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Pardon? - The art of good wishes

Pardon? - The art of good wishes

Our language expert Emma-Jane Lee once more steps into the fray, this time discovering the art of good wishes…

french-language-help-tips-phrasesToday, I’ve got a few bon mots and a few ideas for bon usage at the bon moment for those of you who are bon chic, bon genre. Some of these good words are interesting and amusing to hear, especially when you really think about how many the French have. There really are a lot of bon-bons!
Nobody would compare the French to the Americans, or confuse the French with a ‘Hallmark’ nation who send cards and greetings for all manner of situations, yet there are a surprising number of wishes and greetings in French that don’t really exist in the same form in English. ‘Have a nice day’ seems chirpily American, but bonne journée is roughly the same.

Despite the usual French greetings for times of day, such as bonjour and bonsoir, it’s often foxing to the English-speaking world as to why sometimes French people will greet you with a bonsoir and give you the same bonsoir at the end of the conversation too, rather than the bonne soirée you might expect. The answer is fairly simple: if there is enough evening left to enjoy, you say bon soirée and if there is not, and you’re on your way home to go to bed, you say bonsoir again.

Coming from a world where I muttered ‘morning’ to anyone and everyone, it seemed a bit strange that the same thing didn’t seem to exist in France. It always seemed to be bonjour. Having never heard the equivalent bonne matinée, I’d assumed it didn’t exist until I heard the parents dropping their children off for collège on Wednesdays. Wish someone a bonne matinée if they are only doing something for the morning and you’ll see them again to wish them a good day or good evening.


There are lots of phrases that I really like for various wishes and positivity. The French more rarely say bonne chance for ‘good luck’ but are more likely to say bon courage. Like in the theatre where we might wish someone ‘break a leg’ because it’s considered bad luck to say ‘good luck’, it’s similar for some superstitious people in France, and so you’ll more likely hear bon courage which sounds a little strange to my English ear. Good courage.

I also like bonne continuation which also has no real literal translation into English. It’s the kind of thing you might say to encourage someone to keep going, or keep doing what they’re doing. It’s the kind of thing I might have written on a school report in my former years. It’s also great as a replacement for ‘all the best’ or ‘best wishes’ or ‘good luck for the future’ which are the kind of things you find yourself writing in people’s cards for leaving or moving house or going somewhere new. But you can also use it in the short-term if you’re saying ‘have a good time’ as it can mean ‘enjoy the rest of your...’ so bonne continuation is a good one for all kinds of situations where you want to say something a little French.

At this time of year, you’ll need a few more bons and bonnes to get you through the festive season. Usually, it’s a joyous Christmas, joyeux Noël, and bonne année, a good New Year. You can also say bonnes fêtes which means ‘happy holidays’. You can also give someone your best wishes, meilleurs voeux or congratulations, félicitations

If you’re invited round for Christmas drinks or apéritifs, you might want to cheer someone’s health by saying à votre santé which is the same as ‘good health’. Sometimes this is just reduced to santé or even the very cosmopolitan ‘Tchin, tchin’, introduced by French soldiers returning from China.
Perhaps if your hosts have a birthday around this time of year, as I do, you might get an opportunity to say bon anniversaire or joyeux anniversaire. Both are acceptable, but only joyeux anniversaire fits into the rhythm of the very famous Happy Birthday song, so if you have to sing, you’ll be wishing someone a ‘joyous birthday’. And, by the time we get round to Easter, it’s joyeuses Pâques as well.

Should somebody be ill, you’ll find a ‘bon’ for that as well. Bon rétablissement or prompt rétablissement mean ‘get well soon’, or you could also say guéris vite which means ‘heal quickly’.

Of course, there many other bons to help ease your way through social situations. From the very famous bon appetit and bonne voyage to the almost-English bon weekend (or une bonne fin de semaine if you want to be very French) you will find life a lot more pleasant with all of these bon-bons!



Emma is a jack-of-all-language-trades, writing English textbooks, translating, marking exam scripts and teaching languages. She lives near
La Rochefoucauld with her growing menagerie. See