Though they may seem similar at first glance, Bon and Bien are actually totally different. Talk about confusing! Luckily, your worries stop now. Our guide is here to put an end to the Bon vs Bien battle!
Let’s begin with a quick overview of both Bon vs Bien in French:
– Used as an adjective
– Used in very similar ways to the word “good” in English
– Agrees in gender and number with the noun it modifies:
Il est un bon cuisinier (He is a good cook -> Masculine Singular), Elle est une bonne cuisinière (She is a good cook -> Feminine Singular)
Ils sont bons cuisiniers (They are good cooks -> Masculine Plural), Elles sont bonnes cuisinières (They are good cooks -> Feminine Plural)
– Used as an adverb
– Used in very similar ways to the word “well” in English
– No agreement in gender or number
We’re sure that it won’t come as a surprise to you that a buffet of exceptions and side rules come along with these two words. Below, you’ll find all the detailed instances in which to use bon and bien. Shall we begin?
Guide To Using Bien
Have An Opinion to Express?
When expressing an opinion or your perspective on something, these will fall into either of these categories: your likes/dislikes or your appreciation/dissatisfaction.
For example, if you tell someone Elles sont bien tes chaussures! (Your shoes are nice!), you’re expressing your opinion, your appreciation for how nice their shoes are.
Talking About How You Feel
Had an exceptionally good day and everything went to plan? Feeling on top of the world and want to be able to express it when someone asks how you are? Use bien.
So, if someone asks:
Comment allez-vous aujourd’hui? (How are you today?)
I’m sure you’ve heard the response – ça va bien / ça va très bien / je me sens bien.
Of course, we don’t always feel the best. In this case, you can tweak the sentence to include a negation to relay how you’re feeling.
Je ne me sens pas bien (I don’t feel well).
Giving A Positive Affirmation
Similarly, imagine if your teacher wanted to congratulate you on doing well at an exam or your parents wanted to show appreciation for something you’ve done, the following phrase is most commonly used in such instances;
Très bien! (Very good!)
With Verbs of State of Being
There are four verbs that come under this category:
- Croire (to believe)
- Être (to be)
- Penser (to think)
- Sembler (to seem)
These verbs are named as such because they can be used to describe the state of mind/being.
Example of Être (to be):
Elle est bien comme élève! (She is good as a student).
Here, the object is that she’s good as a student and not in a generic sense.
Let’s take another example of Croire (to believe):
Je crois bien en la justice (I believe in justice)
Watch the video below to master Bon vs Bien in 5 minutes!
In Substitution Of A Noun
There are times when a sentence can have bien as a noun. In this case, it will either be definable as “belongings” or “the good” (as in “the greater good”).
J’ai oublié mes biens à la gare (I forgot my property/belongings at the train station)
Économiser l’eau pour le plus grand bien (Save water for the greater good)
Instead of ‘Really’ or ‘Very’
This trick will be your golden ticket to sounding more natural in French. A lot of natives like to add bien instead of using ‘really’ or ‘very’.
Damon est bien beau (Damon is very good looking)
Il fait bien froid aujourd’hui (It’s really cold today)
Guide To Using Bon
Before we go on, here’s your reminder that bon agrees with number and gender, don’t forget!
Feelings Of Competency, Kindness Or Discussing Quality
When you’re having a conversation with someone and want to talk about a third person’s personality/skills, or perhaps you’re expressing your appreciation for the quality of something, make use of bon.
Ce chat est un bon animal de compagnie (This cat is a good pet) -> masculine singular
Here, the cat’s temperament is being described
Ce sont de bonnes cerises (They’re good cherries) -> feminine plural
Here, the quality of the cherries is being described.
In Cases When Senses Are Used
Usually when any of the five senses are mentioned, bon is the one to use to indicate when something is considered as nice/not nice smelling or nice tasting etc.
Son parfum sent bon (Her perfume smells good)
La pomme a bon goût (The apple tastes good)
Here, the taste is being described rather than the apple which is why there is no change in gender to bon.
Let’s see another example where the gender nor the number get affected.
Les herbes sentent bon (The grasses smell good)
In these types of sentences, bon acts as an adverbial adjective.
As An Adverbial Adjective
As mentioned above, when bon plays the role of an adverbial adjective, this means that it adds more description either to a verb, an adjective or to another adverb. In this case, bon is not affected by the noun’s gender or number because it is not modifying it; so bon remains bon. (Just like we saw earlier with the description of senses).
Other times though, bon can be used alongside verbs such as tenir (to hold) amongst others.
Tiens bon! (Hang in there!)
As you can see, here the meaning becomes something a little different than just “good”.
Another case is when the verb faire is used in its il form and conjugated with bon :
Il fait + bon + verb
Il fait bon de danser (It’s good to dance)
Using It As A Noun
Sometimes bon is used in place of a noun. This is usually when you’re talking about using a coupon or voucher.
Voici un bon pour un séjour gratuit à l’hôtel (Here is a voucher for a free stay at the hotel)
When Something Is Correct Or Incorrect
Just like with bien which had a way of being used to express affirmatives, bon also has a role to play when you want to point out that something is right or wrong.
C’est la bonne réponse (That’s the right answer)
Frieda n’a pas la bonne question (Frieda does not have the right question)
When You’ve Had Enough
As the title suggests, bon can be used when you’ve indeed ‘had enough’ of something, or when you’re feeling satisfied that you’ve finished whatever you were doing.
C’est bon! Je ne peux plus travailler (That’s enough! I can’t work anymore)
Ne me versez pas plus d’eau, c’est bon! (Don’t pour me more water, that’s enough!)
The phrase ‘ C’est bon ’ (That’s enough) is commonly used in such instances too.
Expressing Joy Or Something Pleasant
Suppose you went for an enjoyable dinner with your best friend or perhaps you’re thinking back to a memorable moment in the past, then bon can be used to express your emotions.
J’ai passé de bonnes vacances (I had a nice time on holiday)
Mon dîner était bon (My dinner was good)
Wishing or Exclaiming
The native French speakers have a habit of using short exclamatory phrases to express their wishes for someone. Let’s look at some of the most common ones:
Bon voyage! (Have a good trip!)
Bonne journée (Have a good day!)
Bon appétit! (Have a good meal!)
When Something Finishes
Suppose you have put a tray of cookies in the oven or have finished getting ready to go somewhere, then you can use bon to talk about the situation.
C’est bon! Les brownies sont cuits (It’s done! The brownies are baked)
Often, exclaiming ‘C’est bon!’ by itself can be an indication that the task is done or finished, or something is ready.
And with that, our chapter on Bon vs Bien in French has come to an end!
See you next lesson – and in the meantime, don’t forget to practice! If you need any help don’t hesitate to get into contact with one of our online French Tutors.