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Hello and Have a Good Day!

In an introductory French class, Lionel gives a rundown of some basic ways to greet people in French:

C'est le soir. Bonne soirée.
It's the evening. Good evening.
Cap. 26, Leçons avec Lionel: Salutations 

In English, a “soirée” is a fancy party usually held in the evening. Though the French word soirée can also refer to a party, its basic meaning is just “evening,” which isn’t quite as fancy. You can see from the example above that there is another French word for “evening”: le soir. Likewise, there is also another way to say “good evening”: bonsoir. So what’s the difference between le soir and la soirée and bonsoir and bonne soirée?

It’s not just that le soir is masculine and la soirée is feminine or that bonsoir is one word and bonne soirée is two. It’s more a question of emphasis: la soirée generally refers to the duration of an evening, whereas le soir just refers to a specific time. The difference is pretty subtle, and the words are often interchangeable, but it’s good to know that this pattern applies to other time-related words as well: matin/matinée (morning), jour/journée (day), and an/année (year). 

In this weather report, the phrase toute la matinée emphasizes the durational aspect of matinée:

En effet, le soleil va briller de Wissembourg à Saint-Louis durant toute la matinée.
Indeed, the sun will shine from Wissembourg to Saint-Louis all morning long.
Cap. 3, Alsace 20: Météo du 2 juillet 2010

If she just wanted to emphasize the specific time of day, the weather reporter could have said something like:

En effet, le soleil va briller de Wissembourg à Saint-Louis demain matin
Indeed, the sun will shine from Wissembourg to Saint-Louis tomorrow morning

Note that matinée never refers to a daytime theater performance or movie screening, as it does in English. In French, it just means "morning." To get another sense of morning as a duration of time, think about the French expression for “sleeping in,” faire la grasse matinée (literally, “fat morning”). When you sleep in, you spend a good amount of the morning (if not the whole morning, or toute la matinée!) in bed: 

Il travaille bien en classe; il ne fait jamais la grasse matinée!
He works hard in class; he never sleeps in!
Cap. 15, Les zooriginaux: 2 - Tel père tel fils - Part 1 

The pattern continues with jour/journée. Notice the difference in meaning between toute la journée and tous les jours

Je suis sur la plage toute la journée.
I'm on the beach all day long.
Cap. 8, Fred et Miami Catamarans: Fred et sa vie à Miami 

Je suis sur la plage tous les jours
I'm on the beach every day

Bonjour is the standard way to say “hello” (or “good day”), but as you may have guessed, you can also say bonne journée. Bonne journée is usually translated as “have a good day,” and this same distinction can be applied to bonsoir and bonne soirée. You'd tend to say bonjour/bonsoir when greeting someone and bonne journée/bonne soirée when leaving them. However, you generally won’t hear bon matin or bonne matinée in French—”good morning” is simply bonjour. And there is only one way to say “good afternoon” (bon après-midi) and “good night” (bonne nuit), which you only say before going to bed. 

Finally, there is an/année. Again, you would use an to refer to a specific year or number of years:

Dans trois ans, j’aurai trente ans.
In three years, I will be thirty years old. 

Une année is a one-year span, but it can also refer less precisely to a period of 11 or 13 months (whereas un an is strictly 12 months): 

C'est pour ça que je voulais vraiment absolument m'arrêter ici pendant pendant une année...

That's why I really absolutely wanted to stop here for a year....

Cap. 36-37, Le Québec parle aux Français: Part 2/1

You can’t wish somebody a bon an in French, but you can certainly wish them a bonne année. In fact, bonne année happens to be the phrase for “Happy New Year," while "New Year's" (referring to the specific day) is le Nouvel An or le jour de l'An. Since the holidays are fast approaching, in addition to a bonne journée and a bonne soirée, we at Yabla also wish you a bonne année for le Nouvel An (a few months in advance)! 

Vocabulary

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