Whether you find a person or a landscape pretty, the French language has many ways to describe it. Start out with the direct translation: belle and move on to additional phrases that can express breathtaking beauty in French.
Beautiful in French
The translation for the word 'beautiful' is belle, or beau, depending on who you are talking to or what you're talking about. The chart below breaks it all down for you.
|"You are beautiful," to a female.||belle||Tu es belle.||Too-eh belle.|
|"You are handsome," to a male.*||beau||Tu es beau.||Too-eh boe|
|"It is beautiful," when the object is female.||belle||Elle est belle.||Ell ay bell.|
|"It is beautiful," when the object is male.||beau||Il est beau.||Eel ay boe|
|"They are beautiful," (feminine objects)||belles||Elles sont belles.||Ell sohn bell.|
|"They are beautiful," (masculine objects)||beaux||Ils sont beaux.||Eel sohn boe.|
Grammar and Usage Tips
As with any language, there are some exceptions to the rules.
Preceding Adjectives With Vowels
Generally, if you are talking about a man or you are describing a masculine object, you should use beau. However, if the adjective precedes a noun that starts with a vowel or an unaspirated h, use the 'bel' instead of beau. For example, if you were describing a man, you'd say un bel homme (uhn bell ohm). Beau changes to bel because of the unaspirated 'h' of homme. Another example might be 'un bel ami' (uhn bell ah-mee). Beau changes to bel because 'ami' starts with a vowel.
In French, adjectives typically follow the noun. However, there is a short list of adjectives that precede the noun and beau/belle/bel is one of those adjectives. In most standard usage, the French translation of 'beautiful' precedes the noun that you're describing as beautiful.
Adjective and Gender Agreement
The word 'beautiful' can be used to describe objects as well as people. In French, objects have either male or female gender. When describing an inanimate object, you must use the appropriately gendered adjective. For example, because a house is feminine in French, you would describe a pretty one as une belle maison.
- Une belle femme (oohn bell fahm): a beautiful woman
- Une belle maison (oohn bell may zon): a beautiful house
- Un très beau paysage (uhn tray bo pay ee zahge): a beautiful landscape
French Phrases for Beautiful People
The literal translation for telling someone that they are beautiful is to say tu es très belle or tu es très beau. Alternatively, the word joli(e) can be used. If you need something even stronger, try one of these phrases:
- Tu es la plus belle fille/le plus beau garçon que j'ai jamais vu(e). (Too eh lah pluh bell fee/luh pluh bo gar son kuh jay ja may vooh: You're the most beautiful girl/handsome boy I've ever seen.)
- Pourquoi es-tu si belle/beau? (Por kwah eh too see bell/bo): Why are you (how did you get to be) so beautiful/handsome?)
- Tu es aussi belle/beau que… (Too ay oh see bell/bo kuh): You're as beautiful/handsome as… (insert what you find the most beautiful thing in the world to be)
Idiomatic French Phrases With Belle/Beau
Many phrases incorporate the word 'belle/beau' into the phrase:
- À la belle étoile (ah lah bell ay twahl): under the open (starry) sky
- La Belle France (lah bell Frahnce): literally means the beautiful France, but is used as an expression of affection towards the mother country
- La belle province (lah bell pro vehnce): the beautiful province (used to refer to Québec)
- La belle Provence (lah bell pro vahnce): beautiful Provence (the province of Provence, France)
- Un beau mensonge (uhn bo mahn sohnge): literally means a beautiful lie; implies that the lie is crafty, almost believable
- Belle-mère, belle-sœur, beau-frère/père (bell-mair, bell-sir, bo-frair/pair): step-mother, step-sister, step-brother/father (mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother/sister-in-law)
In addition, some expressions in English have borrowed the word 'belle' from French, such as "Southern Belle" and the "Belle of the ball".
Several women's names stem from the French word beautiful. For example, the name 'Mabel' means, quite literally, 'my belle', and can be spelled 'Mabelle' or 'Maybelle' alternatively.
Several names end with 'belle' or 'bella' (the Italian equivalent of French belle), such as Isabelle/Isabella, Annabelle/Annabella, Arabelle/Arabella, Maribelle/Maribella etc. The name 'Carabella' is quite rare, but incorporates the root 'cara' (sweet) with the root 'bella'; the ideal name for a beautiful, sweet, baby girl. All of these names derive from the Latin root from which the French belle came.
Describing With Adjectives
Whether you are describing people or objects, and doing it in written or spoken format, the French word for beautiful is a commonly used adjective. Even though remembering when to use the different forms may seem difficult at first, this word will come up frequently in daily usage if you use French on a regular basis. Once you've learned these basic adjectives, take a shot at expanding your vocabulary with this list of descriptive adjectives.