After learning how to say hello in French (or saying hello out loud), the very next thing to say is: “How are you?”
French is a language full of pleasantries and formalities. So “How are you” is a very common part of any greeting exchange.
When you look up how to say “How are you” in French, you’re likely to find a whole lot of laundry lists of ways of saying it that people don’t actually say (see our part at the end — “Things not to say“).
So we’ll focus on only the best, most common ways of saying “How are you” in French without any of the fluff.
How are you in French at a Glance
Here’s every common way of saying “How are you” in French.
How's it going?
Are you well?
Are you well?
What are you up to?
How are you feeling?
Is it not going well?
The 4 Most Common Ways of Saying How Are You in French
The Casual: Ça va ? — How are you?
By far the most common way of saying “How are you” in French is “ Ça va? “
This phrase means “Does it go?”. It doesn’t make sense grammatically, but you can compare it to the English phrase “How’s it going?” (How’s WHAT going?”)
You can use “Ça va ?” in many situations: with people your age, familiar people, and even not so familiar people. It’s a little casual and you wouldn’t use it when greeting elders or dignitaries, if that is part of your life.
There are variations on ça va, too, including
- Ça va bien ? “Are you well?”
- Comment ça va ? “How’s it going”
- Ça va alors ? “How are you then?”
The above translations are rough — I’d call them “equivalent phrases” rather than translations.
Formal: Vous allez bien ? Are you well?
In textbooks, they teach you Comment allez-vous? as the formal way of asking “How are you” in French.
The phrase Comment allez-vous ? is 100% correct, and approved by the Fondation Alliance Francaise. It’s grammatically sound and is standard French. But it’s so formal that I would only use it in a formal situation like meeting someone’s grandparents or someone of higher social status.
More common is for people to use the phrase vous allez bien? to ask “Are you well?”
Asking vous allez bien ? is NOT correct, standard French. It doesn’t use the question form, so it’s a statement with a question mark.
But despite this, it retains formality by using the vous form. And so it adds a slight softening casual side to a formal phrase. This is the most common way I was asked if I was well in French when meeting someone like a landlord or a colleague (usually my peer level or someone working for me) for the first time.
Friendly: Tu vas bien ?
This phrase is just like “Vous allez bien ?” but the casual form.
It means “Are you well?” but is phrased the way you’d ask someone you already know, or someone much younger than you (e.g. if you’re talking to someone young enough to be your child).
I was often asked Tu vas bien? by people I had met at least once, or maybe a few times. I’d show up at work and the people there would say “Salut Dana ! Tu vas bien ?“
Very friendly: Quoi de neuf ?
Literally “ Quoi de neuf? ” means “What’s new?” and is used much like “What’s up?”
Using “Quoi de neuf ?” is very informal and casual, and you should definitely use it for someone you have met before and probably see frequently.
More Ways to Say How Are You in French
Qu’est-ce que tu fais?
Qu’est-ce que tu fais? Means “what are you doing?”, and it’s an informal greeting and is a bit like asking “What are you up to?” The formal version would be Qu’est-ce que vous faites? But it is very uncommon to hear that in France, it would be considered weird to asking a stranger or someone you don’t know well what they’re doing.
Qu’est-ce qui se passe?
Qu'est-ce qui se passe? can be translated with “what is happening?” or simply “what is up?”. This is a good expression for when you have just joined a group of people and you want to get up to speed on the conversation topic.
Quoi de beau?
Quoi de beau? is an informal expression that translates to “what’s beautiful?” or “what’s good?”. It is an informal expression used to ask about what good things have been happening lately.
Comment tu te sens?
Comment tu te sens? means “how are you feeling?” and is a more serious question than the previous ones. When you use it, you indicate that you really do want to know what the other person is going through right now. Don’t use this expression for idle chit-chat. When you don’t know the person (very well) you can use the more formal “comment vous vous sentez?”. This is a question that doctors frequently ask their patients.
Ca ne va pas?
Ca ne va pas? means “Is it not going well?” and is the complete opposite to quoi de beau? You can use it when someone seems visibly upset and you want to find out what’s happening to them. This expression doesn’t address the person directly, so you can use it for both formal and informal relationships.
Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?
Qu’est-ce qu’il y a? is another way of saying “what’s up?” or “what’s happening?”. The verb avoir means to have, so literally this expression means “what’s having?”. It’s neither formal nor informal, and you can use it just like you would qu’est-ce qui se passe?
Alors? means “so?” and is a very informal way of asking what’s up. You can use it when you have recently seen someone and want to know what’s been happening for them since. It also works well when you already anticipate what the other person will say. If, for example, your friend comes back from a date that you knew about, alors? would be a great way to ask them how it went.
Ways to NOT say How are you in French
Here are a few things we recommend you DON’T say for “How are you” in French because they’re too formal, stuffy, or just outmoded.
Some of these are
- Comment vas-tu? This is a formal question structure, but using informal tu form, so stuck between both worlds. It’s not wrong, but I don’t think I heard someone saying it once in my time in France.
- Comment est-ce que vous allez? Again, technically correct, but too long! It really seems to be asking how someone is going to a place (e.g. by bus? tram?
- Ça baigne ? You might be tempted to use this slang French expression that people used to use until maybe the year 2005. But it really isn’t used any more. Ignore those outdated slang guides and use our guide to French slang that has stood the test of time! Just stick with “Ça va ?” and ça va aller, je vous le promets 🙂