How to Ask 'How Are You' in French

Best Formal and Informal Usages, Also How to Answer It

Two women who know how to answer “How are you?” in French

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It's important to know how to say hello, goodbye, and see you soon in French. Once you've mastered those simple words and phrases, you need to learn to ask: "How are you?" Unfortunately, it can be a bit complicated to say, "Hi, how are you?" in French compared to English because there are several alternatives for this phrase. It's best to learn the ways to say "How are you?" in French, then pick one, and use that construction when you speak.

"Aller" Not "Être"

Before you read and learn about the ways to say "How are you?" in French, you need to understand a bit of the grammar. Use the irregular French verb aller (to go), not the irregular French verb être (to be), when asking "How are you?" in French. This may seem like an odd point to bring up, but you cannot translate the French phrase "How are you?" literally—or word by word—from French to English. You need to associate the expressions with their usage and avoid literal translations.

The Most Common Phrasing

The formal way to say "How are you?" in French is Comment allez-vous? If you took French in school, this is probably the phrasing you learned. It uses a formal verb inversion construction and the vous (you plural) form. To use inversion in French, invert the conjugated verb and subject pronoun and join them with a hyphen.

The vous (the subject pronoun) can be a single formal you (as in when you are talking to a person much older than you are), a plural formal (where you would use vous to address two or more people), or informal (where you use tu to address two or more people).

Note that this phrase has a strong nasal quality and is literally pronounced: Coman tallé voo.

Responding to "Comment Allez-Vous?"

A typical answer to Comment allez-vous? could be:

  • Je vais bien. > I'm fine.

In this case, the vous is actually used as the first-person singular—the vous stands for yourself. Also, note here again that in French, you use aller (Je vais), not être. Don't say Je suis bien. Even though the latter phrase literally does translate as "I am well," you would not use this sentence in French. In the phrase below, the vous stands for several people.

  • Nous allons bien. > We are well.

Another Way of Asking "How Are You?"

Another way of asking "How are you?" in French is Comment vas-tu?  Because this construction also uses the inversion method, it's considered a formal way of saying "How are you?" in French. So, even though you're using tu, which is the informal pronoun for "you," it's still a formal construction. You might use this phrase at work, with a colleague whom you address as tu because he's an acquaintance but not a close friend.

A typical answer to Comment vas-tu? could be:

  • Je vais bien.

As noted, this translates as "I'm fine," and you use a conjugation of aller (Je vais), not être.

Asking It Informally

If you want to ask "How are you?" in informal French—in the casual language most French speakers actually use every day—you would simply say Ça va, which more closely translates as "How is it going?" or "How's it going?"

A typical interchange using ça va might go as follows:

  • Ça va Camille? > How's it going, Camille?
  • Oui, ça va bien, merci. Et toi? > Yes, I'm fine, thank you. And you?
  • Ça va bien. > I'm fine. (Or even: "Things are going well.")

Don't use this phrase in more formal situations but for friends and family, and even coworkers at the office, this is a fine way to ask: "How are you?" in French.

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Your Citation
Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. "How to Ask 'How Are You' in French." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. (2023, April 5). How to Ask 'How Are You' in French. Retrieved from Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. "How to Ask 'How Are You' in French." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).