Every student who starts learning a new language will, at some point, encounter an obstacle that can be hard to overcome: expressions and figures of speech. Every language has their own unique expressions that aren’t always exactly intuitive and, as a result, often have to be memorized. Others are simple, easy-to-memorize expressions that have a ton of different meanings. This is especially true for the French expression ça va.
You’ve probably run into this expression more than once, or if you haven’t, you will very soon. Ça va is one of the most commonly used phrases in French. Because of its versatility, it’s used in a wide variety of situations in a way that’s similar to audible pauses. Here, we’ve put together a quick guide to the most common uses of the phrase.
How To Ask And Answer “How Are You?” In French
Ça va is an informal expression that can be literally translated to “is it going” (third-person singular of the indicative verb “to go”). It should mainly be used in informal conversations.
In conversations with friends and family, using ça va is perfectly acceptable and extremely common. This classic expression is another way of asking someone how they are, but it can also be an answer to the question. It’s often used as an abbreviated form of Comment ça va? (“How are you?” or, more literally, “How’s it going?”).
The meaning of Ça va? is more often closer to “Are you good?”and “Ok?” When two people meet, it’s normal for to ask, “How are you?” by saying Ça va? and the most appropriate response can be Très bien, et toi?which translates to “Very good, and you?”
This expression is unique because it can be used in a conversation as both a question and answer to how someone is doing. If someone asks you, Salut! Ça va? you can answer by saying, Ça va, merci! Ça va?
To respond negatively, you can say Ça va mal or Ça ne va pas, meaning “Not good” or “Things aren’t going well.” This expression can also be used to refer to something in the future, which can be translated, for example, to “Will that be okay?” or “Will that work?” In this case, the verb aller (“to go”) is added to the question, so the answer will be: Ça va aller? Ça va aller!
Other Uses For Ça Va In French
The French tend to use this expression to say a lot of other things as well. It’s often used in the following manner, ça va, ça vient, literally meaning “it comes and goes” (like money, for example). It can also be used in situations where someone is asking about how something like a project, a situation, work, studying for a test, etc. is going. You can respond with Ça va! to say “It’s going well.”
Another example where you can use this ubiquitous expression is when someone offers you something to drink or eat, and you’d like to decline. In this case, you can use this expression to politely refuse. To do this, you can say Non, ça va, merci!, which is a polite way of saying “No thank you; I’m okay.”
Another common use of ça va is as an answer when you’ve just been scolded or told off, and you want to shut the other person down quickly. If you’re scolded for making a big mistake, you can respond with ça vaaaa and draw out the vowel at the end, kind of like how you’d say “okaayyyy” in English in a similar situation. The translation can be understood as, “Enough, it’s not that bad.”
A softer and commonly used variation of this expression is, Ça me va. It means, “Fine by me” or “it works,” and it can be said, for example, when trying on new clothes. Here, ça me va? involves asking someone’s opinion, meaning “does it look good on me?”
The response would either be Oui, ça te va bien or Non, ça te ne va pas. You can also use this modified expression to invite someone to do something. For example, you can invite someone to dinner or to do something by asking Ça te va?, which literally means “Does that work?” and they can answer “yes” by saying Oui, ça me va! or saying “no” with Non, ça ne me va pas!
What Does Ça Va Sans Dire Mean In French?
Another variation of this common expression is ça va sans dire, which literally means, “that goes without saying.” It’s used like “of course” or “absolutely” in English.
For example, this phrase can be used at a restaurant when someone is asking the table if they should order a dessert by saying, On va prendre un dessert? meaning, “Should we get a dessert?” The response would be ça va sans dire from someone at the table to communicate that yes, of course they want dessert.
A similar situation is when someone asks someone else to go grocery shopping and asks them to buy milk. The other person would use this expression to confirm it. The person going shopping could answer by saying ça va sans dire, meaning “of course,” or “that goes without saying.”
When Should You Use Ça Va In French?
To summarize, these are the ways that you can use ça va in French.
- To ask someone how they’re doing and respond when they ask you the same.
- To make a suggestion or confirm something.
- To say something is going well (like a project, for example).
- To say nothing happened when you’re scolded.
- Combined with sans dire, it means “of course” or “that goes without saying.”
Here’s a conversation that illustrates multiple uses for ça va in French:
A: Salut! Ça va, Louis? (“Hi Louis, how’s it going?”)
B: Oui, ça va. Tu vas bien, Jérôme? (“I’m good. How are you, Jérôme?”)
A: Ça va. Ça te va d’aller au cinéma? Il faut être prêt dans une heure, ça va? (“I’m good. Do you want to go to the movies? You’ll have to be ready to go in an hour, ok?”)
B: Oui, ça va! (“Yes, that works!”)
A version of this article was originally published on the Italian edition of Babbel Magazine.