Learning the Essential Business French Vocabulary

Business French vocabulary for professionals

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Business Greetings

You know bonjour (hello, good day), but note that this French greeting expression is employed only once per day. After that, you could say salut (hey)—but most French coworkers are more likely to just nod, or say nothing.

Handshakes (se serrer la main) are expected, while colleagues in smaller and more informal businesses may greet each other with la bise (kisses on the cheek) in the morning if they like each other—or pretend to. The number of kisses varies according to region, but in Paris it is often two kisses beginning on the left.

Formality in French companies: Tu vs. Vous in the Office

Which form of “you” should you use in the office, the informal tu or the formal vous? You’ll have to listen carefully to your colleagues to determine the correct level of formality for each situation and each particular business culture; when in doubt of course stick to vous.

That said, you’ll sometimes find tu used among workers at all levels in arts organizations, nonprofits and smaller companies. It’s also common for colleagues to use tu among themselves, but vous with the bosses. Some higher-ups don’t like this separation and will ask you to use tu; others definitely prefer to enforce it.

Vous is almost always used in meetings with those outside of your own company. Monsieur (sir) and madame (ma’am) are also used much more than their English counterparts, and can come in handy when you forget someone’s name!

Words for the (Limited) Role of Socializing in Business Relationships

Foreigners working in France are often surprised by the limited amount of socializing that goes on between les collègues (coworkers). But opportunities to make a more social connections include the increasingly common team buildings (team-building events; ignore what dictionaries might tell you, as the shortened anglicism is usually used) and les formations (training sessions), which companies are required to provide for their employees, and which employees famously don’t take too seriously and use as opportunities to socialize.

French Vocabulary for Business Organizations

The Word “Company” in French

Beware of the French word for a company, une sociétéIt is also of course used in the same senses as the English “society,” but its second meaning as “company” is just as common (and now you know what French people mean when are attempting to speak English and ask, “What society do you work for?”).

Another term for a company is entreprise and a common informal term is boîte.

Types of Companies in France

  • 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)

Updates During the French Business Day

One of the more frequent things you will be asked for in a French office is mettre à jour (update) someone about something. The noun form is une mise à jour.

For example:

Ils mettent à jour ces stratégies au moins tous les trois ans. (They update these strategies at least every three years.)

Lorsque vous recevez une mise à jour…  (When you receive an update…)

When you’re discussing numbers such as items or prices, you might use actualisation (update of data).

Une actualisation des prévisions de trésorerie (An update of cash flow forecasts)

And then there’s une mise au point, which literally means “a bringing into focus,” which is used for meetings that update, define or further refine projects.

Types of Reports in French Businesses

Have you been asked to livrer (turn in) a report? The vocabulary used will be quite different depending on what your boss expects.

  • Un bilan is a published report, given to the media; it may also be called une annonce.
  • Un rapport de situation is a status update.
  • Une évaluation is an evaluation, such as of an employee.
  • Un compte-rendu is the minutes of a meeting, or a general write-up of a situation.
  • Un rapport annuel is an annual financial statement.

Business Telephone French Vocabulary

Whatever your level in French, you’ll want to have at least the basics for dealing with business calls.

Phone Greetings/Closings

The typical French phone expression allô ? is too informal for business. You should instead answer the phone by stating the name of the business, the type of business or the department. For example, you might say “Relations publiques, bonjour !” (“Public relations, good morning!”)

A simple au revoir is fine to end the call.

Connecting to the Correct Person

You may have to go through secretaries or colleagues to find the person that you want, in which case these phrases will be handy:

  • Pourrais-je parler à ______ ? (May I speak with ______?)
  • C’est de la part de qui ? (Who is calling?)
  • C’est ______ à l’appareil.  (It’s _______ calling.)
  • Je vous le passe. (I’ll put you through.)
  • Ne quittez pas.(Please hold — formal). This literally means “don’t leave,” and if the song helps you remember this one, great—just definitely don’t model your French pronunciation on Nina Simone, however lovely she is. Go for Jacques Brel:
  • La ligne est occupée. (The line is busy.)
  • Pourriez-vous rappeler ? (Can you call back?)
  • Voulez-vous laisser un message ? (Would you like to leave a message?) – You’ll rarely be asked this though, as many don’t seem to want to go to the trouble. Which is why you might need…
  • Est-ce qu’il/elle peut me rappeler ? (Can he/she call me back?)
  • Mon numéro téléphone est le _____. (My telephone number is _____.)

Skype or Video Conferencing

As everywhere else, some businesses in France now take advantage of Skype and other forms of video and internet calling. You might be asked to have une visioconférence (a videoconference) or more simply to faire un Skype (discuss over Skype).

With the obvious advantages come disadvantages, and the necessity for more French business expressions. Be ready to say, for instance, la connection est très mauvaise (the connection is very bad) as well as pourriez-vous répéter ? (Can you repeat that?). You can also say la connection a été coupée (the connection dropped), whether you’re on video chat or a mobile phone.

If you have something to show someone, you might partager l’écran (share the screen) to show them.

Whatever your adventures in the French business world, may they be interesting, smooth and — of course — fructueux (profitable).

If you wish to learn more business French expressions or to discover the work culture in France, check our business French course online or in Paris.

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