In French, there are two common well-wishing phrases that non-native speakers often confuse: “bonne chance” and “bon courage“. Both translate loosely to “good luck” in English, but there are subtle differences in their meanings and usage. Understanding when to use each properly can help you sound more like a native French speaker.
What is the literal meaning of "bonne chance" and "bon courage"?
The literal meaning of “bonne chance” is “good luck”, while “bon courage” literally translates to “good courage”.
In what situations would you use "bonne chance" vs "bon courage"?
Use “bonne chance” when wishing someone luck before an event with an uncertain outcome, like an exam, competition, sports match, or job interview. It conveys that you hope external or random factors will work in their favor.
Use “bon courage” as a term of encouragement to motivate someone to persist through difficulty or keep working hard. It emphasizes inner strength and resilience more than just luck.
- Before a job interview: “Bonne chance pour ton entretien !”
- Before a sports match: “Bonne chance pour le match de ce soir !”
- When someone is struggling with a difficult task: “Bon courage avec ce projet, tu vas y arriver !”
- When someone is going through a challenging situation: “Bon courage à toi, tu es fort(e) !”
When would it be inappropriate to use one or the other?
Do not use “bon courage” lightly before a high-stakes situation where someone truly needs good fortune, like a risky surgery. This could come across as dismissive.
Likewise, avoid “bonne chance” as an empty platitude if someone is clearly struggling or distressed, and needs uplifting encouragement instead of just wishing them vague “luck”.
Are "bonne chance" and "bon courage" interchangeable?
They are not completely interchangeable. You would not typically use “bon courage” before an event to wish luck. And “bonne chance” would sound odd as general encouragement outside of a specific context.
Is one phrase more formal or informal than the other?
“Bon courage” is more informal, while “bonne chance” can be used in both casual and formal situations.
“Bonne chance” can sound more detached or impersonal, simply expressing a generic hope. “Bon courage” conveys care and encouragement.
So close friends would be more likely to use “bon courage” to show support. “Bonne chance” is fine for acquaintances.
Does "bon courage" have a different connotation than just wishing someone luck?
Yes, “bon courage” emphasizes inner strength, resilience, and perseverance rather than just hoping for good fortune. So it has a connotation of encouraging ongoing effort.
What are some examples of appropriate contexts for each phrase?
- “Bonne chance pour ton examen!” – “Good luck on your exam!”
- “Bon courage avec ce projet difficile” – “Keep persevering with this difficult project!”
What are some common responses to "bonne chance" and "bon courage"?
Typical responses are:
- “Merci, toi aussi !”
- “Merci beaucoup !”
- “Merci, j’en aurai besoin !” (Thanks, I’ll need it!)
The recipient may also wish the speaker good luck or courage in return.
In summary, while both phrases wish someone well, “bonne chance” conveys luck while “bon courage” encourages inner strength and perseverance. The phrases fit different situations and have slightly different cultural nuances.