Friday’s French: bonne question

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It took me a while to realise what bonne question actually means in French. Initially, I took it to literally mean “good question” as in English. But it’s not exactly the same.

For example, I asked the following question of an American company recently: “Can you tell me the difference between air conditioning and air treatment?”

The answer came back: “Good question! Air Conditioning typically refers to cooling the air while Air Treatment can refer to cooling, heating, filtering, purifying, humidifying or dehumidifying the air.”

I took that to mean that he thought my question was appropriate and that it was important to know the difference and that he knew what it was.

Now, in French, if someone says bonne question, it usually means that they haven’t the foggiest idea of the answer and are playing for time. They may have a stab (typically French, particularly if you are male) but by saying bonne question, they are telling you that it’s only guess work.

Before writing this post, I checked out the internet just to make sure I wasn’t making it up and was surprised to learn on that it can have the same meaning in English. Here’s the entry:

“That’s a good question: A phrase usually indicating that the speaker has absolutely no idea how to answer said question. Often used to stall for time.

Photography teacher walking in on students who should be at pep rally: What are you doing here?

Sreya: That’s a good question!”

So there you go. I know that whenever Jean Michel says bonne question that the question has never even occurred to him before and he certainly doesn’t know the answer.

How about you? What is your experience in the matter?

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6 thoughts on “Friday’s French: bonne question”

  1. It is the comment of politicians regardless of their leaning, and I seem to recall university lecturers also seemed fond of it at times…..bonne question, Rosemary!

  2. before you wrote that bonne question could mean the same thing in English, I was thinking “it means the same thing in English”. Of course, I’m in the States and we know that “America” English is not always the same as “English” !

    1. It could also be a generational thing. But the company that answer my question is American I guess we could say it has both meanings in the US depending on the context.

  3. Yes it means the same thing in Australia.I have definitely used it in that context. But i have also seen it used when someone asks a relevant question eg a classroom.

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