Bon vs Bien in French

Does French seriously need two words for “good?”

Well, technically, yes, it does, for the same reason that English has “good” and “well.”

In this grammar guide, we’ll explain the big differences between bon and bien—you’ll see that they’re actually quite different from each other.

Then we’ll walk through specific cases where you always use one or the other, to further cut down on any guesswork.


Differences Between Bon and Bien

The basics of bon and bien are pretty easy for English speakers, considering we have a very similar pair of words: “good” and “well.”

Typically, bon and “good” are used as adjectives:

Le repas est bon. (The meal is good.)

On the other hand, bien and “well” are usually used as adverbs:

Il joue bien au foot. (He plays soccer well.)

Unfortunately, that’s not all there is to these two short words! Both can act as adjectives, adverbs, and even nouns, depending on the context. Let’s explore the differences between bon and bien in more detail. 

Bon and bien as Adjectives

As we’ve already seen, bon is usually an adjective in French, which means that it describes a noun. 

Meanwhile, Bien can only act as an adjective when used with a state-of-being verb such as être (to be), penser (to think), croire (to believe) and sembler (to seem)

Consider the following examples of bon and bien acting as adjectives: 

C’est une bonne idée.That's a good idea.Ce restaurant est vraiment bien.This restaurant is good.
C’est un bon prof.He's a good teacher.On est bien ici.We are comfortable here.
Mon chien est bon.My dog is good.Alors, il était bien ce film ?
Well, was the movie any good?
C'est une bonne idée de boire du café.It's a good idea to drink coffee.Très bien !Very good!

Bon and bien as Adverbs

Just as bon is usually an adjective, bien is usually an adverb. Adverbs in French are used to describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. 

Bon very rarely acts as an adverb, although it can be used to mean good or pleasant. 

In these examples, bon and bien act as adverbs: 

Cette fleur sent bon.The flower smells good.Marie travaille bien.Marie works well.
Oui, parfait, c’est bon pour moi.Perfect, that's good for me.Je me sens bien.I feel fine.
Ce plat est très bon.The dish is very good.Je ne me sens pas bien.I don't feel well.
Il fait bon vivre !It's good to be alive!bien mieuxmuch better

Bon and bien as Nouns

As a noun, le bon can mean “advantage” or be used to refer to “the good part” of something. It can also mean “voucher”, just so you know! 

Le bien, as a noun, means “good” in the conceptual or spiritual sense—as in the phrase “good vs. evil”. It can also mean “possession” as in the phrase “treasured possession.”

Il est parti pour de bon.He's gone for good.le bien et le malgood and evil
Cette fois, on le fait pour de bon.Let's do it for real this time.C’est pour son bien.It's for his own good.
Il est fâché pour de bon.He's really angry.son bien le plus précieuxhis most treasured possession
C’est la bonne.It's the right one.le bien publicthe public good

When to Use Bon in French

Talking about the senses

One very common usage of bon is to compliment someone’s cooking—in other words, describing a food’s good taste. Just as bon is used to describe taste, it’s used to describe other senses as well.

Le gâteau a bon goût. (The cake tastes good.)

Le café sent bon. (The coffee smells good.)

When something is done/ready

You can simply use bon to indicate that something is finished or ready.

C’est bon.” (“It’s ready.”)

To indicate “enough”

You can also use bon to indicate “enough. For example, if someone is pouring wine for you and your glass is filled to your liking, you say:

C’est bon. (That’s enough.)

As an adverbial adjective

Though it’s rare, sometimes bon is used as an adverbial adjective, which means that it provides more information on a verb, another adjective or an adverb. A common example of this is when talking about smell. 

Les fleurs sentent bon. (These flowers smell good.)

You can also use bon with the construction il fait bon + verb to mean that it’s generally good to do something.

Il fait bon se promener. (It is good to go walking.)

Il fait bon travailler. (It is good to work.)

Additionally, bon can be used to modify certain special verbs like sembler (to seem) and tenir (to hold). When bon is used with these verbs, the meaning is a bit more broad than “good.”

Tiens bon ! (Hold on!/Hang in there!)

Ça semble bon. (It seems good/okay.)

Exclamations and wishes

French speakers often use bon in short, exclamatory phrases that express good wishes to someone.

Bonne chance ! (Good luck!)

Bon voyage ! (Have a good trip! — Literally, “Good trip!”)

Bonne idée ! (Good idea!)

Bon appétit ! (Dig in!)

When something is correct

You’ll also need to use bon to express when something is correct.

Ce n’est pas la bonne réponse. (It’s not the correct answer.)

Oui, ces papiers. Ce sont les bons devoirs pour ce soir. (Yes, these papers. These are the correct homework sheets for this evening.)

When something is enjoyable or pleasant

You use bon to talk about something—a period of time or an event, for example—that was enjoyable or pleasant.

J’ai passé de bonnes vacances. (I had a pleasant vacation.)

C’était un bon Noël. (It was a good Christmas.)

When talking about competency, kindness or quality

You can use this bon to discuss a person’s character or skills, or the quality of something.

Elle est une bonne actrice. (She’s a good actress.)

Elle est vraiment bonne. (She is truly good. — In this case, the sentence is describing someone’s overall kindness or character as good.)

C’est le bon vin. (It’s the high quality/good wine).

As the noun “voucher” or “coupon”

Il y a un bon pour obtenir deux pantalons pour le prix d’un. (There’s a coupon for getting two pants for the price of one.)

When to Use Bien in French

Bien has fewer uses than bon, but there are still six possibilities to use it correctly.

With state-of-being verbs

Use bien with state-of-being verbs such as être (to be), penser (to think), croire (to believe) and sembler (to seem).

Il est bien comme prof. (He is a good professor.)

Je pense bien à toi. (I think well of you.)

When giving an opinion

Think of this rule as expressing your likes/dislikes or satisfaction/dissatisfaction.

Le film était bien ! (The movie was good!)

This is different than calling the movie good (in which case, you use bon). Instead, you’re using this expression to specifically say that you liked it. 

When talking about “wellness”

Talking about how you feel—specifically, whether or not you feel well—is another situation where you’ll need to use bien.

Je me sens bien. (I feel well.)

Tu te sens bien aujourd’hui ? (Do you feel well today?)

There’s also an informal twist on this usage you can use with friends to talk about someone who’s behaving strangely:

Elle n’est pas bien !? (Is she crazy? — Literally, “Is she not well?”)

To say “really” or “very”

Using bien to express “really” or “very” is a common habit among native French speakers.

Elle est bien méchante. (She is really mean.)

Je suis bien fatigué. (I am very tired.)

Il fait bien chaud. (It’s really hot.)

As the noun “the good” or “good/belongings”

Savez-vous distinguer le bien du mal ? (Do you know good from bad?)

Il a fait don de ses biens à une œuvre de bienfaisance. (He donated his belongings to a charity.)

As “good” in the expression très bien

Très bien ! (Very good!)

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Where to Practice Bon vs. Bien Online

The best way to learn the rules below is to apply them. Here are the best online tools to practice using bon and bien in different contexts:


Whew! Those were a lot of grammar rules, but you’ve earned a break now that you know when to use bon vs. bien like a native speaker would!

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