30+ French business expressions you need to know

Steven Mike Voser
Steven Mike Voser
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French is a super important language for any international business. In this article, we shine a light on over 30 different French expressions to help you do business all across the globe.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Is your business looking to expand its borders? If so, chances are you and your “personnel” will want to start commandeering some new languages to help your international business relations. And if there’s one language you’ll want to have a solid understanding of, it’s French. Although not as popular as English or Chinese, French is a hugely important language in the business world. Unfortunately, it’s also a difficult language with a lot of formal nuances you’ll need to abide by, especially when using it in a professional environment. To help you out, here’s a crash course in Business French, including a list of handy French expressions and words you need to know for business purposes.

 

ESSENTIAL GREETINGS

“Bonjour” is a really common phrase. But make sure you know how to use it properly: French people strictly use “bonjour” (meaning good day) once a day. To casually greet someone, on the other hand, consider using “salut.” Also, remember that handshakes are common and expected in most business/professional situations. In more informal situations, you may greet someone with kisses on the cheek; usually 2, starting on the left cheek.

 

In more informal situations, you may greet someone with kisses on the cheek; usually 2, starting on the left cheek.

 

FORMALITY: TU VS VOUS

Remember, like German, Spanish, and a bunch of other languages, French has 2 forms of greeting a person; tu (informal) or vous (formal). When first meeting someone (or whenever in doubt on which form to use) it’s always best to stick to vous. If a person prefers you to address them using tu, they’ll likely mention it. Alternatively, you can pay extra attention to the conversation around you and gauge which form they’re using, then adapt. For now, it’s safe to say that it is still common for people to use vous in business settings. But keep in mind that some smaller companies or younger staff may prefer using tu instead. Also, remember that monsieur (sir) and madame (ma’am) are commonly used in formal meetings, much more so than their English equivalents.

 

“COMPANY” IN FRENCH

Note that the French word for company is “société,” which is also used to refer to society. Alternatively, you may hear the word “entreprise” or, in more informal circumstances, is boîte. Here are the French titles of some common types of companies:

  • “Une société par actions”- A joint-stock company
  • “Une société à responsabilité limitée”- A limited-liability company
  • “Une multinationale”- A multinational company
  • “Une maison mère”- A parent company
  • “Une association (à but non lucratif)”- A non-profit organization
  • “PME (Petite et moyenne entreprise) “- SMB – small and medium-sized business

 

COMPANY STAFF/DEPARTMENTS IN FRENCH

A company is obviously made up of a variety of people and departments.  Here are some basic French words to help you refer to people or company departments correctly:

  • “Le personnel”- The staff
  • “La succursale”- The branch
  • “Comité de direction”- Top management (or “codir” for short)
  • “Le service marketing”- The marketing department
  • “Les services de vente”- The sales department
  • “La comptabilité”- Accounting (or “compta” in short)
  • “Le service de contentieux”- The legal department
  • “Le service de ressources humaines”- Human resources department
  • “Stagiaires”- Interns
  • “Un employeur”- A employer
  • “Les employés “- The employees
  • “Un apprenti”- An apprentice
  • “PDG (président-directeur général)”- CEO

 

TALKING ABOUT MONEY IN FRENCH

Money is an important part of business. Here are some important French words to help you when talking about good ol’ cash:

  • “Le bulletin de salaire”- The pay slip
  • “Le salaire”- The salary
  • “Le registre du personnel”- The payroll
  • “Un licenciement”- A layoff/
  • “Une avance”- An advance payment
  • “Un règlement par virement bancaire”- A payment via bank transfer

 

“Un règlement par virement bancaire”- A payment via bank transfer

 

FRENCH ON THE PHONE

Phone calls are a basic part of daily business. Here are some basic phrases you’ll need to know in order to connect to the right person via the phone:

  • “Allô?”- Hello. Note that this is really informal, and shouldn’t be used in business.
  • “Au revoir.”- Goodbye.
  • “Pourrais-je parler à ______ ?”- May I speak with ______?
  • “C’est de la part de qui ?”- Who’s calling?
  • “C’est ______ à l’appareil.”- It’s _______ calling.
  • “Je vous le passe.”- I’ll put you through.
  • “Ne quittez pas.”- Please hold. The literal translation is “don’t leave.”
  • “La ligne est occupée.”- The line is busy.
  • “Pourriez-vous rappeler”- Can you call back?
  • “Est-ce qu’il/elle peut me rappeler?”- Can he/she call me back?
  • “Voulez-vous laisser un message?”- Would you like to leave a message?
  • “Mon numéro téléphone est le _____. “- My telephone number is _____.

 

3 HANDY FRENCH EXPRESSIONS FOR BUSINESS

 

  • “AU TEMPS POUR MOI”
    This means “it’s my fault” and is a really important phrase to know. If you happen to make a mistake, use this phrase to own up to and then reassure everyone you’ll have it sorted immediately.Example
    English: “The meeting will take place tomorrow at 8 am. My bad, it has been cancelled.”
    French: “La réunion aura lieu demain à huit heures. Au temps pour moi, elle a été annulée.”

 

  • “SE TENIR AU COURANT”
    Meaning “to keep each other updated,” this is a great phrase when making future plans. For example, you would use “se tenir au courant” when agreeing to meet with a business partner next week without actually settling on a date.Example
    English: “I will keep you updated regarding the next meeting.”
    French: “Je vous tiens au courant pour la prochaine réunion.”

 

  • “JE VOUS RECONTACTERAI”
    This means “I’ll get back to you” and is used regularly in business meetings or other professional settings. You might use this expression, for example, after being presented with an opportunity that you need to think over before accepting/declining.Example
    English: “I will get back to you should I have any more questions.”
    French: “Je vous recontacterai si j’ai d’autres questions.”

 

16 HANDY FRENCH WORDS RELATED TO BUSINESS

  • “Le voyage d‘affaires”- The business trip
  • “Le client”- The client
  • “L’acheteur”- The buyer
  • “Le vendeur”- The seller
  • “L’associé”- Partner
  • “Le bénéfice”- Profit
  • “Les biens”- The assets
  • “La réunion”- The meeting
  • “Le chiffre d’affaire”- Sales/ turnover
  • “Le concurrent”- Competitor
  • “Créer une entreprise”- To set up a business
  • “Faire faillite”- To go bankrupt
  • “Les frais”- Fees
  • “L’impôt”- Tax
  • “La formation”- Training
  • “La marque déposée”- Registered trademark