byaa-vnew! Click below to hear this.
Here’s the question that a reader posted yesterday: “What’s up with “bienvenu”? What are the rules for using it with gender and number endings? Help! a wondering welcomer.”
Thank you, Suzanne! You’ve handed me a ready-made opportunity for a good blog topic! Here we go.
If you want to hang a banner above the street or a sign on your door, and you only have room for one word, this is what it should say:
That’s just plain Welcome.
But there’s another, more expansive way to welcome people in French. You can turn it into a whole sentence, like this: Soyez les bienvenus. In this case, bienvenue is no longer a noun that signifies the welcome itself. It is a noun that signifies the person or people who are being welcomed. And that is when you need to use gender and number.
So there are four possibilities! Here they are, along with when to use each:
soyez le bienvenu: when you are welcoming one male guest
soyez la bienvenue: when you are welcoming one female guest
soyez les bienvenus: when you are welcoming two or more male guests, or a group of two or more people including both male and female guests
soyez les bienvenues: when you are welcoming a two or more female guests (no men in this group!).
That’s a command, by the way: Be welcome. Of course the message you are really conveying is I hope you feel welcome here. And there are other things you can say, for example Vous serez les bienvenues chez moi. You (ladies) will be most welcome in my home. Or Tu es le bienvenu. You are welcome.
There are two things you can’t do with these words. One is to turn any of them into verbs. To welcome someone is souhaiter la bienvenue à quelqu’un, to wish someone welcome. The other thing you can’t do is reply to Merci. It’s just accidental that we use the same word for two purposes in English. French has plenty of other words for that.
Alternate audio file link: bienvenue