I'm a little confused by the use of "Ou bien" in this passage.

Le samedi matin vers onze heures, j'adore retrouver mes amies pour visiter les magasins et les boutiques de notre centre-ville. On réfléchit bien avant de choisir les courses: parfois, on a besoin de provisions pour le dîner de samedi soir. Ou bien, c'est bientôt les Fêtes et nous avons le plaisir de choisir des cadeaux pour nos proches, et naturellement pour nous-mêmes!

On Saturday mornings around eleven o'clock, I like to get together with my friends to visit the shops and boutiques. We think well before deciding on errands: sometimes, we need groceries for dinner Saturday night. Or, it is soon the Holidays and we have the pleasure of choosing gifts for our loved ones, and naturally for ourselves!

Why would the narrator add "Ou bien" instead of "Ou"? Does it somehow mean "Or also"? Does it have a connotation which "Ou" alone is lacking?


4 Answers 4


This is to add to the existing answers, since I think there could be more than one reason.

Keep in mind that « ou bien » is stronger than simply « ou », in the same way that « bien » often has no function except to emphasize. « Ou » is a hard word to put emphasis on, particularly in writing, so it benefits from the support here.

Depending on the context, you might translate it as more than just "or" — for example "or even", "or else", "otherwise", "on the other hand".

Or you might even (ou bien) choose some way of contrasting with an earlier element. For example, here you have the earlier element « parfois », which could be countered by « ou bien » :

Sometimes we need supplies for dinner on Saturday night. Other times the holidays are coming up...

(This is a bit freer in terms of word-for-word translation, but I think it works better than just "or".)


It seems to me the main reason why you should use "ou bien" in general is because "ou" is ambiguous: it may be "où". Look at the following sentences:

Je vais chanter ou je vais danser.

Je vais chanter où je vais danser.

You cannot decide between them when you hear them. If you say "Je vais chanter ou bien je vais danser.", it is not ambiguous anymore. You can also say "Je vais chanter ou danser.", as there is no more ambiguity there ; obviously, it is still possible to say "Je vais chanter ou bien danser", but then you are stressing the "ou bien".

For this reason, "ou bien" is often used instead of "ou" in colloquial french to link propositions, which is exactly the case in your example.

  • I like this theory a lot, though I think it would benefit from an external source as well to avoid relying on speculation.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Sep 28, 2017 at 10:27
  • It is a fact that "ou bien" is used for disambiguation purposes (because at least I use it so). However, I admit I cannot prove that it is used this way here. Nethertheless, I felt the first part partly answered the question in the title.
    – Distic
    Sep 28, 2017 at 12:18
  • All the better - being a fact there's probably a source somewhere. But this is not to say it isn't a good answer (I've written many with the same amount of justification), just that it could be even better.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Sep 28, 2017 at 12:53

Ou and Ou bien mean exactly the same thing, and are switchable.

In this text, having just a Ou, at the beginning of a sentence doesn't seem that nice to hear/read; thus it was replaced by its exact equivalent.


"Ou" means 'or', but "ou bien" means 'or else'.

  • 2
    Hi and welcome to French Language Stack Exchange. I wonder if you could improve your answer by expanding it a bit (i.e. in the context of the given example).
    – Tsundoku
    Nov 5, 2020 at 19:37

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