French is aesthetically a beautiful language — so it’s pretty easy to come up with a list of beautiful French words just from going through all my own notes.
It’s even pleasant thinking of the right title for this article in French — Les mots les plus beaux, or Des jolis mots en Français.
Every time I come across a word I really like I learn it really easily, which is an added bonus. It’s just a pleasure to say these beautiful French words!
In addition, many French words have beautifully elegant meanings that aren’t quite replicated in English. A few of those words are below too.
Here it is — my personal list of beautiful French words (with example sentences!) for you to enjoy.
As I like to do, I’ll put it in a table, with meanings, and example sentences below in the sections..
|Allocentrisme (n)||The tendency to focus on other people rather than oneself.|
|Ange (n)||An angel|
|Badiner (v)||To joke around, to mess with|
|Bisou (n)||a kiss|
|bon marché (adj)||Affordable, a good deal|
|Chaleureusement (adj)||Warmly (like at the end of an email)|
|Choufleur (n)||Cauliflower. Just that|
|Coquillage (n)||A shell (like a sea shell)|
|Coucou!||Hello! (a bit cute)|
|Dépaysement||the feeling of being out of one’s country|
|Effleurer||To touch lightly, to brush past|
|Feuilleter||to skim, browse, leaf through something|
|Flâner||to walk without hurry, taking one’s time.|
|Grignoter||to snack, to nibble on something|
|Hirondelle||swallow (the bird)|
|Lendemain||the following day|
|Retrouvailles||The happiness of seeing someone again after a long time|
|Revoyure||Seeing one another again|
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Revoyure! — Seeing one another again
Most commonly in the expression à la revoyure!, “until we see each other again”.
Literally “until the re-seeing”, meaning “until next time we see each other”. You use it as such: Au revoir, à la revoyure!
Allocentrisme — To Focus on Others
A tendency to consider others before oneself. The opposite of égocentrisme.
L’allocentrisme est un comportement tendant à faire d’autrui le centre de l’univers.
The word “allocentrism” exists in English but is more technical in usage.
Ange – Angel
Literally “ange” in French.
You can use it in these expressions:
- Dors avec les anges! — Sleep with the angels! This is an expression you use to say “good night” or “sleep well”.
- Mon ange — “my angel”, a term of endearment.
Badiner — to joke around or Banter
Badiner is a cool word because it has a diverse range of meanings, ranging from “to joke around”, “to mess with”, “to banter”, and even “to flirt”.
There’s also a noun form of the word that people commonly use: badinage.
- Il ne faut pas badiner avec l’amour! — “Don’t mess with love!”
- Allons donc! Tu badines, tu plaisantes. — “Come on! You’re kidding, you’re joking.”
- Ce n’est que du badinage. — “It’s just kidding around.”
Bisou — A kiss
A bisou is a cuter word than un baiser, and is in more common usage. The plural of bisou is bisous, and it’s a nice way to end a letter to a friend.
Viens, donne-moi un bisou!
Bon Marché — A Good Deal, Affordable, Cheap
Bon marché seems to be saying “good market” but it just means something is a good deal.
In practice, I don’t hear people using this word casually as frequently as people say things were “cheap” in English. For example, if you’re looking for “cheap things to eat”, you’d be more likely to say des aliments pas chers. A “good bargain” is usually une bonne affaire.
Still, bon marché sounds nice.
Chaleureusement — Warmly
Chaleureusement means “warmly”, and is a nice way to end letters. Chalereusement, ton ami, Dana.
Choufleur — Cauliflower
I always thought the word for “cauliflower” was much prettier in French!
You might note that it contains fleur, which is “flower” in English
Coquillage — Shell
A coquillage is a shell, but it’s one of those beautiful French words for a quite everyday thing.
Ces beaux coquillages me rappellent les vacances.
A cute French way of saying “hello” is to say “coucou!”
Only do this for people with whom you’re quite intimate. It’s also not a terribly traditionally masculine word, which may or may not be important to you.
Dépaysement — A feeling of not being in one’s own country
This is one of my most favourite beautiful French words for having deep meaning.
A feeling of dépaysement is a feeling that one has been transported out of one’s country. For example, while wandering around a suburb of Sydney with a plethora of Taiwanese restaurants, we had une vraie sensation de dépaysement.
It doesn’t have a direct translation. Though you could say “Decountrification”, but that lacks poetry!
Se promener dans ce magasin japonais m’a donné une vraie sensation de dépaysement.
Doucement — Slowly
The adverb doucement comes from doux, “sweet”, but means “slowly”. To say “sweetly”, e.g. to describe the way someone asks for something, use gentiment.
Il est onze heures déjà. Parlez plus doucement, s’il vous plaît.
Effleurer — To brush past
Effleurer means to brush past, but it can also mean to skim over or to gloss over.
Malheureusement, l’article n’a fait qu’effleurer le sujet.
Il vous suffit de effleurer le bouton pour l’allumer.
Envie — Yearning/Despire
Envy may remind you of “envy” in English, and the roots are related.
But envie is super common in French. It’s the simplest way of saying you feel like doing something.
– Est-ce que tu as envie de manger avec moi?
– Franchement non, pas du tout.
Épanoui — Blooming, Glowing
Épanoui means “blooming” or “growing”.
The word épanoui can also mean “buxom”.
I also like its adjectival form, épanouissant, which means “fulfilling” or “satisfying”.
Crois-moi, avoir un enfant n’est pas si épanouissant pour tous.
Étranger — Foreign
The word étranger most commonly means “a foreigner”, or describes being overseas in the phrase a l’étranger.
J’aimerais travailler à l’étranger.
Feuilleter — to Leaf Through
I choose feuilleter as one of my favourite beautiful French words not just because it sounds nice, but because it evocatively uses the word feuille to describe leafing through something… just as the word “to leaf” does.
Feuilletant un livre, j’ai croisé quelque chose d’interessant…
The word flâner both sounds nice and has a certain untranslatable element in that it means to wander aimlessly.
It comes with a noun too, flânerie, and a noun to describe a person who likes to walk aimlessly (or who is aimless), a flâneur. Tous mes amis, ils sont que des flâneurs…
Mais c’est de la folie! was one of the first things I learned how to exclaim in French. “But this is crazy!”
Folie means “craziness” or “madness” in French. So it’s one of those beautiful French words that has a negative meaning.
Grenouiller — To bathe
The word grenouiller means “to bathe”.
The cool thing about the world grenouiller is its root… grenouille, a frog. I.e. to grenouiller means “to make like a frog”.
Grignoter — to Snack
One of my favourite beautiful French words is grignoter, which means to “snack” or to “nibble”
Tu devrais faire de vrais repas plutôt que de grignoter pendant toute la journée.
Grignoter can also be used figuratively — to gain ground.
Petit à petit le coureur grignote du terrain sur son adversaire.
Hirondelle — Swallow
Just an unusually pretty French word for a fairly common bird.
I’ve always loved the word lendemain for “the following day”. It’s also more succinct.
Nous sommes arrivés a Sydney le jeudi et le lendemain nous sommes allés au centre.
A oiseau is a bird. It’s an elegant word in French partly as it 5/6 of the letters are vowels!
L’émeu est un grand oiseau qui ne vole pas mais qui court très vite, et en plus est un des deux animaux présent sur les armoiries de l’Australie.
Papillon — A Butterfly
A papillon is a butterfly in French.
Parapluie — Umbrella
A parapluie is simply an umbrella!
The word has Latin roots. Para means “for” (you’d be familiar with this if you know Spanish or Italian) and pluie means “rain” in French. So a parapluis is something you use for rain.
In Spanish it’s similar un paraguas, similarly. In Italian an umbrella is an ombrello though.
Péripatéticien — A Wanderer
Why does French have so many words for wandering around? (See flâner above!)
This is one of those beautiful French words that has beauty in its meaning as well as in its aesthetics.
A péripatéticien is someone who is peripatetic — a traveller who wanders from place to place. We use the adjective in English but don’t have an equivalent noun.
Retrouvailles — A Happy Reunion
Retrouvailles is one of those beautiful French words words that’s much better than its false friend equivalent. It literally means “a reunion”. (The French word réunion means “meeting” in English, like the kind that you have for work.)
The word retrouvailles comes from the verb root retrouver, which means “to re-find” or “to meet again”. For example on s’est retrouvé au restaurant means “we met again at the restaurant”.
Une soirée de retrouvailles is a homecoming or reunion, like for a class at school.
One distinguishing feature of the word retrouvailles is that it has a bit of an untranslatable element to it. On top of meaning a reunion, it encasulates the happiness of meeting someone again after a long time.
Tristesse — Sadness
Tristesse means “sadness” in French.
I think of this as one of those beautiful French words just for the way it sounds. Like largesse, which has also made it into English, or noblesse, which is in the imported expression noblesse oblige.