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The adjective bon crossed over the Channel "in phrases such as bon apétit (1860), literally "good appetite;" bon-ton (1744) "good style;" bon mot." (Online Etymology Dictionary) Also with bon, bon-accord, bon(-)vivant, bon voyage etc.

The OED1(NED) refers to the "bon, bone, BOON q.v." form. Then the boon (būn) entry says used especially with originally French phrases. So you had bone (and bonne as a variant), like in bone chere, and bone fortune. Yet after the 16th, the NED explains the form was mostly dropped.

Books yields ngrams for both bon/bonne chance; the former, similar to the earlier phrases (i.e. bon voyage), and the latter, spelled like in the source language and sometimes appearing in quotation marks in the output. The pronunciation of bon can vary (bɒn, bɔn, bɔːn), and overlap that of the noun bonne (/bɔn/, i.e. the maid).


  • Do you write bon chance or bonne chance? Does the modern OED carry/reference/distinguish either? Is it sufficiently in use to say?
  • Is bon chance a partial borrowing, a semantic calque, an example of phono-semantic matching in loanword translation? How does borrowing generally deal with the peculiarities of the source language, such as grammatical gender?

  • books.google.com/ngrams/… – Jim Oct 20 '15 at 4:36
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    Anecdotally, I've never seen it written as bonne-chance, voyage, apétit et. al, despite Jim's ngram indicating that it's the more common variant. Also, I don't really feel bon*/*bonne has separately entered vernacular English, but even if it had, gender would only be further bastardized/removed. Enough English is written and spoken incomplete application of its own rules of grammar that expecting any regularity or respect of foreign loaned grammar is wishful thinking. – Patrick M Oct 24 '15 at 3:52
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    For a more widespread example, consider café and résumé, both apparently loaned from around the 18th century and both 'correct' English spellings with and without accents. The pronunciation, one would have to assume, is at least as varied as the spellings. – Patrick M Oct 24 '15 at 3:58
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    Since chance is feminine in French, bonne chance is correct. And I've certainly seen it spelled correctly more often than I've seen bon chance, so I think you might as well spell it right. People who don't know French probably won't notice the difference, and you won't irritate those who do. – Peter Shor Oct 26 '15 at 9:50
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    Apparently "bon chance," while incorrect, has become something of a meme for French speakers themselves in imitation of foreign mispronunciations of French. – sumelic Oct 26 '15 at 11:03
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Bonne chance. I agree with Peter Shor: if we want to use someone else's language, I think we should do it the proper way, which means their way. I love both English and French and - whatever any book says - I think we should never use a masculine adjective with a feminine noun.

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    Thank you! But then, does that mean that "bonne chance" is just an import of a foreign expression as opposed to being integrated i.e. would you use it directly without quotation marks in a text in English? Is it as integrated as something like bon appe/étit? Why is it bon chance appears in published work? Is it because enunciation is pretty much the same whether it's spelled one way or the other? – user98955 Oct 28 '15 at 2:42
  • I would not use quotation marks with "bonne chance", as I wouldn't with "bon appetit" (accents - I believe - are less important in another language which doesn't use them): it is an imported expression, but I now consider good English (I wouldn't say that for bon chance ...), as I consider "sport" an Italian word, even though it is English, really. Same as "football": you will never see it with quotation marks in Italian. You would not use quotation marks with "Martini", would you? – alsa Oct 28 '15 at 11:44
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Living as I do on the border with Quebec, and working daily within it's lovely confines... I'd get a can 'o whoopass handed to me if I were to butcher their language with "Bon chance" ! lol.

If you borrow a foreign phrase - much as if you borrow my lawnmower - you should return it undamaged!

  • Thank you! You're under duress so it doesn't count lol. But then, does that mean that "bonne chance" is just an import of a foreign expression (despite bilingualism!) as opposed to being integrated i.e. would you use it directly without quotation marks in a text in English? Is it as integrated as something like bon appe/étit? Why is it bon chance appears in published work? Is it because enunciation is pretty much the same whether it's spelled one way or the other? – user98955 Oct 28 '15 at 2:42
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    Having English speakers (or editors) mess up the gender of an imported expression is hardly surprising - especially when the phonetic difference is subtle unless you really know a language's tone. Far easier to miss than the difference between "le" and "la", and yes "bonne chance" as an approximation of "good luck" is not uncommon in Quebec. Now, I'd probably not put it in quotations, but my reference is living in a bilingual region where you often hear conversations bounce back and forth between the languages - sometimes mid-sentance - which I grant is not a common experience for most people. – Michael Broughton Oct 28 '15 at 13:42

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