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Top 30 Useful French Phrases and Expressions You Must Know to Survive

Top 10 French Phrases

Learning a new language can be increasingly challenging—especially if you’re learning a language that dates all the way back to the Roman Empire and has multiple variations all over the world.

According to About-France.com, French is an official or second language in 55 countries worldwide and almost 300 million people speak French as their native or second language.

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My childhood friend’s grandfather was the French teacher at my high school, so instead of taking Spanish—which would have been a tad more useful in the United States—I chose French. (Not to mention my birthday is also Bastille Day, some would call it a sign.)

I started taking French when I was 14 years old. From there, I took French 1, French 2 and Honors French 3 in high school; I was French Club president my senior year of high school; and in college, I took Intensive Elementary French 121 and 221 (the difference is the courses counted for six credit hours instead of three, meaning two semesters were jammed into one).

I was very fortunate to get to travel to multiple European cities with my high school French teacher and some classmates the summer before my high school senior year, including Paris. And let me just say, without knowing some useful French phrases, I’m not sure how I would have made it.

Contrary to (the not-so) popular belief, showing up to Paris only knowing bonjour, merci, and oui will not get you very far à La Ville Lumière (“in the City of Lights”).

However, since not everyone has the ability to take three years of French before traveling to France, here are some tips to get you going with the French basics, or at least teach you some useful French phrases.

Table of Contents

  1. 4 Ways to Learn Useful French Phrases
  2. Top 30 Useful French Phrases and Expressions You Must Learn to Survive
  3. Bonus: Other Useful French Words

1. 4 Ways to Learn Useful French Phrases

Memorise

a. Create Flashcards on Memrise

One of the most traditional (and for many, most effective) studying tricks is creating flashcards. However, trying to create and organize hundreds of flashcards to help you learn a whole new language can be extremely frustrating. You have to subcategorize each word or phrase, make sure your handwriting is legible and also not break the bank with how many index cards you’ll need to buy.

This is why I recommend using Memrise. Memrise is a virtual flashcard website specifically designed to help you learn a new language! Just go to the website and select which language you want to learn!

For example, to help you learn useful French words or phrases, you would need to select “French” and then “Beginner.” From there it will let you either create a Memrise account or sign in through your Facebook or Google account, and you’re ready to start learning!

Instead of you deciding what useful French words and phrases you need to know, Memrise has already done that for you! This will save you a lot of time and effort, and will give you more time to study.

Online Lesson

b. Book a One-on-One Online Lesson

For those who need a little more help than what flashcards can offer, booking an interactive online lesson with a native-speaking teacher (or a teacher who is completely fluent) would prove to be extremely beneficial!

Especially with French, pronunciation is really important. Practicing the pronunciation of any useful French phrases you have memorized with someone completely fluent will serve as a stronger learning tool than you can imagine.

There are words in French that are pretty similar sounding if you don’t know the proper pronunciation, so you could spend all this time memorizing the phrase, but when you try saying it to a francophone (French-speaking) person they won’t have a clue what you’re trying to say.

While online translators (especially Google Translate) have stepped up their game in the past few years, they are certainly not as trustworthy as coaching from someone who is fluent in French.

Watching Movies

c. Watch French movies or television shows and listen to French music

Familiarizing yourself with French entertainment is another great way to help you master pronunciation. Plus with the amazing inventions of Netflix and Hulu, or Spotify and Pandora, this is even easier to do!

For films or television shows, I highly encourage watching with subtitles turned on. This way, you’re not only hearing the pronunciation but you could also pick up on even more helpful phrases!

Since the film industry was historically heavily influenced by France, the United States Netflix honors that with a subcategory called “French films.” If the idea of looking over an entire subcategory of French films overwhelms you, here is a list of the top 20 French films on Netflix.

Likewise, for music I would search for famous French musicians, look up their music and then look up the lyrics while listening. That way you can hear it as you read along!

Two of my favorite French musicians are Stromae, a Belgian-French singer-songwriter-composer; and Carla Bruni, a French-Italian singer-songwriter who also happens to be married to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Especially if you’re as big into music as I am, being able to listen to music to help you learn a foreign language is way more exciting than textbooks!

Trip to France

d. Take a Trip to France

If your ultimate goal is to become fully fluent in French, I would highly suggest taking a trip to France! I know for me, one thing that really helped was asking for help from French natives while in Paris.

It’s important to acknowledge at first that you aren’t fluent in French. For example, I would start out any conversation with, Bonjour! Je ne sais pas beaucoup de français, mais… (“Hello! I don’t know a lot of French, but (…)”). Instead of just directly asking if the other person speaks English, I attempted to speak their language first, and if I failed miserably at least they knew why.

While it might sound scary to just pick up and head to a country where you aren’t fluent in the language, you don’t understand the culture and you don’t know anyone there, it’s a great way to make yourself vulnerable enough to adapt.

Of course, this isn’t always the easiest (or most financially painless) choice, but if the opportunity ever arises you should consider taking it!

2. Top 30 Useful French Phrases and Expressions You Must Learn to Survive

I mentioned earlier one phrase that definitely saved me while I was in France. Below is a list of 30 other useful French phrases I believe will help you out:

Traveling to France

1.Bonjour, ça va?
“Hello, how’s it going?” This is a friendly, informal way to greet someone. If you’re meeting this person for the first time, it might be helpful to include your name before asking “how’s it going?” Further, if someone says this to you, kindly respond with, Très bien, merci! (“Very well, thank you!”)

2. Comment allez-vous?
“How are you?” If you’re looking to be more formal with someone, you can simply ask them how they’re doing. You can also respond to this question with Très bien, merci! or Pas mal, merci. (“Not bad, thank you.”)

3. Je m’appelle (name).
“My name is (name).” This is extremely important to know when greeting someone for the first time. Especially if you’re asking someone for help, you should at least let them know who you are!

4. Comment t’appelles-tu ?
“What is your name?” If you happen to recall a name, but are not absolutely sure that name belongs to that person, you could even say, Tu es (name), n’est-ce pas? (“You are (name), aren’t you?”)

5. Enchanté(e)!
“Nice to meet you!” After asking someone who they are and what their name is, it is polite to let them know that it is nice to meet them! If you are a woman, it’s important to include that second “e,” or the feminine form.

6. Je vais bien.
“I am fine.” Here is another phrase you can use if someone has asked you how you are or how’s it going, but there are plenty of other situations where letting someone know you’re fine will prove to be important.

7. Très bien, merci. Et vous?
“Very well, thank you. And you?” As I demonstrated earlier, this is a happy, upbeat response when someone asks how you are. However, if someone else asks you first, make sure to always counter with how they are doing! Saying et vous is the easiest way to do that!

8. A bientôt/demain!
“See you soon/tomorrow!” This is a friendlier way to say goodbye to someone.

9. Au revoir!
“Goodbye!” Hello and goodbye are always core phrases someone should know. Instead of saying goodbye, one might even say, Bonne journée! (“Have a nice day!”) or even, Bonne chance! (“Good luck!”)

10. Quelle heure est-il?
“What time is it?” This phrase will always come in handy, especially because most businesses close for a couple hours during lunch time. If you know what the time is, you’ll know when a store will open back up, for example.

11. Est-ce que vous pourriez m’indiquer le chemin pour aller à (…)?
“Could you show me the way to (…)?” If you can at least say this, you can simply follow with the name of the street, business, tourist attraction or restaurant you are trying to get to. Knowing how to ask for directions is very important.

12. Je ne sais pas.
“I don’t know.” This is what I used in my previous example, saying “I don’t know a lot of French.” Below I’ve also included other negatives that could come in handy!

  • ne … pas du tout (“not at all”)
  • ne … pas encore (“not yet”)
  • ne … plus (“not anymore”)
  • ne … jamais (“never”)

13. Je ne crois pas que je connais l’adresse.
“I don’t believe I know the address.” In today’s world, we are a lot luckier and can plug addresses into our smartphones. One useful French phrase to know how to ask is what that address is!

14. Je ne sais pas quoi faire.
“I don’t know what to do.” If you’re just completely unsure about where you are, where you’re going or what you need to do, this could prove to be an incredibly useful French phrase.

15. Que voulez-vous dire?
“What do you mean?” This is a great French phrase to know when you’re trying to keep up with the dialogue but somewhere along the way got lost.

16. De quoi parlez-vous?
“What are you talking about?” This is another great French phrase to know if you’re finding yourself completely confused in a conversation!

17. Que fais-tu?
“What are you doing?” If you’re trying to have more of a friendly conversation with someone, or you see someone doing something you’ve never seen before, this is a useful phrase to ask someone!

18. Quel temps fait-il?
“How’s the weather?” If you’re about to go outside but you’re not sure what the weather currently is, or even how it’s going to be, this is a great phrase to know. Below I’ve also included how to say “It is (…)” in case someone asks you!

  • Il fait (…)
  • chaud (“hot”)
  • beau (“beautiful”)
  • doux (“mild”)
  • du soleil (“sunny”)
  • mauvais (“bad”)
  • Il + pleut (“raining”)
  • il y a du vent (“windy”)

There, of course, are other weather related responses out there, but these phrases are going to be the most useful for you to start with.

19. Où se trouve (…)?
“Where is (…) located?” There’s no better way to ask someone for directions than with this phrase. A person might even respond with, Voilà! which means “Here/There is/are” when pointing something out; they could also responds with (…) dans la rue (street name) (“(…) on (street name.)”)

20. Avez-vous de l’argent/l’eau?
“Do you have some money/water?” While I would hope you would never be in a situation where you need to ask somebody for money or water, I included this phrase just in case you have an emergency. Further, I included this phrase so you will know in case someone asks you.

21. J’ai un peu d’argent.
“I have a little money.” You just never know when this phrase will come in handy. Again, hopefully you’re never in a situation where you have to know this, but it’s one of those I find smart to hold onto.

22. Répondez à ma question!
“Answer my question!” You don’t have to say this in a yelling manner, it’s just how you’d phrase a command. You could follow the phrase with “please,” or s’il vous plait. Similarly, one might say Réponds-moi! (“Answer me!”)

23. Bien sûr!
“Of course!” This is also one of those staple phrases you should always have under your belt. It’s a more polite way to say “no problem,” which makes you look friendlier. If you wanted to show more excitement, you could even say Bien sûr que oui! (“Yes, of course!”)

24. C’est vrai/faux
“That is true/false.” You just never know when you’re going to need to know how to say this. C’est alone is how you would say “this/that is,” you’re welcome to follow with almost any useful French vocabulary word.

25. Je voudrais (…)
“I would like (…)” Use this French phrase when making a request. When ordering food, you can use this or you could simply say, Je veux (…) (“I want …”).

26. Oui, j’en veux.
“Yes, I’d like some.” Especially when it comes to restaurant etiquette, this is a very useful French phrase.

27. C’était dèlicieux!
“It was delicious!” While customers don’t leave tips for waiters and waitresses in most European countries, it is extremely polite to let the employee or chef know that what they prepared for you was delicious!

28. Restes-y.
“Stay there.” This is a useful phrase to say to someone if you’re asking for help with your group of friends. If you have to step away for a second, letting them know to stay will help not confuse the other person!

29. Combien est-ce que ça coûte?
“How much does it cost?” If you’re struggling to understand what the price of something is, and you only have a certain amount of money, this is a very useful French phrase to know!

30. Voulez-vous venir?
“Do you want to come?” Hopefully by using these useful French phrases you’ll be able to make a couple new French friends! Using this phrase could help expand the friendship by inviting them to hang out with you!

3. Bonus: Other Useful French Words

Similar to the useful French phrases, I have compiled a list of useful French words that everyone should know before traveling to France:

Useful French Words

1. Aujourd’hui - “Today.”

2. Maintenant - “Now.”

3. Régardez! - “Look (at)!”

4. Ceux-là! - “Those!”

5. Les langues (étrangères) - “(Foreign) languages.” From here, you might need to know how to say some of the languages in French:

  • Allemand(e): “German”
  • Anglais(e): “English”
  • Espagnol(e): “Spanish”

6. D’accord - “Okay!”

7. Il y a - “There is/are.”

8. C’est ça? - “Right, is that so?”

9. Alors - “So/Therefore.”

10. Quand - “When?”

11. Comment - “How?”

12. Combien de - “How much/many?”

13. Parce que. - “Because.”

14. Pourquoi? - “Why?”

15. Où est (…)? - “Where is (…)?”

16. Oui - “Yes.”

17. Non - “No.”

18. Pas mal - “Not bad.”

19. Francophone - “French-speaking.” (I mentioned this earlier but I wanted to reiterate.)

20. Américain(e) - “American.”

Inevitably, one of the best ways to start learning a foreign language is by learning useful phrases.

While it’s not necessarily learning the basics, learning useful French phrases allows you to learn some pronunciation, along with verb structure and sentence structure.

If you take the time to use these helpful tips, you’ll be ready for a trip to France in no time.

There you’ll find yourself surrounded in French culture, getting to see the country and experience their completely different lifestyle can also help you master the language!

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