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Five Essential French Phrases


Parlez-vous français? These five phrases bring you closer to saying oui!

So you’re on your way to the City of Light and your high school French is but a distant memory. Can’t remember all those complicated conjugations and impossible pronunciations your teacher gave you a hard time over? Pas de problème, here’s a list of five simple phrases we think will put a smile on your face, and make your French teacher proud.


If there’s one word everyone should know and use in unlimited quantities, it’s merci (thank you). You’ll use it to thank your increasingly friendly Parisian waiters, cab drivers, concierges, bakers, market vendors and more, and we recommend you couple it with your brightest sourire, or smile. But if you find yourself in a fluster when someone is thanking YOU, and you’d like to say “You’re welcome”? Je vous en prie can be a mouthful, and also introduces the prickly problem of choosing between the formal vous or informal tu (je t’en prie). So opt for the one-size-fits-all De rien, literally, “It’s nothing.” Sorry, there’s no getting around that guttural r, but here again, a smile will more than compensate!

What do you do when someone is thanking you, and you wish to thank them in return? Of course you can turn to the good old merci in turn, but why not spice things up a little? Here’s a case in point: you’re at the market and you just bought some delicious plump cherries. The vendor hands you your ruby treasures with a hearty merci! Smile and say, C’est moi, literally, “It is I who thank you.” Use it any time a reciprocal merci is in order.

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If you are lucky enough to enjoy more than just a short stay in Paris, chances are you  will find your favorite cafés, bakeries, wine bars and shops. Whenever you enter, be sure to greet the owner with a cheery bonjour. When it’s time to go, instead of saying au revoir (goodbye) to your now-familiar waiters, bakers, bartenders and vendors, you can wave and say Au plaisir! It’s the rough equivalent of “See you soon”, and lets the other know you’ll be back!

Paris is a superlative sort of place. It’s been called the most beautiful city in the world, its museums and galleries the best the planet has to offer, and its cuisine gastronomical. In short, the world thinks Paris is génial (the stuff of genius), and it just so happens, so do the French! Which is why this little word occupies a big place in French vocabulary. Do you constantly find yourself in awe of the beautiful bridges that span the Seine? Sigh and utter, Génial! Are you at a loss for words standing before the soaring towers of Gothic cathedrals? Here’s one: Génial! Lucky enough to climb the Eiffel Tower and soak in breathtaking views of Paris below? Génial! We are confident you will find many an occasion to use this little word, and sound as French as the French.


And if génial just doesn’t do justice to how Paris makes you feel, why not boost it with the very French, and very weird, adverb vachement. Don’t be fooled by its literal translation, “cowly”! It simply means “very” or “truly”, and the French stick it in front of almost any adjective. If C’est beau (It’s beautiful) just doesn’t cut it to describe the medieval stained glass of the Sainte Chapelle, go for C’est vachement beau to express your delight. Enjoying a particularly good croissant? Between buttery bites, utter C’est vachement bon! And for what really tickles you, be it a Paris Muse tour or river cruise down the Seine, we’re sure your fellow musers or cruisers will agree when you say, C’est vachement génial!

Despite the reputation the French have of being very proud and particular about their language, they are always very happy when visitors make the effort to speak it. So courage (fear not)! And remember that whatever you say in whatever language you choose, a smile goes a long, long way.



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