8 Ways to Ask “How Are You” in French: From Formal to Friendly

8 Ways to Ask “How Are You” in French (Plus Responses, Pronunciation and More!)

1. Comment allez-vous? (How are you?)

When to ask

“Comment allez-vous?” (“How are you?”) is probably the most basic way of asking “how are you” in French. It’s used in formal situations, such as with your boss or French teacher.

How to respond

Respond with a simple Je vais bien, et vous?” (“I’m doing well, and you?”). Likewise, you can just say “Bien, et vous?” (“Well, and you?”). The key is the et vous (and you), which prompts a similar answer.

Grammar

The first thing to note is the word vous (you). Vous is the formal “you” in French. Of course, in English the word “you” can be either formal or informal, but in French, as you will see ahead, we use tu for informal situations, such as hanging out with friends, and vous for everything else.

Vous is also the plural “you” in French, be it formal or informal. When in doubt, use vous not tu. If the person you’re speaking with wants to be informal, then they’ll tell you.

Now, look at aller (to go). In French, you’re not so much asking “how are you?” but rather “how are you going?” In this case, allez is the conjugated form of aller when used with the pronoun vous.

Finally, we use a hyphen to invert the subject and verb of the question to avoid an awkward est-ce queEst-ce que is a basic component of asking formal questions in French. It usually goes at the beginning of a sentence:

Est-ce que tu veux manger avec moi? (Do you want to eat with me?)

But fortunately, we can use a hyphen and just switch the subject and the verb, such as in “Comment allez-vous?”

2. Comment ça va? (How’s it going?)

how-are-you-in-french

When to ask

“Comment ça va?” (“How’s it going?”) is basically an informal version of “Comment allez-vous?” and you should expect a similar response. As this greeting is an informal way of asking “how are you?” you should use it with friends.

How to respond

The quickest response to Comment ça va?” is Ça va bien, et toi?” (“It’s going well, how about you?”). Memorize this question and answer combination because you’ll use it a lot. If you’re not doing well, you can say “Ça va mal” (“It’s not going well”).

Check out this great video with interactive subtitles on FluentU. It contains examples of “Comment ça va?” At the beginning of the video, we see two puppets talking:

Puppet 1: Salut Frédéric, comment ça va? (Hey Frederic, how are you?)

Puppet 2: Oui, ça va. (I’m fine.)

Grammar

Again we’re using comment (how) to start the question. However, now we use ça, which in this case can be translated as “it.” Finally, we have va, the conjugated version of aller (to go) in the third person singular. Note there’s no hyphen this time because we put the subject (ça) first.

3. Comment vas-tu? (How are you?)

When to ask

“Comment vas-tu?” (“How are you?”) is the most accurate informal way of saying “Comment allez-vous?” As you’d expect, you use this way of asking “how are you?” in informal situations.

How to respond

The response is almost the same as with “Comment allez-vous?” You say “Je vais bien, et toi?” (“I am doing well, and you?”). If you’re doing so-so, you can respond “Comme ci comme ça” (“So-so”) in both informal and formal situations.

Grammar

The main difference here is that we’ve replaced vous with tu in the question and et vous with et toi in the response. This is because it’s the informal version of “Comment allez-vous?”

4. Ça va? (How’s it going?)

how-are-you-in-french

When to ask

“Ça va?” (“How’s it going?” or “Are you okay?”) is an even more informal way of asking Comment ça va?” Alternatively, it can express concern: “Are you okay?!” It’s generally used with people you know very well.

When something doesn’t work, “Ça va pas” (“It’s not alright”) is often used to express frustration.

In this video available on FluentU, we see a mother scolding her daughter, saying:

Mais ça va pas Charlotte, tu est vraiment mal élevée. (It’s not alright Charlotte, you are really poorly raised.)

How to respond

If “Ça va?” asks “How’s it going?” the answer is the same as with our second phrase (“Ça va bien, et toi?”). If someone is asking if you’re okay, you can say Oui, ça va, merci” (“I’m okay, thank you”).

Grammar

The only difference between this and Comment ça va?” is that we’ve eliminated comment (how). This is very informal and shouldn’t be used in formal writing.

5. Tu vas bien? / Vous allez bien? (You’re doing well?)

When to ask

I’ve combined these two because you now know the difference between formal and informal “you.” “Tu vas bien?” / “Vous allez bien?” (“You’re doing well?”) can be used to ask “how are you?” or to express preoccupation. It depends on the tone and context.

How to respond

In either context, you can respond with “Oui, je vais bien, et toi vous?” (“Yeah, I’m fine, and you?”) or “Non, je ne vais pas bien” (“I’m not doing well”).

Grammar

In French, especially when speaking, we can ask questions by just raising the tone of our voice. Thus, we avoid cumbersome phrases like est-ce que, and we don’t have to worry about hyphens.

6. Quoi de neuf? (What’s new?)

When to ask

“Quoi de neuf?” (“What’s new?”) isn’t exactly asking “how are you?” but it’s still a question you can ask when you start a conversation. It can also be translated as “What’s up?” This is an informal question you ask someone you haven’t seen in a while.

How to respond

The most common response is “Pas grand-chose” (“Not much”). You can also say “Rien de special” (“Nothing special”) or “Rien de nouveau” (“Nothing new”).

Grammar

This is almost a literal word-for-word translation of “What’s new?” in English. Quoi means “what,” but it’s not interchangeable with que (what). Normally, quoi has to be the second word in a sentence, not the first, but “Quoi de neuf?” is an interesting exception that you should memorize.

7. Qu’est-ce qu’il y a? (What’s wrong?)

When to ask

“Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?” is a way of asking “What’s wrong?” It’s used to express concern and can be both formal and informal. Although it doesn’t exactly mean “how are you?” it’s a common way to start a conversation with someone you know.

How to respond

If nothing is wrong, you could say something like “T’inquiète (pas), je vais bien” (Don’t worry, I’m fine). Otherwise, you can explain what’s happening.

Grammar

This is a somewhat complicated phrase. We start with que (what) followed by the aforementioned est-ce que and, finally, il y a (there is), such that we are literally asking, “What is there?”

8. Que fais-tu? (What’s up?)

When to ask

“Que fais-tu?” literally means “What are you doing?” But, it’s a great conversation starter because it can also be interpreted as “What’s up?” This is informal because of the use of tu.

How to respond

If you’re doing nothing, you can say “Pas grand-chose” (“Not much”) or, like in the previous example, you can explain what you’re doing.

Grammar

We start with que (what) followed by the conjugated verb faire (to do). We also invert the subject using a hyphen, thus avoiding est-ce que.

 

 

As you can see, there are several ways to ask “how are you?” depending on what exactly you want to ask and who you’re talking to.

Obviously, memorizing whole sentences is not the best way to learn French, but there are some fundamental phrases that even beginners can learn to get quick conversation practice.

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Amy Adams
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