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You probably already know that merci, merci beaucoup and je vous remercie are the most popular informal and formal ways to say thank you in French. But what’s the best way to respond to that depending on the social context? How do you say you’re welcome in French?
If you’re an English speaker learning French, you’d be forgiven for expecting a simple phrase such as “you’re welcome” to be easily translatable. After all, there’s only one common way to say this in English.
However, expressing your gratitude in French is a bit more nuanced than you may expect. This is due, in large part, to the varying degrees of formality in the French language. In fact, there are several ways to say you’re welcome in French. It all depends on the context, who you are talking to and how well you know that person.
In this quick French lesson, we’ll take you through the four most popular examples – the only ones you actually need in real life. As a result, you’ll be familiar with what they mean, when to use them and what the key differences between them actually are.
1. The most common “you’re welcome”: de rien
We’ll start with the most common way to say you’re welcome in French: ‘de rien’.
You can use ‘de rien’ as an informal response to somebody who has thanked you. You’ll hear this expression used commonly throughout France in a range of situations.
The literal translation of ‘de rien’
Whilst it’s important not to think too much about the literal translation of phrases from French into English, it can help us remember how and when to use them. The literal translation of ‘de rien’ is ‘of nothing’. In English, we’d likely say ‘no problem’ or ‘don’t worry about it.’
It is most commonly used as a response to a basic courtesy or a small act of kindness from a close friend, family member or colleague.
A: Tu as un très bel appartement ! (“You have a really beautiful apartment!”)
B: C’est gentil, merci ! (“That’s kind, thank you!”)
A: De rien. (“You’re welcome.”)
2. The informal “you’re welcome”: je t’en prie
Like ‘de rien’, which is certainly the most casual way to say you’re welcome in French, ‘je t’en prie’ is another informal way to respond to someone who expressed their gratitude towards you.
It is most common amongst very close friends and family members. This particular form is most appropriate when you want to express a higher level of gratitude than ‘de rien’, but with somebody close to you, with whom your relationship is casual.
The literal translation of ‘je t’en prie’
Essentially, the literal translation of ‘je t’en prie’ is ‘I pray you it’. Don’t look too far into this – it certainly doesn’t translate as such to French speakers!
A: Manon, merci d’avoir payé mon loyer cette semaine ! (“Manon, thank you for paying my rent this week!”)
B: Je t’en prie ! (“You’re welcome!”)
3. The formal “you’re welcome”: je vous en prie
You’ll notice that this particular way to say ‘you’re welcome’ in French is very similar to the previous example. In fact, the phrase is almost identical. The only thing that’s changed is the personal pronoun. Instead of using the informal you – ‘tu’ – we use the formal counterpart – ‘vous’.
This should make ‘je vous en prie’ nice and easy to remember. Just be careful not to use it with close friends. Using ‘vous’ will sound unnatural if you are in close company. Likewise, always use this version of you’re welcome in French if you are speaking with somebody you do not know, no matter their level of seniority.
The literal translation of ‘je vous en prie’
Again, the literal translation of ‘je vous en prie’ is ‘I pray you it’. The important thing to remember here is not the literal translation, but when exactly you should use ‘vous’ instead of ‘tu’.
A: Souhaitez-vous un sac avec vos achats ? (“Would you like a bag with your shopping?”)
B: Oui, merci. (“Yes, please.”)
B: Je vous en prie. (“You’re welcome.”)
Notice that in the example above, our speakers are clearly in a shop. They use the formal ‘vous’ as they do not know each other.
4. The easiest to remember: pas de problème
When you’re in the early stages of learning French, sometimes the most sensible thing to do is use what you can remember. The word ‘problème’ in this particular French expression resembles the English word ‘problem’ and should not be too difficult for you to learn. Be cautious of the French grave accent on the ‘e’ as this alters the pronunciation of the word.
The literal translation of ‘pas de problème’
We’re cheating a little here. Whilst this version is not a direct translation of “you’re welcome” in French, it is still very common in France when responding to somebody who has expressed gratitude. The literal translation (as you may have guessed) is “no problem”.
Additionally, there is another way to say the same thing – which is ‘pas de soucis’. These are interchangeable, although ‘pas de problème’ is, undoubtedly, more common in the context we’re looking at here.
A: Savez-vous quelle heure il est ? (“Do you know what time it is?”)
B: Non, desolé, aucune idée ! (“No, sorry. No idea!”)
A: Pas de problème. Merci. (“No problem. Thanks.”)
Bonus: Less common ways to say “you’re welcome” in French
If you want to mix things up a bit, another informal and very casual way of saying you’re welcome in French is ‘il n’y a pas de quoi’. This literally means “there is no what”, but an adapted translation would be “there is no reason (to thank me)”. Being a casual expression, it can be used safely in the same contexts as ‘de rien’.
Furthermore, ‘avec plaisir’ is what you should use if you travel to southern France and want to sound like a local. It literally translates to “with pleasure”, but it is the French correspondent of “my pleasure”.
Which version of you’re welcome in French should you use and when?
As with any language, it’s important to understand which form of an expression to use in the right context in order to avoid embarrassment in certain situations.
Knowing how to say you’re welcome in French in any situation will help you a great deal. After all, it can come in handy just as frequently as “please”, “thank you” or “hello”.
When you are learning these expressions, the most important thing is not to overthink. As many learners of French will agree, the most effective way to prepare yourself for any scenario is to remember one formal version and one informal counterpart.
With this in mind, use ‘je vous en prie’ with anybody you are not already on very friendly terms with. It is better to use ‘vous’ mistakenly than its informal counterpart – ‘tu’ – with somebody you do not know well.
Last but not least, ‘de rien’ and ‘je t’en prie’ are the most useful forms of “you’re welcome” in French because they are informal and you can use them in many social contexts. Add them to your repertoire and they will undoubtedly become your ‘go-to’ options next time you visit France or Canada.
This post is delivered to you by James A. Smith.
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