Learn Some Practical French Phrases for Use in Everyday Life

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There are some French phrases that you will hear literally every day or even multiple times a day and even use yourself. If you are studying French, or plan to visit France, it's important that you learn and practice five often-used French phrases.

Ah Bon

Ah Bon literally means "oh good," though it commonly translates into English as:

  • "Oh yes?"
  • "Really?"
  • "Is that so?"
  • "I see."

Ah bon is used primarily as a soft interjection, even when it's a question where a speaker is indicating interest and maybe a little surprise. The examples list the French sentence on the left with the English translation on the right. 

  •   Speaker 1: J'ai vu un film intéressant hier.> I saw an interesting movie yesterday. 
  •   Speaker 2: Ah bon?  > Oh, yes?

Or in this example:

  • Speaker 1: Je pars aux États-Unis la semaine prochaine. > I'm going to the United States next week. 
  • Speaker 2: Ah bon? > Really?

Ça va

Ça va literally means "it goes." Used in casual conversation, it can be both a question and a reply, but it's an informal expression. You probably wouldn't want to ask your boss or a stranger this question unless the setting was casual.

One of the most common uses of ça va is as a greeting or to ask how someone is doing, as in:

  • Salut, Guy, ça va? > Hi, Guy, how's it going?
  • Comment ça va? > How's it going?

The expression can also be an exclamation:

  • Oh! Ça va! > Hey, that's enough!

C'est-à-dire

Use c'est-à-dire when you want to say "I mean" or "that is." It's a way to clarify what you're trying to explain, as in:

  • Il faut écrire ton nom là, c'est-à-dire, ici. > You need to write your name there, I mean, here.
  • Il faut que tu commences à y mettre du tien ici. > You need to start pulling your weight around here.

Il Faut

In French, it's often necessary to say "it's necessary." For that purpose, use il faut, which is the conjugated form of falloir, an irregular French verbFalloir means "to be necessary" or "to need." It is impersonal, meaning that it has only one grammatical person: the third person singular. It may be followed by the subjunctive, an infinitive, or a noun. You can use il faut as follows:

  •   Il faut partir. > It's necessary to leave.
  •    Il faut que nous partions. > We have to leave.
  •    Il faut de l'argent pour faire ça. > You need money to do that.

Note that this last example literally translates to, "It's necessary to have money." But, the sentence translates into normal English as "You need money to do that," or "You have to have money for that."

Il Y A

Whenever you'd say "there is" or "there are" in English, you would use il y a in French. It is most commonly followed by an indefinite article + noun, a number + noun, or an indefinite pronoun, as in:

  • Il y a des enfants là-bas. > There are some kids over there.
  • J'ai vu le film il y a trois semaines. > I saw the movie three weeks ago.
  • Il y a 2 ans que nous sommes partis. > We left two years ago.