So here is the context: Suppose as a tourist one is helped by someone (not a local though), talking to the locals to get the right directions for me etc. Chances of meeting again seem negligible unless huge (and I mean really huge) coincidences happen. In the end while separating, she says "à bientôt". Wouldn't "au revoir" been more relevant? What is the difference between the two?

7 Answers 7


Your are right "Au revoir" is the good way to leave somebody you will not meet again.

"À bientôt" may be a habit, or a try to encourage the foreigner to come back again in France!

With the latter you hope you will see the person again within a short period of time. With the former, the lapse period is simply indefinite.

  • Thanks very much. Could you explain me what you mean with your last sentence, please? May 26, 2014 at 9:55
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    Very good answer (+1) pointing the elegance or friendliness in the choice of à bientôt here. Yes it may be done deliberately against the practical odds, to indicate the hope of another meeting with the interlocutor. I remember doing this from time to time. Noone will be offended if in the end the meeting doesn't happen... Jun 12, 2014 at 1:22
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    @Drew I wouldn't recommend using « adieu » even when you are sure you'll never meet again but stay with « au revoir » despite its inner meaning. Nowadays, in spoken French, « adieu » is almost only used for theatrical effects.
    – jlliagre
    Jun 12, 2014 at 1:58
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    @jlliagre That's not my experience, but I'm no reference. Certainly, Au revoir is always appropriate (and is essentially good-bye), but I maintain what I said about Adieu. Perhaps I have been influenced by a particular regional use (Provence), where Adieu has, I am pretty sure, the connotation I suggested compared with Au revoir. I think I recall the same being the case in Ile de France and elsewhere, but it was longer ago that I lived in Paris, so I might be mistaken about that.
    – Drew
    Jun 12, 2014 at 2:50
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    @Drew Provence usage is special, "Adieu" is still used there, especially by elder people, as a generic greeting (Hello, Bye) from the Provencal "A Diéu Sias" (Be to God), Occitan "Adieussiatz". It hasn't at all here the standard French "last salutation" meaning.
    – jlliagre
    Jun 12, 2014 at 6:24

À bientôt

Literally means “See you soon”.


It's more about how soon you expect to meet that person again, and how close you are to the person (if you're close, you'll probably meet again soon, though).

Au revoir litterally means "until next time we meet".

So, in order of increasing time span:

A tout de suite: see you in a bit, for example when you separate, usually under an hour

  • à tout à l'heure: within the day

  • à plus tard: see you later

  • à plus: undefined time span

  • à bientôt: other meeting greatly expected, sooner or later, kind way to say goodbye

  • au revoir: more formal, more distant than "à bientôt"

  • adieu: farewell, might be linked to "à dieu", meaning "at god", or when we'll be at god's side.

  • casse toi pov con: presidential way to say goodbye to an old man who doesn't want to shake your hand

Now you bring this question, i'm wondering if there are so many ways to say goodbye in other languages.

  • A bientôt is see you soon in my opinion. So you aren't supposed to use it if there are few chances to meet the person again in the near future. Unlike au revoir that doesn't necessarily mean you are going to meet again, despite revoir meaning... to see again.
    – Destal
    Mar 17, 2017 at 10:48

If you translate it literally. It means "see you soon". But a lot of people say it just to say "good bye". They say too "à tout à l'heure" (or "tantôt" in Belgium) which means "see you later" even if you don't see him later. Just another way to say "good bye".


A bientôt > See you soon

Au revoir > Goodbye


Bientot means soon; A, in this case, is used in the sense of until, rather than "to" - in effect, a shortening of jusqu'a. So the implication is "until soon"

Au revoir utilizes the same sense of A - and revoir is voir - "to see" and re - again, so revoir is to see again. A bit more abstract and indefinite - "until the seeing again" or until we meet again - whenever that might be.

A bientot would be used in the case of, say, I'll see you after lunch, whereas au revoir might be used when seeing someone off at an airport on a trip.

Finally, adieu is, in essence, the analog of vaya con dios - go with God - and would be used when it is not at all clear that you will meet again.


"À bientôt" is literally "till well soon".

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