Bonjour ! Au revoir ! Salut ! Bonne journée ! À la prochaine !
There are so many ways to start and end a conversation, each with their own particularity. But you can’t just use any greeting at any time! Sometimes there are specific contexts or even a sense of formality that signal their use.
When a greeting is formal, it means that it is most often used for people you don’t know and will probably never know or when there is an element of authority. Informal greetings, on the other hand, are used between friends, acquaintances, in relaxed situations, etc.
I will describe the situations in which it is recommended to use each greeting. But first, it is important to understand that these “rules of usage” are generalized. They are social rules that are not necessarily fixed. It is possible to hear people using these greetings in other ways. For example, you may hear someone say ‘Bonjour‘ at the end of a conversation, not just at the beginning. But, in general, here is how French speakers use French greetings:
To Start a Conversation
Here are the greetings that are used at the beginning of a conversation:
Said during the day (from dawn until about 6:00 pm usually). This is a rather formal greeting, used less between good friends. In Quebec, it is possible to hear Bon matin in the morning.
- Bonjour monsieur, puis-je vous aider ?
Used during the evening and night (after about 6:00 pm). Bonsoir is rather formal, like Bonjour.
- Bonsoir tout le monde, j’espère que vous allez bien et que vous avez passé un bon week end?
This greeting can be used to start or end a conversation. It is usually more informal, used between acquaintances, friends, etc.
- Bon, je vais partir. Je dois me rendre au centre-ville avant midi. Salut !
- Salut Clara, comment vas-tu ?
When you answer the phone. Note also that in Quebec, you can hear allô in the sense of bonjour or salut with interlocutors face to face.
- — Allô ? — Oui bonjour, j’aimerais parler à mon conseiller…
To End a Conversation
All of the following greetings are at the end of a conversation.
Usually in situations where one does not know the person personally. This greeting is therefore rather formal.
Examples: in a store, at the end of a phone conversation with a bank associate, when visiting a rental apartment, etc.
- Merci d’avoir répondu à notre enquête de satisfaction ! Au revoir.
During the day, with acquaintances or not. A catch-all greeting for the end of the conversation during the day.
- Je dois aller au travail. On se reparlera ce soir. Bonne journée !
- Voici votre commande. Bonne journée.
During the evening or night, with acquaintances or not. So, an all-purpose greeting in the evening to end a conversation.
- Bon, je vais rentrer. Envoie-moi un message demain si tu veux faire quelque chose. Bonne soirée !
Note that you can also use these greetings, in the time of day indicated of course: Bonne fin de journée, bonne fin de soirée, bon après-midi.
À tout à l’heure
This is said to someone who will certainly be seen again in the very near future (in a few minutes to a few hours). À tout de suite is another version. The familiar form à toute is also used. In Quebec, you can hear à tantôt to say the same thing.
- Je passerai chez toi dans 30 minutes. À tout à l’heure.
- On se voit après mon rendez-vous. À toute !
This is said when you are sure to see the person again the next day. Other words can be used here to indicate other days or periods of time. For example: À jeudi, à la semaine prochaine, etc.
- Ah, vous avez le même horaire que moi cette semaine. À demain alors !
- À samedi prochain à la salle.
À la prochaine
This greeting is to say see you next time. So, the time is not specified, and even the fact of seeing the person again is not always so clear either.
- Merci d’avoir répondu présent à notre invitation. À la prochaine.
- C’était agréable de te revoir tante Ann. À la prochaine.
Said to someone at the end of the day, really just before going to bed.
- Bonne nuit les enfants, faites de beaux rêves.
- Je vais me coucher. On se reparlera demain matin. Bonne nuit.
To be used in rather special… or even dramatic situations. If you are sure you will never see a good acquaintance again, Adieu can be said. However, you have to be careful because it could give the impression of a rather serious situation as if the person was going to die. Adieu can also be used if you don’t want to see the person again after a couple has separated for example.
To the next article!