Whether you're traveling through France or befriending a French person abroad, at some point you'll feel gratitude. (At least, one would hope!) Understanding how to say “thank you” in French and the nuances surrounding it will help you navigate these social situations. From the formal to the casual, the spoken to the signed, there are many ways to communicate appreciation in French. In this blog post, we'll explore these different ways to say “thank you” and how you can use them to deepen your understanding of the French-speaking world. Ready? On y va!
No matter the culture, it’s usually rude not to say some form of “thank you” when someone extends a gesture of kindness. French people specifically appreciate when travelers try to speak their language, even if it's just a few simple phrases. This can show respect and a willingness to engage with their local culture. By learning how to say “thank you” in French, you may also gain access to local insider tips, recommendations, and hospitality that you might not have been offered otherwise.
To understand gratitude in French culture, it’s important to note how phrases vary by formality or relationship type. There are different ways to say “thanks,” just like in English when we use varying phrases of appreciation depending on the context. For example, in a casual setting it’s common to use “merci,” and in a more formal setting, it’s more appropriate to use “je vous remercie” — we’ll share more on that in a minute.
First, let's cover how French terms of gratitude differ from what you could be used to in American culture.
In American culture, expressing gratitude is a common and expected gesture in daily interactions. Whether it's a quick "thanks" or"thank you," these expressions of appreciation are generally accepted in most situations regardless of the relationship or formality. However, in French culture, gratitude is more nuanced. It can depend on the context, the relationship between the speaker and the person being addressed, and the level of formality.
One major difference between French and American gratitude cultures is the use of formal and informal pronouns. In French, there are different forms of "you" depending on the relationship between the speaker and listener. For example, the informal "tu" is used when addressing friends, family, or someone of a similar age or social status.
On the other hand, the formal "vous" is used in more formal situations, like addressing elders, bosses, or someone you don’t know personally. This difference in pronoun usage also affects the way gratitude is expressed.
In a casual setting, it's common to use "merci" along with the informal "tu." But in a more formal setting, "je vous remercie" would be more appropriate.
Another aspect of French gratitude culture is the use of different levels of formality in speech. There are several different levels of formality in French, ranging from the very casual to the very formal. The way gratitude is expressed can vary depending on the situation.
In a casual setting among people you know well, a simple "merci" will suffice. In a less relaxed setting, however, like meeting your girlfriend’s family for the first time, a more formal expression of gratitude would be expected.
In addition to these linguistic differences, cultural variations exist in showing appreciation. French people tend to value modesty and the art of understatement, so expressing gratitude too effusively can be seen as insincere or rude. Americans are generally on the other side of the social spectrum, often living up to their boisterous reputation, placing more emphasis on positive reinforcement in a more enthusiastic manner.
As an extension of the French language, gratitude can be expressed through your gestures and actions. For instance, a polite smile, nod, or shoulder pat can also be used to convey gratitude. This aspect of interpersonal communication is often a common ground across many cultures.
There is a strong deaf community in France (an estimated 100,000 people) that uses French Sign Language (FSL). FSL has its own grammar and syntax, and differs significantly from spoken French. By making an effort to learn FSL, you can promote inclusivity and improve communication with the deaf community in France.
Here’s how to say “thank you” in French Sign Language:
“Thank You:” Touch your chin with the fingertips of one hand and then move that hand forward and down.
Similar to how the language of French has many emotional and situational nuances, FSL also varies depending on context. Here are more ways to say “thank you” in French sign language:
Heartfelt gratitude: Hold one hand flat against your chest and make a circular motion with the other hand.
Strong sense of appreciation: Place one hand flat against your chest and then bring it out and up to form a fist with the thumb up.
Gift-giving thanks: Touch your chest with one hand and then open it, palm facing out.
The choice of which sign to use depends on the situation and the level of emotion involved. For example, if someone does something small for you, like hold the door open on the way out of a cafe, the first sign (touching the chin and moving the hand forward and down) might be appropriate.
If someone does something significant for you, like help you move into a new apartment, the second or third sign (circular motion or fist with thumb up) might be more appropriate to express a deeper gratitude.
To learn more about universal sign language, head over to this article next.
Canadian French, also known as Quebec French, is a unique dialect of French spoken in Canada, particularly in the province of Quebec. While it shares many similarities with standard French, Canadian French has a few vocabulary differences. For example, instead of using the standard “merci” to express gratitude, Canadians more often use “merci beaucoup” (pronounced as “mehr-see boh-koo”), which translates to “thank you very much.”
As we mentioned earlier, how to say “thank you” in French depends on the formality and relationship between the speaker and the person being thanked. Here are some examples of different phrases of gratitude that can be used in various situations:
“Merci” - “Thanks”
This is the most common and casual way of saying “thank you” in French.
“Je vous remercie” - “Thank you very much”
[juh voo r’mair-see]
A more formal expression of gratitude.
“Je vous remercie infiniment” - “Thank you so much”
[juh voo r’mair-see an-feen-ee-mahn]
A polite expression of gratitude.
“Je vous suis très reconnaissant(e)” - “I’m very grateful to you”
[juh voo swee tray r’kuh-nay-sahn(t)]
An elaborate expression that conveys a deep sense of appreciation.
“Je tiens à vous remercier” - “I want to thank you”
[juh tee-ahn ah voo r’mair-see]
A phrase of gratitude to use in professional settings.
“Je vous exprime toute ma gratitude” - “I express my gratitude to you”
[juh vooz ex-preem tooht mah grah-tee-tewd]
A common way to say “thank you” in written communication, like emails or thank you notes.
Aside from the aforementioned phrases, you can show your appreciation in French by saying the following:
“Merci d’avance” - “Thanks in advance”
Can be used to express gratitude in advance, such as when asking for a favor.
“Merci pour votre aide” - “Thank you for your help”
[mehr-see poor voh-tr uh-eed]
A polite phrase used to convey appreciation for someone’s help.
As the largest country in Western Europe, France has slightly varying dialects and cultural customs as you move through each region:
Provence: In the southern region of Provence, it’s common to use the phrase "merci bien" (pronounced as "mehr-see byen") to express gratitude, which translates to "thank you kindly."
Brittany: In Brittany, the phrase "trugarez" (pronounced as "troo-gah-rez") is commonly used. This is the Breton language word for "thank you." Breton is a Celtic language spoken in Brittany alongside French.
Alsace: In the northeastern region of Alsace, you might often hear "mercí vielmols" (pronounced as "mehr-see vee-el-mohls"), which means "thank you very much" in the local Alsatian dialect.
Corsica: In Corsica, the local dialect is a beautiful blend of Italian and French. The phrase for "thank you" is "grazia" (pronounced as "graht-see-ah").
Paris: In Paris, it’s common to use the more formal "je vous remercie" to say “thank you,” especially in formal settings. In more casual settings, "merci beaucoup" or simply "merci" is appropriate.
Sending a friend a good, old-fashioned thank you card will never go out of style. If you need help writing one, here are some templates you can use:
Thank you for your help:
“Cher/Chère [name], je voulais juste vous remercier pour votre aide. Je suis très reconnaissant(e) de votre soutien.”
[Translation: Dear [name], I just wanted to thank you for your help. I am very grateful for your support.]
Deep appreciation for going above and beyond:
“Cher/Chère [name], je tenais à vous remercier de tout cœur pour tout ce que vous avez fait pour moi. Vous avez été plus que généreux(se) envers moi et je suis profondément reconnaissant(e).”
[Translation: Dear [name], I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you have done for me. You have been more than generous towards me and I am deeply grateful.]
Thank you for your support:
“Cher/Chère [name], un grand merci pour votre soutien. Vous avez été une grande source d'encouragement pour moi et cela signifie beaucoup.”
[Translation: Dear [name], a big thank you for your support. You have been a great source of encouragement for me and that means a lot.]
If you’re going to learn how to say “thank you” in French, you might as well learn how to respond when someone says it to you. Here are some common ways of responding to “thank you” in French:
"De rien" - “You’re welcome”
The most common way of saying "you're welcome" in French, “de rien” means "it's nothing."
"Il n'y a pas de quoi" - “There’s no reason to / Don’t mention it / You’re welcome”
[eel nee ah pah duh kwah]
This phrase means "there's nothing to it" and is used to express modesty when someone thanks you.
"Je vous en prie" - “Don’t mention it / My pleasure / No problem”
[juh vooz ah pree]
Translating to "I beg you" or "I pray you," this is a polite way of saying "you're welcome" in French.
As always, the choice of response will depend on the situation and the relationship between the two individuals.
The more you immerse yourself in French culture and among French-speaking people, the easier it will become to pick up on the nuances of how to say “thank you” in French. If all else fails, remember that simply trying can speak volumes and your efforts will be appreciated.
Want to learn how to say “thank you” in more languages? We’ve got the ultimate guide to gratitude in all the major languages right here.
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