon.

So instead, you should use bonsoir. Depending on the moment, for exemple if it's in earlier afternoon, you could use the word bonjour as well.

3. How to say good evening : bonsoir or bonne nuit?

Bonsoir is the universal way to say good evening in French. Some people may make a confusion with Bonne nuit which is rather used when leaving as a good night wish.

Now let's see other ways of saying hello in different contexts : on the phone,

4. How do you say hi in French language?

Salut is the informal way of saying hello in French. In general it is used with peers or people of the same age or people we are closed to. It can be followed by the first name of the person. e.g. Salut Marc! => Hi Marc!

5. What is the meaning of coucou?

Have you ever heard Coucou Les filles in your favorite French movie? Coucou is the word that francophones use to say hey or hiya. It is quite informal like salut and it's used in the same context.

Now let's see other ways of saying hello in different contexts : on the phone, in a speech, a text, ...

6. How should you greet a French person on the phone?

Allô is the appropriate word for hello in a phone conversation context. You can still use the common greetings Bonjour or Bonsoir right after Allô as it is always good to be polite.

7. Saying Hello in a speech (saluer dans un discours)

During official functions, autorities will generally greet the assembly by saying Mesdames et messieurs which is nothing but the translation of Ladies and gentlemen’s in French.

8. How to say hello in a French letter?

Cher, chère, chers, chères are used to start a private letter. The equivalent in English is Dear. E,g. Cher Louis /Chère Aline/Chers amis/Chères amies

Have you noticed that depending on the gender and the number the word cher is written differently?