Greetings in other languages are always tricky. They overlap mostly, but sometimes catch you out. This is why you need to know the different ways in which you can wish someone goodnight in French — it depends on the context!
In English, you say “goodnight” to acknowledge someone is going to bed. That’s almost the only time you say it. You would rarely say “goodnight” to someone if you’re just bidding them farewell for the evening, no matter how late it is. (It wouldn’t be wrong to do so, just unusual.)
You say “goodnight” in French a bit differently depending on a) whether you mean to greet someone or bid them farewell, and b) how well you know them (i.e. how intimate the situation is).
Nonetheless, knowing how to say bonne nuit (the most literal translation of “goodnight”) is only part of the picture. So see the explainer below for a few more ways of bidding someone goodnight in French.
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Goodnight in French — Summary table
Here are the ways of saying “goodnight” in French correctly, organised by where to say them and to whom.
|“Goodnight” in French||When to say it and to whom|
|Bonne nuit||Most standard “goodnight” in French — use only to say goodbye to someone very late, or when they’re going to bed.|
|Bonsoir||Usually a greeting as in “good evening”; formal way of saying goodbye as in “goodnight” (less common, but still common-ish)|
|Bonne soirée||Literally “Good evening”; use it to say “Have a good evening” (different from bonsoir)|
|Á demain||Literally “until tomorrow” — this is a casual “goodnight” when someone is going to sleep|
|Dors avec les anges||“Sleep well” — literally “Sleep with the angels”; a little more poetic than dors bien|
|Fais de beaux rêves||Sleep tight/pleasant dreams.|
A bit more about each of these expressions below.
Bonne Nuit — Standard French for “Good Night”
You say bonne nuit to wish someone goodnight in French when you know the other person is about to go to bed.
They might be
- Going to their own bedroom to sleep
- Going to sleep right next to you
- Leaving a social area to go and get ready for sleep (even if they’re not about to sleep right away)
So you would never say bonne nuit to someone leaving the office (or a late-night study session) at 11pm… unless, again, they were going into the next room to sleep.
Bonsoir — Good Evening, or Good Night
The word bonsoir usually is used as a greeting in French. It usually conveys the meaning “good evening” (which you’d only say in English if you’re in a somewhat formal situation — but it’s much more common in French).
However, bonsoir can also mean “goodnight” in French. The usage is somewhat regional. In major cities in France (Paris, Marseilles, Lyon), it’s more common to say bonne soirée to say “goodnight” in French (as in to bid someone farewell from a party or evening affair).
Saying bonsoir to say “good night” in French is slightly more formal. But in French it’s never really wrong to sound a little formal.
If you say goodnight by saying bonsoir, the meaning (hello vs goodbye) will be clear from the context.
Bonne Soirée — “Have a good evening”
You use bonne soirée to wish someone goodnight in French whenever they’re leaving (or you’re leaving).
You use bonne soirée any time in the evening to say “goodbye”, “good night”, or “see you later” — when it’s the last time you’ll see them until at least the next day.
For example, if it’s 9pm and you just finished having dinner with someone and they’re leaving, you’d wish them bonne soirée. You wouldn’t say bonne nuit, as they’re not just about to go to bed (see the section on bonne nuit) above.
A demain — “See you tomorrow”
You can also use à demain to wish someone goodnight in French.
Really it means “see you tomorrow”. This might seem a bit casual. But it’s commonly said. If someone is going to bed (in the same house), then you will see them the next day, after all…
Dors avec les anges
A few other languages use this too. In Spanish, people say que duermas con los angelitos (though this is regional, too).
Nonetheless I like it better than just dors bien, as it’s more poetic, and creates a bit of discussion if the other person hasn’t heard it.
Fais de beaux rêves — “Sweet dreams”
Literally this means “Have beautiful dreams”.
It is used to say “sweet dreams” in French. But in that sense you do use it to bid someone goodnight in French, or use it alongside other expressions like bonne nuit.
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