Bien Meaning in French: What Most English-Speakers Get Wrong

Bien and Bon are two very small, but very common French words.

Basically:

  • Bien = Well
  • Bon = Good

(The “n” is silent in both cases – excepts with la liaison.)

** Le truc en + **
Both words use French “nasal vowels” in their pronunciation.
Practice your French pronunciation here !
** ** **

How can you use them in your French sentences?
What are the limits of this basic translation?

Let’s learn some French!

Index :
 

  1. Bien = French adverb
  2. Bon = French adjective
  3. “C’est bien,” or “C’est bon” ?
  4. French expressions with “Bien” and “Bon”
  5. Bon / Bien interchangeably
  6. Bon / Bien : the extra mile

Want all the vocabulary of the lesson ?

1. Bien = adverb

Just like the English “Well,” Bien can be used as an adverb before a verb OR an adjective.

Il chante bien. Même très bien. = He sings well. Very well, even.
On a bien mangé. = We ate a lot. / We’ve eaten well.
Tu es bien arrivé ? = Did you arrive well? Safely? Are you actually home?
And that’s how Bienvenue means literally “Welcome.

Aller bien means “going well.” And it’s used every time in French small talk or conversation!
Ça va bien ? = Tu vas bien ? = Ça va ? = How are you? Fine?
You can answer : Ça va. (= Fine. / I’m fine.)
Or even Tout va bien. = Everything’s fine.

By extension, Bien can mean effectively, without problem:
Oui, l’avion a bien atterri à 16 heures. = Yes, the plane effectively landed at 4.
Je suis bien entrée mais je t’ai pas vue. = I did came in, but I didn’t see you.

And of course, J’aime bien. = I like that. “Aimer” in French: learn more about all the ways to say “I love / I like” !

2. Bon = Adjective

Bon is an adjective, “good.” It’s often placed before the noun – and that’s unusual in French.

Tu connais des bons restaurants à Paris ? = Do you know some good restaurants in Paris?
Bonne idée ! = Good idea !

It especially works for sensory feelings.
Il fait bon ! = The weather is good! / The weather feels great to me.
Ça sent bon. = It smells good.
Ce gâteau est (bien) bon. = This cake is (really) good!

3. C’est bien or C’est bon ?

C’est bien.” and “C’est bon.” are both correct French sentence.

Because “bien” can also be used as an adjective for “good.
C’est bien. C’est très bien. = That’s good. That’s really good.

In a full sentence, it can mean “it’s correct, indeed” :
C’est bien ton numéro ? = Is it your correct number?
C’est bien moi, oui. = It’s me indeed, yes.

C’est bon can mean a lot of things as well. For example:

  • C’est bon, ces gâteaux ! = Thes cakes taste good.
  • C’est bon, tu peux partir. = Everything’s in order, you can go.
  • C’est bon, tu as fini ? = Are you good now, are you done?
  • C’est bon, c’est pas la peine. = It’s OK, don’t bother.
  • C’est bon pour mardi ! = It’s OK for Tuesday!

It all depends on the context and the intonation.

4. French expressions with Bien and Bon

Practice your French! These expressions are used in everyday French conversation.

Ah bon ? = Oh really?
Bon, d’accord. = Well, OK.
Eh bien… = Well…

(But do NOT use “Bien fait” for “Well done” ! That’s not what it means.)

Sometimes, when speaking fast spoken French, people “eat” letters. So bien can become “ben” or “bah.” Especially as a filler word, or in:
Ben oui / Bah oui” = “Well, yeah.” Or “Of course.”
Ben non / Bah non” = “Well, no.” or “Of course, not.”

5. Bon / Bien interchangeably

A funny thing is when you can both use bien or bon as adjectives, with a noun. There’s often a slight difference, but it’s subtle.

For instance,
Un homme bon = a good man, someone who’s kind and does good.
Un homme bien = a honest man, someone who doesn’t lie or cheat.
Des gens bien = good people.
Des gens bons = good people, too. But we don’t use it as much, because it sounds like des jambons = hams.

By the way, you might have noticed that :

  • Bien never changes. Even with, like, plural feminine :
    Elles sont bien, ces leçons. = These lessons are good!
  • The feminine of Bon is Bonne. Do NOT use it for a woman, though! It can be embarrassing. Because in everyday slang, Une femme bien = good woman… but Une femme bonne = a hot, attractive woman (in a sexist way.)

Bien” just before (or after) a noun sounds a bit off. For instance, C’est un film bien (= It’s a good movie) is a perfectly correct French sentences – yet we’d rather say “C’est un bon film.” or “Ce film est bien.(= This film is good.)

6. The extra mile – Just for fun

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the grammar and ambiguity. You can skip this section if you want!

“Better” :
Bon Meilleur (= better) → Le meilleur (= the best)
BienMieux (= better, with a silent “x”)Le mieux (= the best thing)

C’est mieux que rien. = It’s better than nothing.
Le mieux, c’est qu’on se rappelle demain. = The best thing is we call each other tomorrow. = Listen, let’s call each other tomorrow, that would be best.
→ “Le mieux, c’est que…is an idiomatic French expression for conversations!

Ton gâteau est meilleur que le mien ! = Your cake tastes better than mine !
Tu es la meilleure ! = You’re the best!

“Bad / Evil” :
BonMauvais
BienMal

Mauvais / Mal share the same relationship as Bon / Bien.

Tu as pris le bon chemin. J’ai pris le mauvais chemin. = You went the correct way. I went the wrong way.

C’est bien ! C’est mal ! = That’s good ! That’s bad!
C’est bon. Ça fait du bien. Ça fait mal ! = It’s good. It feels good / It does me some good. It hurts!
Le bien et le mal. = Good and evil.

** The extra mal **
Mal is a good word for puns:
Un mal = a disease, an evil thing. Plural = Des maux. [sounds like “moh”]
Un mâle = a male (especially for animals). Plural = des mâles.
Une malle = a trunk, a piece of luggage. Plural = des malles.
Un mot = a word. Plural = Des mots [sounds like “moh”]
***

Notice that bien and bon can be nouns as well!

With bien :

  • Des biens = material goods
  • Les biens immobiliers = real estate
  • Le bien = the good (as opposition to evil), the good (this one material thing)
  • Marchand de biens = estate agent. Not necessarily someone selling moral goodness!

With bon :

Un bon = a coupon, or a bond.
Un bond (silent d) = a jump
Un bonbon = a piece of candy!

7. Bon / Bien : in a nutshell, four sentences you need.

That’s a lot to remember! Try to focus on a few basic sentences first.
For example :

Ça va bien ? = How are you ? / Are you OK?
Tout va bien. = Everything’s fine, all is well.
Il est bon, ton gâteau. = Your cake is tasty!
C’est bon, j’ai fini ! = OK, I’m done!

Try using one of them in your next French practice!

Check out other lessons I mentioned today, like:

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next lesson!


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Join the conversation!

  • Très bien ~ a really helpful lesson in sorting this
    one out, especially the mieux/meilleur connection ~
    super bon.
    And the prof who says “très bien fait” ~ I wonder
    if this teacher is a native French speaker ..?
    Merci Géraldine

  • I’m confused. My prof uses “Tres bien fait” all the time to compliment our work. When I clicked on the link that said why NOT to use it, it took me to the “aimer” link.

      • I think it is sarcastic, as in ” You managed to spill the whole bottle of milk, well done ! “

        • I’ve been following Géraldine’s episodes for a long time, and she’s mentioned this many times over the years. What I recall her saying is that “bien fait” on it’s own is a negative phrase. It can be like what Yvonne said, or it can be like a retort meaning “You deserved it!” Like if you did something bad and had to face the consequence, well then you deserved what you got because you did a bad thing.

  • Merci…je pense que le mot “bon” est utilisé pour la nourriture?
    “Le repas était bon, mon petit dej était bon.” Est-ce correct?

  • I love those clips from songs and films 🙂 Ils sont toujours bel et bien super d’écouter et regarder.

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