When you’re driving through the French countryside, browsing the artwork in the Louvre, or gazing upon your partner or potential partner, you’ll no doubt want to know how to say beautiful in French; there’s so much that is beautiful in France.
In this post, we’ll go through everything you need to know to perfectly use the word beautiful in French. We’ll focus on the word belle/beau, which is the most commonly used word to say “beautiful” for men and women. It is also used to describe landscapes, paintings, books, or any other object that can be described as beautiful.
For more words related to beauty, you might be interested in reading about the most beautiful French words that you’ll ever hear.
How to Say Beautiful in French at a Glance
Difference Between Belle vs BeauBelle and beau is an adjective that means “beautiful” and “handsome” in French.
These are, as all adjectives, used to describe a person or an object. “Beau” describes a masculine noun and “belle” describes a feminine noun. Before applying “beau” or “belle” you need to find out the gender of your noun (if it’s not obvious!)
For people, the distinction is pretty easy. You use “beau” when you’re referring to a man and “belle” for a woman. To tell someone “you are beautiful” in French, you would change belle and beau depending on the gender they identify as.
- Tu es belle. – You are beautiful. (addressing a woman)
- Tu es beau. – You are handsome/beautiful. (addressing a man)
But when talking about objects, it’s a little tricker. English speakers often have a hard time imagining that all nouns in French have a gender, but yes, it’s true. To properly construct a sentence you need to know the gender of the words you use. Here are the genders of some commonly used objects.
- La voiture → La belle voiture (the beautiful car)
- Le soleil → Le beau soleil (the beautiful sun)
- Le sofa → Le beau sofa (the beautiful sofa)
- La lune → La belle lune (the beautiful moon)
- La television → La belle television (the beautiful television)
Maybe someone has complimented you or something of yours that’s beautiful. Learn how to respond by saying thank you in French.
Difference between Beau vs Bel
But what about bel? Bel is another one of French’s many exceptions to the rule. Bel is used with a singular masculine noun when the noun that comes after it starts with a vowel.
The French don’t like to see two vowels together, as it doesn’t run smoothly and sounds a bit awkward. They find a way to insert or omit letters to avoid the clash of two vowels. Check out these examples. The incorrect forms are on the left and the correct form with bel is on the right.
When beau and a noun starting with a vowel are used in a sentence, “beau” is substituted with “bel” to make pronunciation easier. Try saying the phrases on the left and compare it to the phrases on the right. Hopefully, you’ll find that the sentences on the right flow a bit easier.
Naturally, this can cause some confusion for beginning learners because “bel” is so similar to “belle”. But as long as you remember, “bel” is used with masculine nouns (if “beau” can’t be used) and “belle” is used with feminine nouns, you will get this straight in no time!
Using the Plural Form of Belle and Beau
Now let’s look at the plural forms of “belle” and “beau” together. Our first guess is to add an ‘s’, right? It’s true, the plural for most french words is done with an s, but here we have another exception. Thankfully the plural of belle is simply belles , however, the plural of “beau” is made with an x, leading to beaux .
All words that end with -eau have an x in their plural form. Let’s look at a few examples. We’ve included examples that aren’t strictly “beau” so you can get a broader idea of this rule.
un couteau (a knife)
un chapeau (a hat)
des couteaux (knives)
des chapeaux (hats)
Now we look at the examples of “belle/beau”:
Ce sont mes beaux enfants.
Il a de belles maisons.
Ils ont de belles tomates.
These are my beautiful children.
He has beautiful houses.
They have beautiful tomatoes.
The nice thing is that “bel” doesn’t have a plural form! For the masculine plural you always use “beaux”, even for nouns that start with a vowel. Why? Remember that we only used “bel” to avoid two vowels meeting (such as beau avion -> bel avion) and “beaux” doesn’t end with a vowel (beaux avions).
Fun fact, both the s and x are silent, so the plural forms “belles” and “beaux” are pronounced exactly the same way as the singular forms “belle”, “beau” and “bel”.
Using Adverbs with Beau and Belle
Now that we are more familiar with when and how to use “belle/beau”, let’s see how we can include adverbs to place special emphasis when using beautiful in French and become a total “charmeur”. You can add any adverb before “beau/belle” to specify quantity, time or place. Look at these examples:
|French Adverb||English||Example Sentence|
|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.
In this last sentence we have an exception of an expression with “beau”. “Beau” is used to describe the weather and in this context doesn’t mean beautiful but good.
Where to Put Belle and Beau in a Sentence
It is usually the case in French that adjectives are placed after the noun. As in the examples below:
C’est une table verte.
C’est un homme gentil.
Elle est une femme elegante.
It’s a green table.
He’s a nice man.
She’s an elegant woman.
However belle and beau once again prove to be an exception to the rule. “Beau/belle” is located before the noun it describes. Contrast the examples above with the examples for belle and beau below:
C’est un beau mannequin.
C’est un bel avion.
C’est une belle robe.
It’s a beautiful model (male).
It’s a beautiful airplane.
It’s a beautiful dress.
Other Words for Beautiful in French
Sometimes the word “beautiful” doesn’t really describe what you’re looking at fully, what if it is pretty, cute, incredible or even breathtaking? We got you covered here too. Look at the alternatives to beau/belle below:
Joli(e)Joli means pretty in French. You can use it to describe people (most often women and girls) but also to describe clothes or accessories or anything that would call for the word “pretty” in English.
Be careful, “joli” is used for a male noun and “jolie” for a female noun. The plural of each is constructed with an s at the end. Similar to the grammatical order of belle and beau, joli(e) is also located before the noun it describes.
Elle est trop jolie ta fille.
J’ai acheté des jolies chaussures.
Tu as des jolis yeux bleus.
Your daughter is too pretty.
I bought pretty shoes.
You have pretty blue eyes.
This last sentence is an interesting example as has two adjectives, bleu (blue) and joli (pretty). Joli is placed before yeux (eyes), similar to the way beau and belle would be placed, and bleu behaves similar to most adjectives. It goes after yeux.
CanonCanon is an expression that translates to something like very good-looking or hot. It is used to describe adults, male and female, and it always stays in the same form, there is no e or s added in the female or plural form. “Canon” is a colloquial word most often used in a younger demographic. “Canon”, like the majority of french adjectives, is placed after the noun.
Ta soeur est canon.
C’est qui, cet homme canon?
Le canon de la beauté est survalorisé.
Your sister is very hot.
Who is this good-looking man?
The standard of beauty is overvalued.
Can you see what I did in this last sentence? I gave you a little hint about where the word “canon” comes from. “Canon” isn’t an adjective per say, it’s a noun and describes “le canon de beauté”, the standard of beauty. It has in recent years evolved and is now used as an adjective. But since its origin is as a noun, it is not modified with an e or s in the female or plural form. Someone who is “canon” literally fits the standard of beauty in French.
Mignon(ne)Mignon means cute in French. Just like in English it can be used to describe children, especially babies, but also objects. In the male form we use “mignon”, but the female form is “mignonne”. You add an s to both forms in the plural version.
Just like canon, mignon is located after the noun it describes.
Ton petit-fils est vraiment mignon.
Elle a des filles mignonnes.
Your grandson is really cute.
She has cute daughters.
Maybe you can guess what this one means? Ravissant is the equivalent of ravishing or gorgeous, another French word for beautiful. The French use it when someone gets dressed up and puts more effort than usual into their appearance. I guarantee you that calling someone “ravissant(e)” will flatter them incredibly!
Similar to the other adjectives in this list the female form has an e at the end and the plural forms both have an s added at the end. “Ravissante” is located after the noun.
Elle est ravissante ce soir.
J’adore ta robe ravissante.
Quand tu te maquilles, tu es ravissante.
She looks ravishing tonight.
I love your gorgeous dress.
When you put on makeup you are ravishing.
While flattery can definitely get you places with the French, don’t overdo it. They have a tendency to downplay their emotions and exaggerated heart-to-hearts aren’t always well received. You will frequently find adverbs such as trop (too) instead of très, illustrating that the French lean on the side of modesty in their verbal praise.
So don’t use belle/beau for everything, mix it up and include some of the synonyms of beautiful mentioned above. And above all, make sure that your compliments are sincere!