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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

C’est bon: The phrases that show why everything is good when you’re speaking French

The French have something of a reputation as complainers - but really they are very positive, if the number of phrases for something being 'good' is anything to go by.

C'est bon: The phrases that show why everything is good when you're speaking French
It's all good. Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

Ask for a stereotypical view of the French and words like chirpy, sunny or cheerful don't often come up. Instead people tend to focus more on the French habit of complaining.

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Bon – so much more versatile than just for bonjour. Photo Faks87/flickr

But in fact in French there is a dizzying array of expressions that have 'good' in front of them – so maybe the grumpy reputation is a little unfair?

1. Times of day

We can probably take it for granted that most people already know bonjour. The most widely used word in the French language by a long way, bonjour plays a very important social function in France. 

Of course there are variations for the time of day – bonsoir and bonne nuit, but there also exist bonne journée, bonne matinée, bonne après-midi and bonne soirée. These are not greetings as such, they are ways of telling people to have a good day/a good afternoon/a good evening.

They are very widely used and not just with people you know well. For example if you get into a full lift in France you will be expected to greet everyone with bonjour/bonsoir when you get in, but then it's also considered polite to wish your fellow travellers bonne après-midi/bonne journée as you leave the lift.

You will also frequently be instructed to have a nice day/evening by shop assistants as you conclude your transaction.

READ ALSO Why even the French can't explain when Bonjour becomes Bonsoir

 


Expect to be wished 'bon fête' on festival days such as the Fête de la musique. Photo: AFP

2. Special days

Similar to bonne journée is bon weekend – have a nice weekend – or bonne fête – for a special day, for example if you want to wish someone a happy mothers' day or fathers' day for example  – bonne fête des mères/pères.

If someone is off on their holidays you can of course also wish them bonnes vacances – happy holidays – or more specifically bon voyage – have a good trip.

Some festivals also have a specific greeting – bonne année, for example means Happy New Year or bon noël if you're wishing someone a great Christmas (if you're seeing them on the day itself you would be more likely to use joyeaux noël – happy Christmas).

And of course bon anniversaire – happy birthday.

3. Specific events

If you're off to watch your favourite sports team scrap it out, don't be surprised to be told bon match – enjoy the game. Likewise if you're buying cinema tickets it's likely the vendor will say to you bon film or bonne séance – enjoy the film.

In fact here bon/bonne can be added to pretty much anything that you're about to do or see – bon spectacle, bonne lecture, bonne classe, bonne manifestation (enjoy the show, happy reading, have a great class, enjoy the protest). Although wishing someone bon enterrement or bon frottis  (have a great funeral/enjoy your pap smear) would probably be pushing it too far.

Having said that, we heard several people use bon confinement – have a good lockdown – during the months when population movement in France was strictly limited, although with a glint of irony.

4. Eating and drinking

Bon appétit is of course the most well known French eating phrase, although you will be interested to know some among the older generation, consider it rather vulgar.

You might be more likely to hear bonne dégustation – happy tasting – or a meal specific phrase such as bon dîner – enjoy your dinner – or bon déjeuner – enjoy your lunch.

At informal events or among younger people bon appétit is far more common, however, is frequently shortened to bon app.

5. Wishing good fortune

Bonne chance is the literal translation of good luck, so you are likely to hear this before you sit a test or go for a job interview but you will also hear bon courage quite a lot as well – be brave or more generally good luck or all the best.

And that's just a tiny sample of the words that regularly have a 'good' appended to them in France, so really life is good in France.

 

 

 

 

 

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Seven fascinating ways written and spoken German differ

Even with High German, the differences between writing and speaking are stark.

Seven fascinating ways written and spoken German differ
The Swiss and German flags fly near German parliament. Image: WOLFGANG KUMM / DPA / AFP

You’ve spent hours learning the difference between Genitiv and Dativ, poring over complicated article tables and mastering complicated word order rules… only to step off the plane in Germany and realise you can barely understand a thing. 

Fear not – this is a common experience for many language-learners. The German you’ll read in your textbooks is not the same as the German you’ll hear on the street, so here’s a list of seven important differences to help you hit the ground running. 

And don't get us started on Swiss German – that's a whole other kettle of hot cheese.

1. Word order

German is notorious for its difficult word order, with subordinating conjunctions such as da and weil sending the verb to the end of a clause and tying non-native speakers in knots.

Whilst the importance of correct word order will be drilled into you in language classes, you’ll often find native German speakers themselves shirking the rules.

READ ALSO: 12 signs you've mastered the German language

Sentences with multiple clauses can prove difficult even for native speakers, who will often opt to keep the verb where it is rather than sending it to the end.

Ich habe gestern den ganzen Tag im Bett verbracht, weil ich war so müde (correct formulation: weil ich so müde war). 

I spent the whole day in bed yesterday because I was so tired.

Germans will also often play with word order to emphasise certain aspects of the sentence, even if it is not technically grammatically correct. 

Ich putze das Haus gerade (correct formulation: ich putze gerade das Haus)

I am cleaning the house at the moment.

2. Past tense

When Germans tell stories or speak about what they got up to last weekend, you’re much more likely to hear the present perfect rather than the preterite. 

With the exception of some verbs, such as haben or sein, many native speakers would find it strange to speak with the preterite in everyday life.  

If you’re in doubt during a conversation, opting for ich bin gefahren (I went) rather than ich fuhr will always be a safe bet. 

READ ALSO: Eight of the most common (and funniest) mistakes German learners make

3. Mixed up cases

The case system in German can take years to master, and learning the correct uses of the dative and genitive can be a particular sore point for many non-native speakers.

However you’ll see many native German speakers making the same mistakes on a daily basis. 

The genitive case is being used less and less in spoken language, with many simply replacing it with the dative equivalent. 

Take the preposition wegen, for example: technically this word should be followed by the genitive case, but you’ll often hear wegen dem Wetter (due to/as a result of the weather) instead of wegen des Wetters in everyday conversation.

A similar phenomenon occurs with the possessive genitive:

When talking about ‘Steven’s car’, for example, Stevens Auto (correct German formulation) becomes dem Steven sein Auto (replaced with dative). 

For many native German speakers, using the genitive when speaking now feels unnatural and stilted – in fact, this ‘mistake’ has become so widespread that many Germans now mix their cases up when writing.

4. Abbreviations

Much like in English, German speakers are also partial to shortening words where possible. So much so that it’s not uncommon to hear multiple abbreviations within the same sentence. 

Popular Abkürzungen (abbreviations) include the shortening of articles, for example eine to ‘ne, or the merging of words such as fürs for für das.

Ich brauche einen Computer fürs Studium.

I need a computer for my studies. 

Es war ‘ne tolle Erfahrung! 

It was a great experience!

READ ALSO: Ten German abbreviations that will have you texting like a true native

5. Swallowed sounds

Similarly, German speakers will often drop the letter at the end of a verb, losing the ‘e’ sound to make a sentence flow more smoothly. 

This doesn’t work for all verbs, but it is most commonly heard with verbs such as ich habe (I have) which becomes ich hab’ or ich glaube (I believe) which becomes ich glaub’.

Verbs in the plural form can also be shortened, with wir gehen (we go) becoming wir geh’n and sie sehen (they see) becoming sie seh’n.

6. Modal particles 

Spoken German is also littered with small words that are incredibly difficult to translate but very important to help understand the context of a sentence.

What is more, the intonation used when pronouncing these filler words is key to interpreting the tone of the speaker, meaning they don’t work as well when written on the page. 

READ ALSO: Das ist ja mal wictig: The complete guide to German particles

One of the most common of these is halt – it comes from the verb halten (to stop), but is often used to add ‘colour’ to sentences, to express a tone of resignation or to buy time when someone is unsure of what to say, just as with ‘like’ or ‘just’ in English.

Other untranslatable modal particles include doch, eben and mal – whilst they can originally be confusing, language learners soon get a feel for when they should be used. 

Du hast mir nicht geschrieben! 

You didn’t send me a message!

Doch! 

Yes I did! 

Das Ding ist halt, dass immer noch so viele Fehler beim Sprechen mache.

The thing is that I still make so many mistakes when I speak.

Sollen wir bald mal was zusammen machen?

Should we hang out together soon?

7. Slang 

Last but not least are the widely used slang words that pepper everyday speech, especially amongst young people. 

Many slang terms vary from region to region, but they’re much more common in spoken language than in written language as they suggest a degree of informality.  

Words such as krass and geil can be used to show you’re impressed by something, whilst the question Na? has become a common colloquial greeting.

Want to sound like a true native when you speak? For a deeper look at German slang, visit our guide here. For Swiss German, click here. 

 
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