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The expression "bon courage" has been said to me a lot by my professors.

What does it mean?

I would appreciate example situations in French where this would be appropriate to be used.

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3 Answers

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Bon courage” is a fairly general well-wishing expression. It can be used in many contexts where the person being spoken to is about to perform a difficult action.

There is no exact English equivalent. Often, but not always, “good luck” can be used in similar situations. The expression “bonne chance” also exists in French, but far more than in English, it carries the connotation that the person will succeed or fail due to purely external factors. In contrast, “bon courage” implies that success will be due to the person's strength. “Bon courage” also implies some ordeal, some difficulty (though it can be the difficulty of day-to-day life). If there is a genuine ordeal in the person's path then “bon courage” applies. (Note: I'm speaking as a Frenchman, I believe Canadian French uses “bonne chance” more often.)

A few examples:

— Il faut que j'annonce la mauvaise nouvelle au patron. (I have to tell the bad news to the boss.) — Bon courage !

— Je rentre chez moi, bonne soirée ! (I'm going home, have a nice evening.) — Tu as de la chance, j'en ai encore pour deux heures pour finir ce dossier. (You're lucky, I have another two hours's work to finish this task.) — Bon courage !

Je me fais opérer demain. (I'll be undergoing surgery tomorrow.) — Bon courage ! [“Bonne chance” would carry the implication that there is a chance of failure and is likely to be resented. “Bon courage” implies that this is a difficult moment but that this moment will pass.]

— Le concours commence demain. (My exams start tomorrow) — Bon courage ! OR Bonne chance ! [“Bon courage” denotes the difficulty of the exam; “bonne chance” expresses the hope that the person will be quizzed on topics that they know well.]

— Je déménage demain. (I'm moving tomorrow.) — Bon courage ! [“Bonne chance” would be weird here as there is no luck involved, only a hard task to perform.]

— La première de la pièce dans laquelle je joue est tout à l'heure. (The opening performance of the play I'm performing it is later today.) — Merde ! (Break a leg!) [In French, like in English, explicitly expressing good wishes before a play is considered unlucky.]

Linguee has more examples of uses of bon courage with official translations.

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Actually, I usually say “merde” instead of “bonne chance” for exams too. “Bon courage” is alright too. This might be a very local usage, though... In any case, you should avoid saying “merde” as it is quite crude. –  Édouard Jul 21 '13 at 20:52
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"Bon courage" could also be used in a sarcastic way, everytime someone is going to perform an unpleasant action, like going to work, shopping with the girlfriend, etc. –  Fabinout Jul 22 '13 at 9:06
    
that's a very good answer but it miss one usage of "bon courage". it's sometime used as an euphemism. eg: -"Je ne travaille pas demain, je vais à la plage avec Sophie"(I have a day off tomorrow I'm going to the beach with Sophie) -"bon courage!" ("bonne chance" here means I envy you as you) –  Mathieu Jul 25 '13 at 22:20
    
@Edouard and about this point in Gilles's answer : Merde can only be used in contexts where one can afford to be perceived as both slightly rude and openly superstitious, so it's to be avoided in professional context for example. –  Romain VALERI Sep 13 '13 at 10:31
    
@RomainVALERI Indeed. Is merde ever used in this sense except by actors and in other similar contexts by people with sufficient familiarity with this idiom? –  Gilles Sep 13 '13 at 14:43
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In persian it means “خدا قوت” (God's strength). But in English the best word that I found is “Good Luck”. An example from my French book:

  • Hier, on a travaillé les jambes, aujourd'hui on étire le dos.
  • C'est bientôt fini.
  • Bon courage ! Levez la tête, rentrez le ventre et souriez!

And when a professor use this expression for your works, it means that "Good jobs" and "Keep going".

That's all.

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I'm a native English speaker fluent in French. I tend to use « bon courage » for more general well-wishes. The etymology of « courage » comes from « cœur », or the heart, and I like to think I'm wishing the person strength. That said, I think this is a pretty particular use - the other answers have covered the general stuff wonderfully !

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