If you've been hanging out on this website for a while, you probably know about my experience and ideas about learning to speak a language.
To summarize, the only way I've found to really start speaking, even after months or years of traditional lessons, is to learn and memorize complete phrases in context, and when and how to use them.
If you browse around this site, you'll see that every article, video and audio focuses on just that : teaching you all the most common phrases and expressions natives actually use in everyday life French conversation.
The idea is that once you've seen these basic French phrases in use in a real-life context, and learned to actually say them with a decent pronunciation, they'll come back to you at the right moment and without effort in your conversations.
In this article, I do a pot-pourri of the some of the most basic and useful French conversational phrases I've covered throughout the articles of this site.
Each phrase is explained in context, with audio for pronunciation. Where appropriate I also point you to more articles in this site dealing with the phrase topic, in case you want to dig in further.
Right, so let's dive in starting with some greeting candy.
Basic French conversation : hello and goodbye
You arrive at someone's house or in a café. You see someone you know, a friend, colleague, or acquaintance. You say :
"Salut, ça va ?" (hi, how are you ?)
Possible answer : "Oui ça va, et toi ?"
Alternatively you can say :
"Tu vas bien ?" (are you doing well ?) You can skip "salut!" when saying, it's a complete greeting in itself.
Possible answer : "Bien, et toi ?"
After you say "hi, how are you" using one of the above phrases, the next step is to get the conversation going. In French, if no specific topic comes up naturally (e.g. "alors c'était bien hier ?" so how was it yesterday), you typically say :
"Quoi ne neuf ?" (what's new)
Possible answers :
"pas grand chose" (not much)
"rien de spécial" (nothing special)
"oh il s'est passé plein de choses depuis la dernière fois " (lots of things happened since last time)
You're ready to leave a friend or colleague that you know well and that you see on a daily basis, someone quite familiar . This is how you typically say an informal goodbye :
"A plus tard" or "à plus !" (see you later)
Possible answer : "OK à plus !"
If your relationship with the person you are leaving is a bit more formal, that is, you're not that close to the person and you don't see them that often, e.g. someone you know from work, instead of an informal "à plus" you may use :
"A bientôt !" or "à très vite !" (see you soon)
Possible answer : "Oui à bientôt "
Alternatively you can say :
"Bonne journée !"
Typical answer : "bonne journée."
Basic French conversation : asking for information
In this basic conversation scenario, you're walking in the street looking for a place. You walk up to someone and say :
"Pardon, excusez-moi, vous avez l'heure s'il vous plait ?" (excuse me, do you have the time please ?)
French speakers commonly stack up more than one excuse-me phrase ("pardon" + "excusez-moi") to sound more polite.
Possible answer : "Oui bien sûr, il est 10h et quart" (yes of course, it's ten fifteen)
Another way you might ask for time, using a more basic French phrase is :
"S'il vous plait, vous avez l'heure ?" (excuse me, do you have the time ?)
Note that while "s'il vous plait" usually means please, here it's closer to "excuse-me" or "pardon me". E.g., to speak to someone you don't know, you might start the conversation with "s'il vous plait..." as in "excuse me..."
If you need information other than time, there are a couple of basic phrases you can prepend to your question to get the conversation started. One of them is :
"Vous pouvez me dire si ..." (can you tell me if)
Example : "Pardon monsieur, vous pouvez-me dire si ce train part bientôt ?" (Excuse me, can you tell me if this train is leaving soon ?)
Possible answer : "oui il part dans 10 minutes" (it leaves in 10 minutes)
Other example : "Vous pouvez me dire le prix de l'aller-retour ?" (can you tell me the price of the round-trip fare ?)
Possible answer : "le prix est de 45 euros" (the price is 45€)
Another phrase you can use to politely ask something is "Savez-vous si ..." or "vous savez si" (do you know if) :
"Vous savez si ce train part bientôt ?" (do you know if this train leaves soon ?)
"Savez-vous à quelle heure part ce train ?" (do you know what time this train leaves ?)
A more basic way to ask something to someone you don't know, is saying "pardon, est-ce-que ..." :
"Pardon, est-ce-que ce train part bientôt ?" (excuse me, does this train leave soon ?)
"Pardon, est-ce-que vous avez ce modèle ?" (excuse me, do you have have this model ?)
Basic French conversation : ordering something
Among the most useful basic French phrases you'll need are phrases for ordering something in a restaurant, bar, pub etc. In this French conversation scenario, you're sitting at a table looking at the menu, and the waiter asks :
"Qu'est-ce-que vous désirez ?" (what would you like ?) or "avez-vous fait votre choix ?" (have you made a choice ?)
You answer :
"Je voudrais une bière s'il vous plait" (I'd like a beer please)
Another way is to say :
"je prendrai une bière" or "je vais prendre une bière" (I'll have a beer)
You may also just say :
"Donnez-moi une bière s'il vous plait" (give me a beer please)
Before ordering, you may ask the waiter if an item is available :
"Vous avez des sandwiches ?" (do you have sandwiches ?)
Possible answer : oui nous en avons au jambon et au fromage (yes, we have ham and cheese sandwiches)
Basic French conversation : saying thank you
The most useful French conversation phrases you should know are thank you phrases. Suppose you're sitting at a café. The person next to you picks up something you dropped and hands it to you. You say :
"Merci beaucoup, c'est très aimable" (thank you very much, that's very kind)
A slightly more formal way to thank the person is saying :
"Je vous remercie" (I thank you)
You'll also typically need to say "you're welcome" even in the most basic French conversations. In our scenario, the person may answer :
"je vous en prie" (you're welcome, formal phrase)
Here's another scenario : a friend kindly drives you to the airport so you can catch a flight. As you get off her car, you say :
"Un grand merci !" (a big thanks)
or : "Mille merci !" (a thousand thanks)
Your friend might respond "Oh mais de rien ! Fais bon voyage." : Oh you're welcome (informal), have a nice trip.
Now suppose you ask someone to do you a favor over the next days, and the person says yes. You can say :
"Merci d'avance !" (thanks in advance)
Possible answer : "pas de problème !" or "pas de soucis" (no problem, no worries)
He may also say "je t'en prie" (semi formal here, as he's using "tu" instead of "vous")
Basic French conversation : getting directions
Finding your way is a basic yet essential skill you'll need when evolving in a foreign language. Let's look at a few French conversational phrases for directions.
"S'il vous plait, où se trouve la poste ?" (excuse me, where is the post office located ?)
Possible answer : "prenez la deuxième rue à droite" (take the second street on the right)
A more colloquial way of asking is :
"Pardon madame, la poste, c'est par là ?" (excuse me madam, is that the way to the post office ?)
Or, even more colloquial :
"Pardon madame, c'est par où la poste ?" (which way is the post office ?)
Now a more formal and polite way of asking your way to a stranger in the street :
"Pardon monsieur, savez-vous si la poste est dans cette direction ?" (excuse me sir, do you know if the post office is in this direction ?)
Basic French conversation : buying and paying
Now that you know how to find your way to a store, let's look at some basic conversation phrases in French for buying something in that store.
As you look around the store, you want to know the price for a sweater that doesn't have a price tag on it. You say :
"S'il vous plait, c'est combien ce pull ?" (excuse me, how much is this sweater ?)
Or : "quel est le prix de ce pull s'il vous plait ?" (what's the price for this sweater please ?)
Possible answer :
"Celui-ci est à 30€ madame" (this one costs 30€ madam).
Continuing the conversation, you inquire if a certain item has a sale on it :
"Cette robe est en promo ?" (does this dress have a promotion on it ?)
Possible answer : "oui, il y a une réduction de 30% dessus" (yes, this one has 30% off)
Here's a new conversation scenario : you're at the doctor's office for a checkup . After the consultation is over, you go up to the front desk to pay. You ask :
"Combien je vous dois ?" (how much do I owe you ?)
Or equivalently : "Ça fait combien ?" (how much is it)
or "ça me fait combien ?" (how much do I owe ?)
Note that you can use the above basic French phrases in any purchase situation, e.g. in a retail place, at the checkout counter in a hotel, at a mechanics shop or in a massage parlour.
As the person behind the counter or cash register hands you the bill, you hand him the cash and say :
"voilà." (here you go)
Typical answer : merci, bonne journée (thank you, have a nice day)
Basic French conversation : complaining
It may not be the kind of conversation in French you are looking to have, but if you wish to really fit it in France, you need to have at least some basic complaining skills, a national sport there.
Consider this not-so-uncommon situation : you arrive at a hotel where you made a reservation for a room with a garden view, but the front desk employee informs you (in French) that he only has rooms with street view left. If you're only mildly upset, you may say :
"Ça ce n'est pas normal !" (that's not how it's supposed to be)
Now here's a more annoying scenario : a French waiter tips his tray over and spills hot food on your clothes. You get mad and scream :
"C'est inadmissible !" (that's unacceptable)
If you're really really angry, you might say :
"Non mais ça ne va pas, non ?" (are you out of your mind ?)
On a different note, suppose someone offers to charge you an outrageaous amount of money for changing your car tyre. You say :
"Et puis quoi encore !" (yeah right ! and what else)
One last example : you're having a conversation with someone while standing in line, when someone cuts right in front of you. You instantly heat up and say :
"Vous vous prenez pour qui !" (who do you think you are)
Basic French conversation : joy and excitement
Let's switch moods and look at basic French conversation phrases for expressing joy. Suppose a friend is showing you her latest aquisition, a brand new guitar. You may say :
"C'est génial !" or "elle est géniale !" (it's awesome)
You can say : "j'adore !" (I love it)
If someone lets you in on some great news, you may say :
"Je suis super content(e) !" (I'm super happy)
Another colloquial expression very frequently used in everyday French conversation is :
"c'est top !" (it's great, top-notch)
If you like hip talk and don't mind sounding a bit like a teen (many French adults speak like that nowadays), you can say :
"C'est trop cool !" (it's so cool)
Basic French conversation : disappointment
During a French conversation, suppose a good friend of yours lets you know she won't be able to come to your big party. You say :
"Oh c'est dommage !" (it's too bad)
You might also express your disappointment more explicitly :
"Je suis très déçu !" (I'm really disappointed)
If you're really upset about her not coming, you might use the following stronger colloquial expression :
"J'ai les boules que tu ne viennes pas !" (I'm really upset/saddened that you're not coming)
Basic French conversation : fear
Let's turn to basic expressions for expressing fear in a French conversation. Suppose you're a student about to enter a room for an academic evaluation. You say to your schoolmate standing next to you :
"J'ai peur !" (I'm afraid)
A more colloquial, even slangy, expression is :
"J'ai la trouille !"
Let's say you're walking around a bad neighborhood in your city with someone, looking for something. As you're beginning to feel unsafe, you might say to the other person :
"Je ne suis pas rassurée ..." (I'm not feeling safe, not at ease)
or equivalently : "je ne suis pas tranquille" (I'm a bit nervous)
On a more slangy level, you can use the expression :
"Ça me fout les boules ..." (I got the heebie-jeebies)
to express the fact you're scared. Note that "avoir les boules" can also be used to mean you're disappointed, as we've seen, or you're upset.
Another French expression you may use in a situation similar to the one above (the bad neighborhood) is
"Ça craint !" (it's really scary)
Note that "ça craint" can also be used for "it sucks".
Basic French conversation : suggesting a plan for going out
You're having a French conversation with friends trying to decide what to do tonight. A basic phrase you may use to get the conversation rolling is :
"Qu'est-ce-qu'on fait ce soir ?" (what are we doing tonight)
An alternative, more colloquial way to ask the same thing is :
"On fait quoi ce soir ?"
You want to know if your friends have a plan for tonight :
"Vous avez un plan pour ce soir ?"
You may want to suggest going out :
"Ça vous dit de sortir ?" (how about we go out)
With the above phrase, you are addressing more than one person ("vous"), otherwise you would say "ça te dit ?"
Another common question in this kind of conversation is, "where are we going tonight ?" :
"On va où ce soir ?"
One of your friends suggests going to a show downtown. You ask :
"C'est à quelle heure ?" (at what time is it ?)
You suggest going out to dinner before the show, and going for a drink afterwards :
"On se fait un restau avant ?" (should we do a restaurant before ?)
"On va prendre un verre après ?" (should we go have a drink afterwards ?)
Basic French conversation : love and dating
In your French speaker life, you may need to know at least some love and dating phrases, be it for social conversations or for dating situations. Let's start with a basic dinner invitation :
"Tu veux diner avec moi ?" (do you want to have dinner with me ?)
You may next take steps to try and seduce the person you're dining with :
"J'aime bien la couleur de tes yeux !" (I love the color of your eyes)
If you're the bold type, you may say outright :
"Tu me plais !" (I like you, here in the sense of I'm attracted to you)
Going one step further, after the love bug has bit you, you may find yourself saying :
"J'ai des sentiments pour toi" (I have feelings for you)
Or, moving up to the next level :
"Je suis dingue de toi !" (I'm crazy about you)
I've tried to take you on a little tour of common life French phrases that you can use in basic and normal French conversations with your friends, colleagues, lovers, strangers, bartenders, retailers etc.
I hope these mostly colloquial phrases come in handy to you.
If you liked this article, I'd love to hear your comments or questions about your French speaking experiences, make sure to leave a comment below. And please do share it !
A la prochaine les amis !