Stuart, a listener of my French Your Way Podcast, emailed me with a question:
“I did have one idea for a future podcast or blog post. The difference between bien and bon(ne). I’m never quite sure. In English we would say ‘very good’ for a good piece of work, but in French you would say ‘très bien’ (I think), which would directly translate to ‘very well’. Bien seems to pop up quite a lot in other places too. For example “J’aime bien”… As you can see I’m a bit confused.”
(It’s really nice when the articles and podcast ideas come from you, so don’t hesitate to contact me if you have a question!)
Bon / bien
So, what’s the difference between bon / bien in French? Are they both translated by “good” in English? Well, not exactly!
The core difference between bon / bien is that they are different types of words:
|Bon (bons, bonne, bonnes)||Bien|
|Type of word||adjective||adverb|
|Reminder about type of word||an adjective is used to describe a noun, i.e to say how something or someone is.|
Ex: a friend, a pizza, some shoes, etc.
|Reminder : an adverb is used to describe a verb (most often), i.e how the action is done.
Ex: to speak, to walk, to cook, etc.
|Spelling||Adjectives need to agree with the noun they describe.|
That is why "bon" can have different spellings: bon, bonne, bons, bonnes
|Adverbs are invariable, the spelling will never change: "bien".|
|Examples||Un ami (masc.sing) --> un bon ami|
(a friend --> a good friend)
Une pizza (fem.sing) --> une bonne pizza
(a pizza --> a good pizza)
Des chaussures (fem, plur) --> des bonnes chaussures
(shoes -->good shoes)
|Parler --> Elle parle bien anglais.
(to speak --> She speaks English well)
Marcher --> Le bébé marche bien maintenant!
(to walk --> The baby walks well now !)
Cuisiner --> Je ne cuisine pas très bien
(to cook --> I dont cook very well)
|English translation||good||Well (sometimes, the translation "good" is used but this is grammatically incorrect)|
“C’est bon” or “C’est bien”?
Bon / bien work slightly differently when used in the expression “C’est…” (“it is…”)
- for a physical sensation
Examples: something you eat/drink, the feel of the sun on your skin/a massage, etc.
- to give the green light / when something is ready / when something has been checked (“All good / clear!”)
Example: after checking that the kids have fastened their safety belt: “C’est bon!” (= we can go)
- Use bien to give your opinion about something
Examples: a movie, a festival, a museum, a good manner, etc.
C’est bien d’être généreux. (It’s good to be generous).
Le musée du Louvre, c’est vraiment bien! (The Louvre : it’s really good !)
Reminder: Pay attention to the structure of your sentence!
For example, if you’re asked “Comment était le film?” (“How was the movie?”), you can answer:
« C’était un bon thriller » → adjective « bon » + noun
(It was a good thriller)
« C’était très bien!” → structure with « c’est » + opinion
(It was very good !)
I hope this helps! In the upcoming weeks, I will also prepare an article and a worksheet with practice exercises about the difference between mieux / meilleur. If you’d like to be notified when it’s available, sign up here or in the box below!
Passez une excellente journée! / Have a great day!