How to say “How are you” in French in the only four ways you need to know.
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 — A Summary
Here’s every common way of saying “How are you” in French.
|Ça va ?||General “How’s it going?”|
|Vous allez bien ?||Are you well? (Somewhat formal)|
|Tu vas bien ?||Are you well? (casual)|
|Quoi de neuf ?||What’s up? (More casual)|
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.
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 🙂