Basic French Phrases: 59 Essential Words to Learn

basic French phrases

Whether you’re thinking of traveling to France or one of the many other French-speaking countries, knowing some basic French phrases will help you navigate the streets, order a must-try dish off the menu, and get to know the friendly locals. Plus, it’ll help you dive deeper into the culture and learn a thing or two about the local way of life.

While French isn’t a language you can learn overnight, with the right tools, picking up a few essential words and phrases is as easy as scarfing down a French crepe. Start with some simple pronunciation and everyday words, and before long, you’ll be ordering from the local bakery with complete confidence.

If you’re ready to start conquering the French language but don’t know where to start, look no further. We’ve put together a list of 59 basic French phrases and keywords that’ll help you sound like a fluent speaker in no time. Oui Oui!

What countries speak French?

Learning French won’t just help you out in France. In fact, French is an official language in 29 countries across the globe and is the third most spoken language in Europe. Whether you’re ordering a beer in Belgium, testing out the lavish life in Monaco, heading to an ice hockey game in Quebec, or wandering the streets of Paris, you’ll want some basic French phrases up your sleeve.

Each country also has its own distinctive dialect and words incorporated from both English and the local language. Even so, many of the phrases we’ll learn below can be used in any French-speaking country. Put on your beret, and let’s get started.

Tips for basic French pronunciation

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Knowing how to pronounce French sounds is the first step to mastering key French phrases. Even if you know how to read and recognize many French words, if you’re not able to pronounce them correctly, you’ll be left in a confusing and slightly awkward conversation. Similar to English, pronouncing even a tiny part of a word wrong can completely change its meaning. Instead of asking someone about their mother (la mère), you might end up asking them about their mayor (le maire).

The most common mistake beginners make is saying French words like how they’re spelled in English. While the alphabets are nearly identical, French consonants and vowels sound much different than you may expect. To start getting your pronunciations down, begin by familiarizing yourself with the French alphabet below.

LetterFrench PronunciationExample
Ueewsaid like EE, with rounded lips
WDoobluh vehdouble vay
Yee grehkyougurt

On top of these, accents are also used on certain vowels to either change the vowel’s sound or help distinguish between two different words that would otherwise be spelled the same. These accents include:

  • The acute, which is only found on the letter é. This changes the sound from ‘uh’ to ‘ay.’
  • The grave, which is found on the letters è, à, ù. This accent does not change the sound of the word but helps distinguish between words spelled the same.
  • The circumflex, which is found over the ê, â, ô, and û. This accent has a few different rules, so it’s easiest to remember it can change the pronunciation of the vowel e, but not of the a, o, and u.
  • The diaeresis, which is only found in combinations of vowels like oë. This accent lets you know that each vowel must be pronounced alone.

Of course, like English, there are other rules and oddities to learn. However, by learning the alphabet and accents, you’ll be surprised by how quickly your French improves and how you can recognize how to say a word correctly just by looking at it.

Basic French greetings and words to learn

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Once you’ve nailed French pronunciation, the next step is to learn some essential French words and greetings to help you get by. If you only have time to learn a few phrases, these are the key ones to start with.

  • Bonjour (bohn-zhoohr) = Good morning, hello
  • Bonsoir (bohn-swahr!) = Good evening
  • Salut (sa loo) = Hi, a more informal greeting
  • Enchanté (ahn-shahn-tey) = Nice to meet you
  • Bienvenue (byan vuh noo) = Welcome
  • Pardon, excusez-moi (pahr-dohn, eks-kew-zey-mwah) = Pardon, excuse me
  • Parlez-vous anglais? (pahr-ley vooh ahn-gleh?) = Do you speak English?
  • Je ne parle pas français (juh nuh pahl pah fron say) = I do not speak French
  • À bientôt (ah byan toe) = See you soon
  • Merci/Merci beaucoup (mair see/mair see bo coo) = Thank you/Thank you very much
  • Au revoir (oh ruh vwah) = Goodbye
  • De rien (uh ryahn) = You’re welcome or it’s nothing
  • Oui (wee) = Yes
  • Non (noh) = No

Basic French phrases to memorize

Now that you’ve mastered some simple greetings and words, it’s time to move on to basic French phrases. These will help you keep the conversation going, learn a thing or two about your friendly neighbor and ask for help or where the toilet is.

  • Ça va ? (sa va) = How are you? The easy way to ask how someone is.
  • Comment vas-tu? (komon va too) = How are you? The more elegant and proper way to ask how someone is.
  • Je vais bien (juh vay byan) = I’m well
  • Et toi? (ay twah) = And you?
  • Pouvez-vous m’aider? (poo vay voo mayday) = Can you help me?
  • Je ne comprends pas (juh nuh compron pah) = I do not understand
  • Où sont les toilettes ? (oo son lay twah let) = Where is the toilet?
  • Bon voyage (bon voyaj) = Have a good trip

Basic French phrases to help you get around, travel, and sightsee

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If you’re looking to learn some key French words, chances are you’re exploring one of the many beautiful French-speaking countries. Finding yourself lost and confused can be an uncomfortable experience, especially if you find yourself without cell phone data. Learn a few French direction words and phrases, and you can confidently navigate the streets of Paris like a local.

  • Gauche (gawsh) = Left
  • Droite (drwah) = Right
  • Tout droite (too dwat) = Straight ahead
  • Arrêt de bus (ah-ret deh boos) = Bus stop
  • Gare (gaar) = Train station
  • Aéroport (ah-eh-ro-por) = Airport
  • Pourriez-vous prendre ma photo? = Are you able to take my photo?
  • Est-ce que je peux payer avec une carte de crédit? = Can I pay with a credit card?
  • À quelle heure est-ce que s’est ouvert? = At what time is it open?
  • À quelle heure est-ce que s’est fermé? = At what time is it closed?
  • Combien ça coûte? = How much does it cost?

Best French phrases for food

Half the fun of traveling is trying new foods, so we’ve listed some of the most important words to know when dining out:

  • Avez-vous une table pour deux? = Do you have a table for two?
  • Vin (​​vahn) = Wine
  • La bière (la byair) = Beer
  • Je voudrais un café = I would like a coffee
  • Je voudrais de l’eau = I would like some water
  • L’addition, s’il vous plaît (lah-dee-zyon, sil voo pleh) = The bill, please
  • Des champignons (day shahm-peen-yon) = Mushrooms
  • Une tomate (oohn toh-maht) = Tomato
  • Du fromage (dooh froh-mah) = Cheese
  • Le poulet (luh pooh-lay) = Chicken
  • Le poisson (luh pwahss-on) = Fish
  • Je suis végétarien (je swee ve-jeh-tair-ree-an) = I’m a vegetarian

Besides learning these key food phrases, also keep your eye out for some tasty traditional French foods. Some of the best mouthwatering dishes you’ll find in France include:

  • Croque monsieur – the French version of the grilled cheese, the Croque monsieur sandwiches ham, Gruyère cheese, and mustard sandwiched between two pieces of thick buttery bread.
  • Bouillabaisse – it’s just as fun to say this iconic South of France dish as it is to eat it. Bouillabaisse is a seafood dish made with clams, lobster, and other types of fish stewed in broth with potatoes, onions, and spices – all served on top of a toasted slice of fresh baguette.
  • Pain au chocolat – you can hardly walk a block without coming across a bakery, and in every bakery, you’ll find the delicious chocolate-filled puff pastry. Simply delicious.
  • Crêpe – this is one you’ve likely heard of. The renowned French crêpe is a staple street food and can be sweet or savory.

Fun Russian idioms to sound like a local

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Many times in life, you need that perfect expression to get your feelings out. Not just any simple phrase will do. The French love their idioms, even if they don’t always make sense literally. Below we’ve written our six favorite idioms that you’ll want to keep in your back pocket for the perfect moment.

  • Ah, la vache! = Oh, my cow! – Similar to ‘Oh, my god!’ this French phrase expresses surprise and excitement. But don’t worry, there likely won’t be an actual cow running nearby.
  • Faire l’andouille = To make the sausage – This is one French phrase that doesn’t really make sense. However, if you’ve done something silly, explain faire l’andouille, and everyone will know it was an accident.
  • Faire un froid de canard = Does a cold of duck – Ever felt so cold you want to run around aimlessly just to warm up? While you likely won’t actually see the French pretending to chase ducks, this idiom refers to the weather being extremely cold.
  • Avoir un chat dans la gorge = To have a cat in the throat. Like the English version of having a frog in your throat, this phrase is used when you just can’t get the words to come out of your mouth.
  • En avoir ras le bol = To have a bowl full of it. That feeling when you’ve just had enough, and you’re sick of it. Your bowl of anger is about to overflow, and others should be aware.
  • Être au taquet = To be at a piece of wood. Another phrase you would have a hard time interpreting. Taquet is referring to the piece of wood put between a door and a wall to block it, so somehow, Être au taquet means to give your best. Be like the wood holding the door open!

French words to know in case of an emergency

While you hope you never need to use these words and phrases, they’re always good to have in the back of your mind just in case. It’s also important to remember that in France, instead of dialing 911 for an emergency, you should dial 18 for the general emergency number or 122 for the standard European emergency number.

Other important words to know include:

  • À l’aide! (ah led) = Help!
  • Police! (poh-lees!) = Police!
  • Au Feu! (au fur) = Fire!
  • Médecin (meh-deh-sahn) = Doctor
  • J’ai besoin d’un médicin (jay bez-wahn dohn meh-deh-sahn) = I need a doctor
  • Je ne me sens pas bien (jeh neh meh sahn pah byen) = I don’t feel well
  • It’s an emergency (seh tuun uur-zhahns) = It’s an emegency
  • Je suis perdu (zhuh swee pehr-duu) = I’m lost

Learn even more basic French phrases with these online resources

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Ready to step up your French-speaking game even further? Check out below our favorite three resources:

  • Duolingo – one of the best resources for any language; Duolingo includes written lessons, dictation, and games. It’s great to have on hand if you’re looking to pick up a few words and familiarize yourself with the language. You can also pay a small fee to enjoy extra features and skip the ads.
  • Brainscape – leave your learning to the experts with this science-based app. With Brainscape’s audio flashcards, grammar explanations, and the perfect amount of repetition, you’ll be picking up on both French words and grammar rules in no time.
  • French by Nemo – if you’d like to learn even more French phrases but aren’t looking to become fluent or learn the ins and outs of grammar, French by Nemo is the perfect fit. Plus, you can record your voice and compare it to that of a native speaker to ensure your pronunciation is spot on.
Reece Toth

Reece is the creator and editor of Travel Snippet. He has visited more than 38 countries over a 10-year period. His travels have taken him through the majestic mountains of Italy, into the cities of central Europe, across the islands of Indonesia, and to the beaches of Thailand, where he is currently living. He is passionate about travel and shares his expertise by providing the best travel tips and tricks to help you plan your next adventure.

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