Rebonjour and Other Ways to Say “Hello” in French
In English, the prefix “re” can mean to do something again. You might redo your homework if you got a bad grade on the first try. Or maybe you redecorate your guest bedroom, and turn it into a home office. Or you might reorganize your desk after a few months of misplacing some important documents. Well, in French they use the “re” prefix in the same way. You can réapprendre, or learn again, and reboire, or drink again. But, one of the most commonly-used words that has the “re” prefix is rebonjour, or hello again.
In English, you’d probably get looked at like you had two heads if you saw someone and said “rehello” or “regood morning,” so you might be wondering how rebonjour works in France. The need for rebonjour is partly due to their culture around greetings. In the U.S. you can say “hello,” or “hi,” or even “hello again” to someone as many times as you see them in a day, but in France you have one bonjour for the whole day. This means that when you see someone for the first time that day you can say bonjour and do la bise, a greeting where you kiss the other person on each cheek, but if you see them for a second time you would only say rebonjour and you wouldn’t faire la bise.
This difference might seem a little trivial like the difference between saying “hello” and “hello again,” but it’s considered rude to say bonjour instead of rebonjour if you’ve already seen them once that day. This is because when you say bonjour you’re implying that this is the first time you’ve seen them that day. Let’s walk through a scenario together. Imagine you run into one of your co-workers in the coffee shop getting your morning coffee. Here you would greet them with bonjour and either la bise or a handshake depending on your relationship. But, then later that afternoon you see them again in a meeting. There you would say rebonjour without la bise. You would probably say rebonjour with a little smile on your face because the idea of saying hello again is seen as a little bit funny. You could also simply launch into normal conversation without really greeting them by saying something like, “Ta journée se passe bien ?” or “How’s your day going?” or any other conversation starter since technically you’ve already said hello to them already.
In the U.S. you can say “hello,” or “hi,” or even “hello again” to someone as many times as you see them in a day, but in France you have one bonjour for the whole day.
Now imagine that instead of saying rebonjour, you said bonjour instead when you saw your co-worker at that afternoon meeting. Your co-worker would most likely feel annoyed, or embêté, because they would think that you forgot you had seen them at the coffee shop that morning which would make them feel pretty unimportant. So you want to be careful to either say rebonjour or greet them like you already saw them what they’re going to do after work or about how their day is going since you saw them last so that you don’t insult them.
If you have worked with your co-worker for long enough and you have a pretty friendly relationship you can simply use salut, which means “hey” or “hi.” Salut is much more versatile than bonjour, and can be used to say both “hello” and “goodbye,” but just like with bonjour, you only need to say it one time per day to each person you meet. And don’t worry there’s no such thing as resalut!
The French have a lot of different ways to say hello and a ton of specific greetings that you only use in certain situations like enchanté, which you use when meeting someone for the first time. So it’s no surprise that rebonjour isn’t the only thing language learners might mix-up when greeting someone in a French-speaking country. Check out these three common mistakes that non-native speakers make when greeting one another to help make sure you sound like a local.
If you’ve ever heard someone answer the phone in French, they’ll usually say, “Allô?” Because of this you might think allô is another way to say bonjour, but this greeting is only used for answering phone calls. So be careful to leave it out of your everyday greetings.
2. Bonjour vs. Bonne Journée
Bonjour and bonne journée are commonly mixed-up because technically when translated they both mean the same thing, “good day.” Despite that, they’re used in two different ways. Bonjour means “hello,” or “good morning,” or “good afternoon,” while bonne journée means “have a good day.” So if you ran into someone at the grocery store one morning you would say, “bonjour” when you saw them and then, “bonne journée” when you parted ways!
3. Bonsoir vs. Bonne Soirée vs. Bonne Nuit
Once you reach the end of the afternoon around 6 p.m., you stop saying bonjour and you start to say bonsoir, which means “good evening.” Unlike bonjour, you can use bonsoir when saying goodbye where it would translate more to “goodnight” instead of “hello.” If it’s so late in the night that whoever you’re saying goodbye to is probably going to bed soon, you can say bonne nuit, which is what you say before going to sleep. Bonne soirée is used in a similar way to bonne journée and means “have a good night!” which means that bonne soirée et bonsoir can be used interchangeably when saying goodnight even though the meaning is slightly different.
With that I’ll say bonne journée or bonne soirée or bonne nuit to you (depending on what time it is when you’re reading this), and I hope you’ll be able to figure out when to use bonjour, and when not to as you continue through your journey to learn French!