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`Bien vs Bon` In French – The Confusion Made Clear

There are reasons that synonyms originated such that our words when spoken or used in a sentence get the kind of intensity the situation demands, at that moment. In simpler words, according to context! This is the reason that even in French, certain words have variable use. One such case is of bien and bon.

In English, we use ‘good’ and ‘well’ which for a beginner seem the same. However, for a native speaker due to practical usage, a distinction will be created in the mind every time that the words need to be employed. We wanted to mirror this experience for you in French as well such that by the end of this tutorial, you’ll be fluent in understanding the context between using bien vs. bon.

Let’s start with a basic overview of the two words.

– Used as an adjective– Used as an adverb
– In English, most of the adjectives used within a sentence are usually placed before the Noun. For example: the ‘red’ book.

This is not the case in French. Most of the adjectives come after the Noun. For example: le livre ‘rouge’ (‘The red book’ or the literal translation would be ‘The book red’).

–  Depending on the type and context of the verb, the position is decided in both English and

French.For example: Elle le fait bien (She is doing well).

–  Usually can be placed where ‘good’ is used in English sentences. It determines the meaning but not the position as mentioned in the point above. It will be la fille belle (the girl beautiful) and not la belle fille (the beautiful girl).–   Usually can be placed where ‘well’ us used in English sentences. It determines the meaning but not the positioned as mentioned in the point above.
–  In French, it’s essential to have the adjectives agree with the Noun they’re modifying in terms of gender and number.

Masculine: bon
Example – Il est un bon cuisinier (He is a good chef)

Feminine: bonne
Example – Elle est une bonne cuisinière (She is a good chef)

Masculine Plural: bons
Example –Ils sont bons cuisiniers (They are good chefs)

Feminine Plural: bonnes
Example – Elles sont bonnes cuisinières (They are good chefs)

* Observe carefully how the adjective agrees with the gender and quantity in each example.

–  Need not necessarily agree with gender or number.For example: ils dansent bien (They dance well).

It doesn’t come as a surprise that a buffet of exceptions and side rules come along with these two words. As a way of making it simpler for understanding, here is a guide on how to employ both according to necessity.

Guide To Using Bien

1. Have an opinion to express?

Each one of us has the right to say out our thoughts whether they are acceptable or not. This is what makes opinions or perspectives which are then categorized as your likes or dislikes, appreciation or dissatisfaction.

When you say – Elles sont bien tes chaussures! (your shoes are nice!), you’re saying out your thought.

Bien is used after the noun and like an opinion. According to you the museum has good art. If it was before the noun, then it would simply mean that the art was good in a generic sense.

2. Talking about your health

Had an exceptionally good day with everything falling into place? Feeling on top of the world and want to express the same when someone enquires? Use bien.

So if someone asks:

Comment allez-vous aujourd’hui? (How do you feel today?)
I’m sure you’ve heard the response – ça va bien, ça va très bien or je me sens bien.

Of course, we don’t always feel the best. You can then convolute the sentence to make a negative one.
Je ne me sens pas bien (I don’t feel well).

3. Giving A Positive Reaffirmation

Continuing from above, say sometimes your teacher or mother appreciates something you’ve done then this phrase is commonly used –

Trés bien! (Very good!)

4. In Verbs Of State Of Being

There are four verbs that come under this category:

  1. Croire (to believe)
  2. Être (to be)
  3. Penser (to think)
  4. Sembler (to seem)

These verbs are titled as they are because they talk about the ‘state of mind or being’ rather than describing the generic state or creating modification within noun.

Example of Être (to be):
Elle est bien comme élève! (She is good as a student).

Here, the object is good as a pen and not in a generic sense like it works well and isn’t spoilt. The result that it produces is good.
Let’s take another example of Croire (to believe):

Je crois bien en la justice (I believe in justice)

5. In Substitution Of A Noun

There are times when a sentence can have bien as a noun to bring a sense of ‘belonging’ or talk about morality like ‘the good’.

J’ai oublié mes biens à la gare (I forgot my property/belongings at the train station)
Économiser l’eau pour plus de bien (Save water for greater good)

6. When using ‘really’ or ‘very’

This trick will be your golden ticket towards sounding more natural in French. A lot of natives like to add bien when they say ‘really’ or ‘very’.

Louis est bien beau (Louis is very good looking)
Il fait bien froid aujourd’hui (It’s really cold today)

Guide To Using Bon

Scroll up to once again read about bon and make sure you remember that bon agrees with number and gender. Come back and see these rules then.

1. Expressing feelings of competency, kindness and discussing quality

When you’re having a conversation with someone and want to talk about a third person’s personality/skills or you’re expressing appreciation over something’s quality, make use of bon.

Ce chat est un bon animal de compagnie (This car is a good pet), masculine singular

*Here the personality of the cat is described

Ce sont de bonnes cerises (It’s good cherries), feminine plural

*Here the quality of cherries is described.

2. In Cases When Senses Are Used

Usually when the five senses come into picture, bon is used to describe that sense. This is quite common in cases of taste or smell.

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.

Let’s see another example where the gender or number doesn’t get affected –

Les herbes sentent bon (The grasses smell good)

In these types of sentences bon acts as an adverbial adjective or a word that adds more to verb, an adjective or another adverb.

3. Adverbial Adjective

Following from the train of thought above, as defined adverbial adjective adds more description to a verb, an adjective or another adverb. This does not affect the gender or number and bon remains bon. Here, the modification of noun does not occur. We saw how senses are an example of adverbial adjective, let’s dive into some other instances.

Sometimes bon can be used for verbs such as tenir (to hold). Just like irregular verbs have their own conjugations and with practice you learn what is used where, similarly, with more use of these verbs you’ll become knowledgeable about them.

Tiens bon! (Hang in there!)

*Here the meaning becomes something that’s a bit more 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 d’exercer (It is good to exercise)

4. 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 free stay at the hotel)

5. Stating Whether Something Is Correct Or Not Correct

Just like in bien, there was a way of showing affirmative, with bon the sentence is mostly extended. Again, picture your teacher giving you a response to your own.

C’est la bonne réponse (That’s the right answer)
Frieda n’a pas la bonne question (Frieda does not have the right question)

6. Expressing ‘Enough’

As the word suggests, this is used when you have got satisfied with the activity or have had ‘enough’ of something.

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 common phrase used when expression enough is – ‘C’est bon’ (That’s enough)

7. Expressing Joy Or Something Pleasant

Suppose you went for a dinner with your best friend and some memorable events occurred during the time, then bon can be used to express your emotions.

L’Halloween était bon (The Halloween was good)
J’ai bien dîné avec mon copain (I had a good dinner with my boyfriend)

8. Wishing or Exclaiming

The native French speakers have a habit of using short exclamatory phrases to express wishes towards someone. Let’s look at some of the common ones –

Bon voyage! (Have a good trip!)
Bonne journée (Have a good day!)
Bon appétit! (Have a good meal!)

9. To Declare 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)

 *Many a time even exclaiming ‘C’est bon!’ can be an indication that the task is done or finished, or something is ready.

Even though this guide seems to be never- ending, going through it for a bit will make you well-versed between bon and bien. Impress some natives with your knowledge now! Let’s sign off till we see you in another chapter.

C’est bon! Espérons que vous avez bien appris. (That’s enough! Hope you learnt well!)

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