There are no two ways about it… France is a beautiful country with plenty for the eyes to take in.
Be it the breathtaking landscapes of the countryside or some of the world’s most iconic art on display at the Louvre. So it stands to reason that you are going to need to be able to say beautiful things in French sooner or later!
On top of describing the beauty of objects and your surroundings, you might also want to be able to give someone a compliment or even get downright flirtatious in the right company!
The word beautiful in French is gendered, so you need to know how to conjugate it properly and as in English, there are a few synonyms you might need as well.
So in this post, we’ll take you through how to use the word belle/beau, the most common way to say “beautiful” and give you some similar words for pretty, cute, gorgeous, etc to help you delineate and define the beauty all around you!
How to Say Beautiful in French – An Overview
|Beau||Beautiful (Handsome) (Masculine)|
|Canon||Hot/ Good-looking/Sexy (Masculine/Feminine)|
|Ravissant(e)||Ravishing/ Lovely/ Gorgeous|
How to Use Belle & Beau in French
The French adjective for Beautiful is Belle for a woman and Beau for a man. There is no separate word masculine word like “Handsome” like we have in English. To be considered “beautiful” isn’t associated with femininity in any way but you can think of the word “beau” as “handsome” in order to help you separate the two in gender and remember the difference between them more easily.
“Belle” and “Beau” are used for describing people as well as objects but remember French nouns also have a gender. So you use “Beau” to describe a masculine noun and “Belle” to describe a feminine one.
Needless to say, this means you need to know the gender of the object first!
To say “you are beautiful” in French, you can choose between “belle” and “beau” according to the gender that they identify with, like this;
- “Tu es belle” (“You are beautiful” (addressing a woman))
- “Tu es beau” (“You are handsome/beautiful” (addressing a man))
When it comes to objects, without some good vocabulary under your belt it can be a little more difficult.
As English is not a gendered language, some speakers might struggle to wrap their heads around the concept of objects having a feminine or masculine identity.
But to be able to construct a sentence in French with correct grammar you need to have a good knowledge of the gender of the nouns you are using.
Now, we can’t give you an endless list. It would defeat the purpose of this article but here for demonstrative purposes are a few common objects in correct sentence structure using “belle” and “beau” to show you what we mean.
|French noun||Masculin or Feminine?||Example sentence||English translation|
|La mer||F||La belle mer||The beautiful sea|
|Le soleil||M||Le beau soleil||The beautiful sun|
|La lune||F||La belle lune||The beautiful moon|
|Le ciel||M||Le beau ciel||The beautiful sky|
|La moto||F||Une belle moto||A beautiful motorbike|
|Le bateau||M||Un beau bateau||A beautiful boat|
If someone compliments you, then you might want to read our article on how to say “thank you” in French, to give the appropriate response without making any faux pas!
Beau vs Bel; Masculine Beauty
The French language sounds the way it does because of strict pronunciation rules about the way the words flow.
You will not encounter two vowel sounds together in French because it interrupts the flow. The French omit letters or add a vowel where necessary, a bit like how in English we will say “an elephant” instead of “‘a’ elephant”.
As the masculine adjective for beautiful ends in a vowel sound it is subject to change if the noun begins with a vowel sound.
If the object starts with a vowel then the word “beau” becomes “bel” much like the feminine form of beautiful “belle”. Granted, this can confuse listeners, who are learning French, but like the substitution of “an” for “a” in English it becomes second nature eventually.
Below are some examples of incorrect and corrected sentences so you can see what we mean in action. Try saying the incorrect ones aloud! Note how awkward it is and how much better the substitution of “bel” for “beau” rolls off of your tongue;
|C’est un beau arbre||C’est un bel arbre.||It’s a beautiful tree.|
|C’est un beau animal||C’est un bel animal||It’s a beautiful animal|
|C’est un beau appartement||C’est un bel appartement.||It’s a beautiful apartment.|
Pluralizing Belle & Beau
Hopefully you are keeping up with the grammar so far, next, we need to examine the plural form.
Typically we add an ‘s’ in our own language and that follows true for many french words the plural of “belle” is “belles”. Nice and simple, but all French words that end in “eau” become “eaux” in their plural form, so the plural of “beau” is “beaux”.
Here are a few examples of “belle” and “beau” pluralized;
|Masculine||Ils ont de beaux visages.||They have beautiful faces|
|Feminine||Elle a de belles mains||She has beautiful hands|
|Masculine||Il a de beaux enfants||He has beautiful children.|
|Feminine||Il y a de belles routes||It has beautiful roads|
Did you notice that “enfants” which begins with a vowel uses “beaux”?
“Bel” doesn’t have a plural form; the masculine plural of “beau” is always “beaux” regardless of the noun that follows. plural you always use “beaux”, even for nouns that start with a vowel.
The “s” and “x” are both silent and so the plural forms are pronounced just as the singular forms are but in written form, it is very important!
How to Add an Adverb
The word “beautiful” can be emphasized with an adverb specifying qualities such as quantity, time, and place. Here are a few examples:
|French Adverb||English Adverb||Example French Sentence||English Translation|
|Très||Very||Ta maison est très belle.||Your house is very beautiful.|
|Toujours||Always||Elle est toujours belle.||She is always beautiful.|
|Le plus||The most||Il est le plus beau!||He is the most handsome.|
|Vraiment||Really||Les fleurs sont vraiment belles.||The flowers are really beautiful.|
|Rarement||Rarely||Le temps ici est rarement beau.||The weather here is rarely good.|
You can see that on occasion the word “beautiful” is interchangeable with “good” and even means “nice” in some cases.
French Sentence Formation
If you are building your vocabulary, learning which nouns are what gender, and want to form your own sentences in French then you have to understand how the structure should be.
With adjectives, in general, you usually place them before the noun. This is counterintuitive as English speakers because we do the opposite with our sentences. We say “the big green cat” but romance languages do the opposite. Look at the examples below with descriptive adjectives placed after the object.
- “C’est une table rose” (“It’s a pink table”)
- “C’est un homme grincheux” (“He’s a grumpy man”)
- “C’était un enfant bruyant” (“He was a noisy child”)
However, as you will hopefully have seen with the charted examples that we have already provided, “belle” and “beau” are different. They are placed before the noun that they are to describe.
- “C’est une belle robe” (“That’s a beautiful dress”)
- “Elle a de beaux yeux” (“She has beautiful eyes”)
- “Il a un beau sourire” (“He has a beautiful smile”)
- “Quel bel homme” (“What a handsome man”)
Other Words for Beautiful in French
When the word “beautiful” simply won’t cut it, you might turn to some synonyms in your native language. Sometimes beautiful is too strong, other times it isn’t enough to describe what you are seeing. So let’s explore some alternatives together.
The French word for “pretty” is “Joli”. It is usually used to describe girls and women as well as feminine things like dresses, make-up, and accessories. But there is a masculine version so the use is not fixed.
“Joli” is used for male nouns and “jolie” for female ones. Like “beau” “joli” comes before the noun when forming a sentence contrary to the majority of French adjectives.
- “J’ai acheté une jolie robe” (“I bought a pretty dress”)
- “Quel joli coucher de soleil” (“What a pretty sunset”)
- “Ta fille a de jolis yeux verts” (“Your daughter has pretty eyes”)
The final example above demonstrates what we are trying to teach you about the adjective placement.
You can see that “joli” comes before the noun “yeux” (eyes) yet “vert” (green) is placed after it.
“Canon” is a common colloquial expression that will have you sounding just like the locals, but a word of warning; Be careful choosing who you use it with.
The word literally means “canon” describing the same noun as it does in our language when something becomes an accepted rule of measurement. We often refer to the laws set out in the Bible as “canon”. In French to refer to someone as “canon” means that they meet the highest measurement of good looks!
It is used for males and females and is like saying they set a new standard in beauty. It is very casual, and on the risque side of things because it is equivalent to “hot”.
More often than not it is heard among younger people used in a younger demographic. Despite being more of a noun “Canon” is still placed after the noun it is describing.
“Sa soeur est canon” (“His sister is hot”)
“Cet acteur est tellement canon” (“This actor is so hot”)
“Mon professeur de lycée était vraiment canon” (“My high school teacher was really hot”)
This one is used mostly for describing children, or little things. It is the French equivalent of “cute”. “Mignon” is a cute word too, don’t you think?
When addressing a female or describing a female noun, remember to change the word to “mignonne”. It functions as a regular adjective so it comes after the noun.
- “Vous avez un enfant mignon” (“You have a cute kid”)
- “Elle a un rire mignon” (“She has a cute laugh”)
- “C’est vraiment mignon” (“That is really cute”)
The word “ravissant” sounds a lot like it’s English counterpart. It is another word for “beautiful” and can mean “gorgeous”.
The French use it only when something is utterly beautiful and our version (if you haven’t guessed already) is “ravishing”.
It is reserved for special use and is an incredibly flattering compliment! The Feminine form is “ravissante”. The correct place to pop it into a sentence is after the noun.
- “Tu es ravissante” (“You look ravishing”)
- “Cette photo est ravissante” (“That photo is gorgeous”)
- “Ses lèvres sont ravissantes” (“Her lips are lovely”)
Bonus Synonyms for “Beautiful” in French
Here are a few last synonyms to expand your vocabulary with;
- “Magnifique” (“Magnificent”)
- “Stupéfiant” (“Breathtaking”)
- “Attractif” (“Attractive”)
- “Séduisant” (“Alluring”)
- “Charmant” (“Charming”)
- “Sexy” (“Sexy”)
Ways to Say Beautiful in French – Final Thoughts
Be sure to use a few of the synonyms we have taught you here today for beautiful in French.
Speaking frankly, the French are pretty modest; they downplay a lot of emotional things unless they are in very close company.
So while flattery is used generously in our own language you should be a little more subtle with your compliments in France or it can seem flagrant.
The French are more inclined to say “you’re too kind” as opposed to “very kind” they play things with a humbled edge. For many, accepting verbal praise can be awkward, so never use it insincerely.
But feel free to comment on beautiful objects as much as you like!