French Language Blog

Pucker Up! Bises vs. Bisous Posted by on Jun 30, 2016 in Culture, Vocabulary

The other day, I was asked to explain the difference between two words, so I decided it would make a nice little post and clear up any confusion our readers may also be having with some same confusing pair. Now that you’ve mastered c’est vs. il est, dans vs. en, and encore vs. toujours, let’s explore another pair. Grab your rouge à lèvres (lipstick) because this post involves your soup coolers!

Ah, lips. They’re the first things to crack in the winter. They’re your first line of defense to cool down your food. They’re what you use to whistle. They’re needed to make the French U sound. They’re also required for the famous French introduction known as la bise.

La bise has been discussed before – what it is, how to do it, how many to give… all that good stuff. In the same post, the word bisous pops up, and we’re told they both mean kiss. I didn’t go into detail there, so let’s delve into that now. What’s the difference?

We’ll start with la bise. After all, it is an integral part of faire la bise.

Une bise is a simple peck on the cheek. It isn’t romantic and this friendly gesture can be used between anyone. That being said, it mostly exists between males and females or females and females. Two males may do this if they’re family or very close friends, but most men still prefer to shake hands.

A letter or message can also be signed with “bises” (note the pluralization) as a closer. I remember receiving a message on Facebook from someone I liked that was signed with bises. Naturally, I had to ask all my friends if there was any kind of romantic undertone there that I wasn’t aware of. Alas, it was merely a goodbye, and we both stayed single…

So how about un bisou? Bisou is more informal than bise, and it can refer to either a peck on the cheek or the lips. This is the big difference between the two words: because this can be on the lips, bisou can be used as a goodbye to either a friend or lover! When you see it written at the end of a letter or message, it’s generally always in the plural (who just wants one kiss?).

So there you have it! Not so bad. Une bise is a gesture of friendship only, and un bisou can be that or a little more.

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About the Author: Josh Dougherty

Just your typical francophile. If you have any topics you'd like me to discuss, feel free to let me know!


  1. Prochy Master:

    Thank you so much, Josh, for clearing up my confusion. Always wondered what the difference was and with your very clear explanations, I can now die a happy woman. Love your style of explaining. Also enjoyed your post on ‘How to French Kiss.’.