Animals in French: Useful vocabulary lists

Animals in French: Useful vocabulary lists

by Anne-Lise Vassoille

Updated June 20, 2022

No matter how old you are, animal vocabulary in French is both useful and fun to learn. It’s a common topic of interest, as many French people are animal lovers. According to recent statistics, one French household out of two owns at least one animal domestique (pet). Another proof of this undying love is the popular TV show 30 millions d’amis (30 million friends) that used to present reports on animals every week. Having aired for 40 years from 1976 to 2016, it is one of the longest-running French TV shows ever made. 

With that in mind, let’s learn some of the most common animal vocabulary in French:

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A note on grammar for French animal vocabulary

Before we enter the vocabulary of the animal kingdom, there are a few grammar rules to keep in mind. Similar to adjectives, certain words for animals in French have a masculine form and a feminine form. For instance, un chien is a male dog while une chienne is a female dog. Other animals in our vocabulary lists have two completely different words according to their genders, such as un cheval (horse) and une jument (mare). 

Finally, in a strange case of French grammar defying biology, some French words for animals only have one form, and therefore one gender. This is why un hamster is always male whereas une souris (mouse) is always female. 

In our lists, when relevant and commonly used, we have mentioned both the male and female words for the different animals. Now, let’s move along to some animal vocab.

1. Pets

Talking about your favorite animal domestique (pet), also known as animal de compagnie, is an easy topic to break the ice. It’s as safe a subject as talking about the weather, but also an opportunity to tell more about yourself and your home life. Here are a few common French pet names (pun intended!):

  • Un canari >> canary
  • Un chat (feminine: une chatte) >> cat
  • Un chien (feminine: une chienne) >> dog
  • Un hamster >> hamster
  • Un lapin (feminine: une lapine)  >> rabbit
  • Un perroquet >> parrot
  • Un poisson rouge >> goldfish
  • Une souris >> mouse
  • Une tortue >> turtle

2. Farm animals

If you consider taking a quiet holiday in the French countryside or going for a hike to enjoy the landscape, you may want to consider booking a room in a gîte à la ferme (a farm cottage). This is a great way to discover rural France, as well as its local products and traditions. Of course, you are likely to see a few of the following animaux de la ferme (farm animals) along the way:

  • Un âne (feminine: une ânesse) >> donkey
  • Un canard >> duck
  • Un cheval >> horse
  • Une chèvre >> goat
  • Un cochon >> pig
  • Un coq >> rooster
  • Une dinde >> turkey
  • Une jument >> mare
  • Un mouton >> sheep
  • Une poule >> hen
  • Un taureau >> bull
  • Une truie >> sow
  • Une vache >> cow

3. Forest animals

If you are already in the countryside, you may even be lucky enough to see a few animaux de la forêt (forest animals), such as:

  • Une biche >> hind
  • Un castor >> beaver
  • Un cerf >> stag
  • Un daim >> deer
  • Un écureuil >> squirrel
  • Un hérisson >> hedgehog
  • Un lièvre >> hare
  • Un loup (feminine: une louve) >> wolf
  • Une loutre >> otter
  • Un ours >> bear
  • Un porc-épic >> porcupine
  • Un raton-laveur >> raccoon
  • Un renard (feminine: une renarde) >> fox
  • Un sanglier >> boar

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4. Jungle animals

You don’t have to go all the way to a faraway jungle to need this type of vocabulary. A simple trip to the zoo (or such movies as Madagascar) will be the perfect opportunity to test your knowledge of the following words for the animaux de la jungle (jungle animals):

  • Une antilope >> antelope
  • Un chameau >> camel
  • Un crocodile >> crocodile
  • Un éléphant >> elephant
  • Une girafe >> giraffe
  • Un guépard >> cheetah
  • Un hippopotame >> hippopotamus
  • Une hyène >> hyena
  • Un léopard >> leopard
  • Un lion >> lion
  • Un rhinocéros >> rhinoceros
  • Un singe >> monkey
  • Un tigre >> tiger
  • Un zèbre >> zebra

5. Sea animals

After the zoo, time to go to the aquarium! There is much more under the sea than just a couple of goldfish, so let’s review the French words for some of the most well known animaux marins (sea animals):

  • Une anguille >> eel 
  • Une baleine >> whale
  • Un calamar >> squid
  • Un crabe >> crab
  • Une crevette >> shrimp
  • Un dauphin >> dolphin
  • Une étoile de mer >> starfish
  • Un hippocampe >> seahorse
  • Un homard >> lobster
  • Une méduse >> jellyfish
  • Un morse >> walrus
  • Un phoque >> seal
  • Une pieuvre >> octopus
  • Un pingouin >> penguin
  • Un poisson >> fish
  • Une otarie >> sea lion
  • Un requin >> shark

6. Birds

Wherever you are, even in urban environments, you only need to raise your eyes towards the sky to see a few oiseaux (birds). If you do, you may even be able to identify some of the following species:

  • Un aigle >> eagle
  • Une colombe >> dove
  • Un corbeau >> crow
  • Un cygne >> swan
  • Un faucon >> falcon
  • Un hibou >> owl
  • Un moineau >> sparrow
  • Une mouette >> seagull
  • Une perdrix >> partridge
  • Une pie >> magpie
  • Un pigeon >> pigeon
  • Un pivert >> woodpecker
  • Un rouge-gorge >> robin
  • Un vautour >> vulture

7. Bonus: 12 French expressions containing animal vocabulary 

Beyond the natural world, animals are often used in figurative turns of phrases, including for nicknames and insults in French. Here are 12 of the most common ones, with their literal translation and their actual meaning in English.

French expressionsLiteral translationActual meaning
Avoir d’autres chats à fouetterTo have other cats to whipTo have other fish to fry
Avoir la chair de pouleTo have the hen fleshTo have goosebumps
Avoir du chienTo have some dogTo have charm
Être comme un poisson dans l’eauTo be like a fish in waterTo be comfortable in a situation
Faire le singeDo the monkeyTo monkey around
Faire un froid de canardTo do a duck’s coldTo be freezing cold
Noyer le poissonTo drown the fishTo muddy the waters/cloud the issue
Passer du coq à l’âneTo go from the rooster to the donkeyTo jump from one topic to another
Poser un lapin à quelqu’unTo put a rabbit to someoneTo stand someone up
Quand les poules auront des dentsWhen hens have teethWhen pigs will fly
Quand on parle du loupSpeaking of the wolfSpeaking of the devil
Rire comme une baleineTo laugh like a whaleTo roar with laughter

Use our lists to extend your animal vocabulary in French

It’s time to use your mémoire d’éléphant (elephant’s memory) to learn a few words for animals in French. Our lists may not be exhaustive, but they do include all the more common animals, broken down according to their category or environment. Make your life easier by learning one list at a time and, once you feel confident you have fully memorized it, move to the next one.

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Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries, such as hospitality and travel, as well as health and well-being. Settled down in London since the end of her university years, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.

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