Rick Steves French, Italian & German Phrase Book (2023)

Hi, I’m Rick Steves.

I’m the only monolingual speaker I know who’s had the nerve to design a series of European phrase books. But that’s one of the things that makes them better.

You see, after more than 30 years of travel through Europe, I’ve learned firsthand: (1) what’s essential for communication in Europe; and (2) what’s not. I’ve assembled the most important words and phrases in a logical, no-frills format, and I’ve worked with native Europeans and seasoned travelers to give you the simplest, clearest translation possible.

This three-in-one edition is a lean version of my individual French, Italian, and German phrase books. If you’re lingering in a country, my individual phrase books are better at helping you connect with the locals, but if you’re on a whirlwind trip, this handy three-in-one book gives you all the essential phrases.

To get the most out of this book, take the time to internalize and put into practice my pronunciation tips. But don’t worry too much about memorizing grammatical rules, like the gender of a noun—forget about sex, and communicate!

While I’ve provided plenty of phrases, you’ll find it just as effective to use only a word or two to convey your meaning and to rely on context, gestures, and smiles to help you out. To make harried postal clerks happy, don’t say haltingly in the local language: “I would like to buy three stamps to mail these postcards to the United States.” All you really need are the words for USA and please. Smile, point to the postcards, hold up three fingers...and you’ve got stamps.

This book also has six cheat sheets. Tear out the sheets and keep them handy, so you can easily memorize key phrases during otherwise idle moments. A good phrase book should help you enjoy your travel experience—not just survive it—so I’ve added a healthy dose of humor. And as you prepare for your trip, you may want to read the latest edition of one of my many guidebooks on destinations in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

My goal is to help you become a more confident, extroverted traveler. If this phrase book helps make that happen, or if you have suggestions for making it better, I’d love to hear from you at rick@ricksteves.com.

Bon voyage. Buon viaggio. Gute Reise. Happy travels!


Challenging, romantic French is spoken throughout Europe and thought to be one of the most beautiful languages in the world. Half of Belgium speaks French, and French rivals English as the handiest second language in Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Even your US passport is translated into French. You’re probably already familiar with this poetic language. Consider: bonjour, c’est la vie, bon appétit, merci, au revoir, and bon voyage! The most important phrase is s’il vous plaît (please; pronounced see voo play). Use it liberally—the French will notice and love it.

You can communicate quite a lot with only a few key French words: ça, ça va, je peux, and voilà. Here’s how:

Ça (pronounced “sah”) is a tourist’s best friend. Meaning “that” or “this,” it conveys worlds of meaning when combined with pointing. At the market, fromagerie, or pâtisserie, just point to what you want and say Ça, s’il vous plaît, with a smile.

Ça va (sah vah), meaning roughly “it goes,” can fit almost any situation. As a question, Ça va? (Does it go?) can mean “Is this OK?” When combined with a gesture, you can use Ça va? to ask, “Can I sit here?” or “Can I touch this?” or “Can I take a picture?” or “Will this ticket get me into this museum?” and much more. As a statement, Ça va (which basically means “Yes, it’s OK”) is almost as versatile. When the waiter asks if you want anything more, say Ça va (“I’m good”). If someone’s hassling you and you’ve had enough, you can just say Ça va (“That’s enough”).

Je peux? (zhuh puh; means “Can I?”) can be used in many of the Ça va? situations, and more. Instead of saying “Can I please sit here?” just gesture toward the seat and say Je peux? Instead of asking “Do you accept credit cards?” show them your Visa and ask Je peux?

While English speakers use Voilà (vwah-lah) only for a grand unveiling at a special occasion, the French say it many times each day. It means “Yes” or “Exactly” or “That’s it” or “There you go.” Unsure of how much your plums cost, you hold a euro coin out to the vendor and say Ça va? He responds with a cheery Voilà...and you’re on your way, plums in hand.

While a number of French people speak fine English, many don’t. The language barrier can seem high in France, but locals are happy to give an extra boost to any traveler who makes an effort to communicate. As with any language, the key to communicating is to go for it with a mixture of bravado and humility.

French pronunciation differs from English in some key ways:

Ç sounds like S in sun.

CH sounds like SH in shine.

G usually sounds like G in get.

But G followed by E or I sounds like S in treasure.

GN sounds like NI in onion.

H is always silent.

J sounds like S in treasure.

R sounds like an R being swallowed.

I sounds like EE in seed.

È and Ê sound like E in let.

É and EZ sound like AY in play.

ER, at the end of a word, sounds like AY in play.

Ô and EAU sounds like O in note.

In a Romance language, sex is unavoidable. A man is content (happy), a woman is contente. In this book, when you see a pair of words like content / contente, use the second word when talking about a woman.

French has four accents. The cedilla makes Ç sound like “s” (façade). The circumflex makes Ê sound like “eh” (crêpe), but has no effect on Â, Î, Ô, or Û. The grave accent stifles È into “eh” (crème), but doesn’t change the stubborn À (à la carte). The acute accent opens É into “ay” (café).

French is tricky because the spelling and pronunciation seem to have little to do with each other. Qu’est-ce que c’est? (What is that?) is pronounced: kehs kuh say.

The final letters of many French words are silent, so Paris sounds like pah-ree. The French tend to stress every syllable evenly: pah-ree. In contrast, Americans say Par-is, emphasizing the first syllable.

In French, if a word that ends in a consonant is followed by a word that starts with a vowel, the consonant is frequently linked with the vowel. Mes amis (my friends) is pronounced: mayz-ah-mee. Some words are linked with an apostrophe. Ce est (It is) becomes C’est, as in C’est la vie (That’s life). Le and la (the masculine and feminine “the”) are intimately connected to words starting with a vowel. La orange becomes l’orange.

French has a few sounds that are unusual in English: the French u and the nasal vowels. To say the French u, round your lips to say “oh,” but say “ee.” Vowels combined with either n or m are often nasal vowels. As you nasalize a vowel, let the sound come through your nose as well as your mouth. The vowel is the important thing. The n or m, represented in this book by n for nasal, is not pronounced.

There are a total of four nasal sounds, all contained in the phrase un bon vin blanc (a good white wine).

Nasal vowelsPhoneticsTo make the sound
unuhnnasalize the U in lung
bonbohnnasalize the O in bone
vinvannasalize the A in sack
blancblahnnasalize the A in want

If you practice saying un bon vin blanc, you’ll learn how to say the nasal vowels...and order a fine white wine.

Here’s a guide to the rest of the phonetics in this book:

ahlike A in father
aylike AY in play
ehlike E in let
eelike EE in seed
ehr / airsounds like “air” (in merci and extraordinaire)
ewpucker your lips and say “ee”
glike G in go
īlike I in light
ohlike O in note
oolike OO in too
slike S in sun
uhlike U in but
urlike UR in purr
zhlike S in treasure

French Basics

Hellos and Goodbyes

Struggling with French


Simply Important Words

Hellos and Goodbyes


Meeting and Greeting

Moving On

Hello.Bonjour. bohn-zhoor
Do you speak English?Parlez-vous anglais? par-lay-voo ahn-glay
Yes. / No.Oui. / Non. wee / nohn
I don’t speak French.Je ne parle pas français. zhuh nuh parl pah frahn-say
I’m sorry.Désolé. day-zoh-lay
Please.S’il vous plaît. see voo play
Thank you (very much).Merci (beaucoup). mehr-see (boh-koo)
Excuse me. (to pass)Pardon. par-dohn
Excuse me. (to get attention)Excusez-moi. ehk-skew-zay-mwah
OK?Ça va? sah vah
OK. (two ways to say it)Ça va. / D’accord. sah vah / dah-kor
Good.Bien. bee-an
Very good.Très bien. treh bee-an
Excellent.Excellent. ehk-seh-lahn
You are very kind.Vous êtes très gentil. vooz eht treh zhahn-tee
No problem.Pas de problème. pah duh proh-blehm
It doesn’t matter.Ça m’est égal. sah meht ay-gahl
You’re welcome.De rien. duh ree-an
Goodbye.Au revoir. oh ruh-vwahr

Pardon and Excusez-moi aren’t interchangeable. Say Pardon to get past someone; use Excusez-moi to get someone’s attention. Please is a magic word in any language, especially in French. If you know the word for what you want, such as the bill, simply say L’addition, s’il vous plaît (The bill, please).

Meeting and Greeting

The French begin every interaction with Bonjour, Monsieur (to a man) or Bonjour, Madame (to a woman). It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this courtesy. To the French, a proper greeting respectfully acknowledges the recipient as a person first, and secondly as a professional. Taking the time to say a polite hello marks you as a conscientious visitor and guarantees a warmer welcome.

Good day.Bonjour. bohn-zhoor
Good morning.Bonjour. bohn-zhoor
Good evening.Bonsoir. bohn-swahr
Good night.Bonne soirée. buhn swah-ray
Hi / Bye. (informal)Salut. sah-lew
Welcome!Bienvenue! bee-an-vuh-new
Mr.Monsieur muhs-yuh
Mrs.Madame mah-dahm
MissMademoiselle mahd-mwah-zehl
Good day, gentlemen and ladies.Bonjour, Messieurs et Madames. bohn-zhoor mays-yuh ay mah-dahm
My name is ____.Je m’appelle ____. zhuh mah-pehl ____
What’s your name?Quel est votre nom? kehl ay voh-truh nohn
Pleased to meet you.Enchanté. ahn-shahn-tay
How are you?Comment allez-vous? koh-mahnt ah-lay-voo
Very well, thank you.Très bien, merci. treh bee-an mehr-see
Fine.Bien. bee-an
And you?Et vous? ay voo
Where are you from?D’où êtes-vous? doo eht-voo
I am from ____.Je suis de ____. zhuh swee duh ____
I am / We are...Je suis / Nous sommes... zhuh swee / noo suhm
Are you...?Êtes-vous...? eht-voo
...on vacation...en vacances ahn vah-kahns
...on business...en voyage d’affaires ahn vwah-yahzh dah-fair

The greeting Bonjour (Good day) turns to Bonsoir (Good evening) at dinnertime. If the French see someone they’ve just greeted recently, they may say Rebonjour.

You might hear locals use the breezy Bonjour, Messieurs / Dames or even Bonjour, tout le monde (Hello, everybody) if both men and women are present. But to proper French people, this is too rushed and sloppy. Take the time to say Bonjour, Messieurs et Madames (Hello, gentlemen and ladies).

Moving On
I’m going to ____.Je vais à ____. zhuh vay ah ____
How do I go to ____?Comment aller à ____? koh-mahnt ah-lay ah ____
Let’s go.Allons-y. ah-lohn-zee
See you later.À bientôt. ah bee-an-toh
See you tomorrow!À demain! ah duh-man
So long! (informal)Salut! sah-lew
Goodbye.Au revoir. oh ruh-vwahr
Good luck!Bonne chance! buhn shahns
Happy travels!Bon voyage! bohn vwah-yahzh

Struggling with French

Who Speaks What?

Quintessentially French Expressions

Who Speaks What?


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