how-are-you-in-french

8 Ways to Ask “How Are You” in French: From Formal to Friendly

“Hello! How are you?”

“I’m fine, thank you. And you?”

This seems like a pretty basic conversation, right?

But, could you say those phrases in French?

Knowing how to ask “how are you?” is fundamental for meeting people or making friends in French.

Maybe you haven’t learned about greetings yet.

Or, maybe you’ve been studying grammar so much that you completely forgot to learn French greetings and other basic phrases.

Although I’m a fan of learning grammar before conversation, there are certain phrases that just need to be memorized from the very beginning, and asking “how are you?” is one of them.

Read on to learn eight different ways to ask “how are you?” in French, with a brief explanation of each phrase.

And don’t forget to click on the phrase to hear it pronounced! But first, some tips on where to practice French greetings…
 


 
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Where to practice “how are you” in French

Even if you haven’t been exposed to too much French yet, there are some great resources out there that’ll help you practice asking “how are you?” and other basic greetings.

Quizlet

how-are-you-in-french

Quizlet is a great website for quickly learning French greetings, including “how are you?” and other basic introduction phrases.

Start by going through the flashcards to memorize the greetings. These flashcards are especially great for memorizing helpful phrases before your first trip abroad.

Then, you can explore the other activities, such as “learn,” “write,” “spell” and “test.” Finally, Quizlet incorporates these words into fun games.

FluentU

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FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into French language learning experiences.

You’ll see “how are you?” and other French greetings used in authentic contexts. Click on any word or phrase in the interactive subtitles to learn more about it and see it used in example sentences and other videos.

With FluentU, you can also keep practicing with customized vocabulary lists, dynamic flashcards and fun quizzes.

Quizizz

how-are-you-in-french

Quizizz is a site that does just as its name suggests: it quizzes you!

Here, you can find fun quizzes on lots of topics, including French greetings. And the best part is that you can take quizzes without even making an account!

You can either learn the greetings by taking the quiz independently on the main page, or you can push “practice” to see how you stack up against other players. It’s quite addictive!

BBC’s Bitesize GCSE French

how-are-you-in-french

The BBC hosts a great site called Bitesize, which has very useful information for French learners.

Here, you’ll find a quiz that not only teaches you greetings but also context. Questions include situations like “You run into your elderly neighbor at 7 p.m. What do you say?”

The questions also make you think about formal vs. informal French.

Wikibooks

how-are-you-in-french

It might come as a surprise, but Wikibooks hosts one of the most comprehensive free French learning books dedicated to asking “how are you?” and using general French greetings.

Just read the page from top to bottom, memorizing the words and listening to the pronunciation by clicking on the “play” icon.

At the bottom of the page, you’ll see lots of exercises you can complete.

8 Ways to Ask “How Are You” in French (Plus Responses, Pronunciation and More!)

1. Comment allez-vous? (How are you?)

When to ask

“Comment allez-vous?” (“How are you?”) is probably the most basic way of asking “how are you” in French. It’s used in formal situations, such as with your boss or French teacher.

How to respond

Respond with a simple Je vais bien, et vous?” (“I’m doing well, and you?”). Likewise, you can just say “Bien, et vous?” (“Well, and you?”). The key is the et vous (and you), which prompts a similar answer.

Grammar

The first thing to note is the word vous (you). Vous is the formal “you” in French. Of course, in English the word “you” can be either formal or informal, but in French, as you will see ahead, we use tu for informal situations, such as hanging out with friends, and vous for everything else.

Vous is also the plural “you” in French, be it formal or informal. When in doubt, use vous not tu. If the person you’re speaking with wants to be informal, then they’ll tell you.

Now, look at aller (to go). In French, you’re not so much asking “how are you?” but rather “how are you going?” In this case, allez is the conjugated form of aller when used with the pronoun vous.

Finally, we use a hyphen to invert the subject and verb of the question to avoid an awkward est-ce que. Est-ce que is a basic component of asking formal questions in French. It usually goes at the beginning of a sentence:

Est-ce que tu veux manger avec moi? (Do you want to eat with me?)

But fortunately, we can use a hyphen and just switch the subject and the verb, such as in “Comment allez-vous?”

2. Comment ça va? (How’s it going?)

how-are-you-in-french

When to ask

“Comment ça va?” (“How’s it going?”) is basically an informal version of “Comment allez-vous?” and you should expect a similar response. As this greeting is an informal way of asking “how are you?” you should use it with friends.

How to respond

The quickest response to Comment ça va?” is Ça va bien, et toi?” (“It’s going well, how about you?”). Memorize this question and answer combination because you’ll use it a lot. If you’re not doing well, you can say “Ça va mal” (“It’s not going well”).

Check out this great video with interactive subtitles on FluentU. It contains examples of “Comment ça va?” At the beginning of the video, we see two puppets talking:

Puppet 1: Salut Frédéric, comment ça va? (Hey Frederic, how are you?)

Puppet 2: Oui, ça va. (I’m fine.)

Grammar

Again we’re using comment (how) to start the question. However, now we use ça, which in this case can be translated as “it.” Finally, we have va, the conjugated version of aller (to go) in the third person singular. Note there’s no hyphen this time because we put the subject (ça) first.

3. Comment vas-tu? (How are you?)

When to ask

“Comment vas-tu?” (“How are you?”) is the most accurate informal way of saying “Comment allez-vous?” As you’d expect, you use this way of asking “how are you?” in informal situations.

How to respond

The response is almost the same as with “Comment allez-vous?” You say “Je vais bien, et toi?” (“I am doing well, and you?”). If you’re doing so-so, you can respond “Comme ci comme ça” (“So-so”) in both informal and formal situations.

Grammar

The main difference here is that we’ve replaced vous with tu in the question and et vous with et toi in the response. This is because it’s the informal version of “Comment allez-vous?”

4. Ça va? (How’s it going?)

how-are-you-in-french

When to ask

“Ça va?” (“How’s it going?” or “Are you okay?”) is an even more informal way of asking Comment ça va?” Alternatively, it can express concern: “Are you okay?!” It’s generally used with people you know very well.

When something doesn’t work, “Ça va pas” (“It’s not alright”) is often used to express frustration.

In this video available on FluentU, we see a mother scolding her daughter, saying:

Mais ça va pas Charlotte, tu est vraiment mal élevée. (It’s not alright Charlotte, you are really poorly raised.)

How to respond

If “Ça va?” asks “How’s it going?” the answer is the same as with our second phrase (“Ça va bien, et toi?”). If someone is asking if you’re okay, you can say Oui, ça va, merci” (“I’m okay, thank you”).

Grammar

The only difference between this and Comment ça va?” is that we’ve eliminated comment (how). This is very informal and shouldn’t be used in formal writing.

5. Tu vas bien? / Vous allez bien? (You’re doing well?)

When to ask

I’ve combined these two because you now know the difference between formal and informal “you.” “Tu vas bien?” / “Vous allez bien?” (“You’re doing well?”) can be used to ask “how are you?” or to express preoccupation. It depends on the tone and context.

How to respond

In either context, you can respond with “Oui, je vais bien, et toi vous?” (“Yeah, I’m fine, and you?”) or “Non, je ne vais pas bien” (“I’m not doing well”).

Grammar

In French, especially when speaking, we can ask questions by just raising the tone of our voice. Thus, we avoid cumbersome phrases like est-ce que, and we don’t have to worry about hyphens.

6. Quoi de neuf? (What’s new?)

When to ask

“Quoi de neuf?” (“What’s new?”) isn’t exactly asking “how are you?” but it’s still a question you can ask when you start a conversation. It can also be translated as “What’s up?” This is an informal question you ask someone you haven’t seen in a while.

How to respond

The most common response is “Pas grand-chose” (“Not much”). You can also say “Rien de special” (“Nothing special”) or “Rien de nouveau” (“Nothing new”).

Grammar

This is almost a literal word-for-word translation of “What’s new?” in English. Quoi means “what,” but it’s not interchangeable with que (what). Normally, quoi has to be the second word in a sentence, not the first, but “Quoi de neuf?” is an interesting exception that you should memorize.

7. Qu’est-ce qu’il y a? (What’s wrong?)

When to ask

“Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?” is a way of asking “What’s wrong?” It’s used to express concern and can be both formal and informal. Although it doesn’t exactly mean “how are you?” it’s a common way to start a conversation with someone you know.

How to respond

If nothing is wrong, you could say something like “T’inquiète (pas), je vais bien” (Don’t worry, I’m fine). Otherwise, you can explain what’s happening.

Grammar

This is a somewhat complicated phrase. We start with que (what) followed by the aforementioned est-ce que and, finally, il y a (there is), such that we are literally asking, “What is there?”

8. Que fais-tu? (What’s up?)

When to ask

“Que fais-tu?” literally means “What are you doing?” But, it’s a great conversation starter because it can also be interpreted as “What’s up?” This is informal because of the use of tu.

How to respond

If you’re doing nothing, you can say “Pas grand-chose” (“Not much”) or, like in the previous example, you can explain what you’re doing.

Grammar

We start with que (what) followed by the conjugated verb faire (to do). We also invert the subject using a hyphen, thus avoiding est-ce que.

 

 

As you can see, there are several ways to ask “how are you?” depending on what exactly you want to ask and who you’re talking to.

Obviously, memorizing whole sentences is not the best way to learn French, but there are some fundamental phrases that even beginners can learn to get quick conversation practice.
 

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