Common French expressions

These idiomatic expressions are widely used in places where French is spoken, but some make little sense when translated directly into English. They’re similar to the English expressions How’s it going? or What’s up? in that, read literally, they don’t make much sense. How’s what going? Up where?

Comment allez-vous?

Pronounced commahn-tallay-voo, this phrase means How are you? Comment means how; allez is a conjugated version of the verb aller, meaning to go; and vous means you. Thus, the phrase translates literally to How goes you?

Unlike English, French has two translations for the singular pronoun you. Vous is used in formal contexts, while tu is informal and familiar. When addressing someone you don’t know, always use vous.

Comment vas-tu?

Pronounced commahn-vah-too, this is the informal version of How are you?

Comment vous appelez-vous?

(Commahn-voo-zap-lay-voo?) This translates literally to How do you call yourself?, and it’s used to mean What is your name? The informal version, which you’ll only rarely use, is Comment t’appelles-tu?

Je ne parle pas français.

(Jhun-parl-pah-frahn-say.) I do not speak French. Parle comes from the verb parler, meaning to speak. The combination of ne and pas before and after the verb are the equivalent of the English not.

Parlez-vous anglais?

(Parlay-voo-ahn-glay?) Do you speak English?

Je m’appelle Sara.

(Jhe-ma-pell [name].) My name is Sara. Obviously, your name should go in place of Sara.

Où est la salle de bain?

(Eww-ay-la-sell-de-behn?) Where is the restroom? Also acceptable is Où est la toilette? (Eww-ay-la-twa-lett?), meaning Where is the toilet?

Je ne comprends pas.

(Je-ne-com-prahn-pa.) I don’t understand.

Répéter, s’il vous plaît.

(Rep-a-tay seel-voo-play.) Please repeat.

Plus lent, s’il vous plaît.

(Ploo lahn, seel-voo-play.) Slower, please. You can also say Répéter plus lent, s’il vous plaît, s’il vous plaît, meaning Please repeat more slowly.

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