bien/bon

What’s the difference between bien and bon?

Many French learners get bien and bon mixed up. Generally speaking, one is an adjective and one is an adverb — although there are many exceptions! Read on to learn which is which, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Example

Justine cuisine bien. Elle fait de très bons gâteaux.

Yves aimerait bien manger tout le gâteau, mais il faut en laisser pour les autres.

« Mmmhhh, c’est bon ! », dit-il en mangeant sa part.

« Ce n’est pas bien de parler la bouche pleine ! », répond Justine en rigolant.

bon vs. bien

Generally speaking, bon means good and bien means well. However, there are many exceptions:

bon

  • In most cases, bon is an adjective similar to good; it describes a noun and usually refers to something concrete and tangible (e.g., food, temperature, etc.).
Examples:
Ce gâteau est très bon.This cake is very good.
Tu devrais venir te baigner, l’eau est vraiment bonne !You should come swimming, the water is great!
  • However, bon can also act as an adverb after certain verbs (sentir, faire).
Examples:
Le thé que tu as préparé sent très bon.The tea that you made smells great.
Tu n’as pas besoin de prendre ta veste. Il fait bon.You don’t need to take your jacket, it’s nice out.

bien

  • Usually, bien is an adverb similar to well; it describes a verb.
Examples:
J’ai bien travaillé.I’ve worked well.
Le repas était délicieux, nous avons bien mangé.The meal was delicious, we’ve eaten well.
  • When bien describes an adjective, it has a similar meaning to très or vraiment.
Examples:
Maintenant nous sommes bien fatigués.Now we’re really tired.
Cette maison est bien belle.This house is very beautiful.
  • Bien can act as an adjective when we use it with a noun or with the verb être (e.g., in the phrase c’est bien de + infinitive). It expresses a moral or intellectual judgement, often about something more abstract.
Examples:
Ce film est vraiment bien, vous devriez aller le voir.This film is really good, you should go and see it.
C’est bien d’aider ses amis.It’s good to help your friends.
  • Remember, bien does not change to agree in terms of gender or number with the noun it describes.

C’est bon

The expression c’est bon has different meanings depending on the context:

Examples:
C’est bon, je viens avec toi.It’s ok, I’ll come with you.
= c’est d’accord → it’s fine
C’est bon, maintenant j’en ai marre !All right, I’ve had enough now.
= ça suffit ! → it’s enough!

Now that you’ve mastered the difference between bon and bien, check out our page on the comparative forms mieux vs. meilleur to extend your knowledge.