10 beautiful French words you should know
Published on January 26, 2023 / Updated on January 3, 2024
French is often said to be the language of love, likely due to the many beautiful words it contains. From their sound to their meaning, such words add poetry when you’re speaking in French. Even though several of them are among the most difficult words to pronounce in French, learning them is well worth the effort. To get you started, here is our list of ten of the most beautiful words in French.
Let’s set the scene: Two lovers have been separated by a jealous villain. Or two lifelong friends have had a falling out. If you’ve ever had to say goodbye to a loved one, les retrouvailles expresses the movie-magic moment and the immense joy of finally reuniting with them.
The verb flâner can best be translated as “to wander aimlessly and with no destination in mind”. When you’re traveling to a French city, make sure to reserve some time for flâner in your busy schedule of visits and tours. It’s the best, and maybe only way, to discover some hidden gems and get a true feel of a city.
While you may have heard this word used in English, it has its roots in French. It can be used to describe someone or something with a bit of swagger and flair. Perhaps the best depiction of the word can be found in one of the most beloved French books, Les Trois Mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers). The heroes in this story, with their swagger and bravery, truly embody the meaning of panache.
The primary meaning of this word is drunkenness or intoxication, but it can also refer to a sense of exhilaration or euphoria. In particular, the phrase ivresse de l’amour represents how the feeling of love can be compared to a form of intoxication that sweeps you off your feet.
Another -er verb like flâner, chuchoter (to whisper) evokes its meaning through its simple sound, in particular the ch consonants. It can be used equally to talk about two children trying to chat in class without being noticed by their teacher or two lovers exchanging sweet nothings in a soft voice.
One of the most elegant French words, douceur can be translated by multiple words depending on the context. It’s the softness of certain fabrics like velvet or silk. It’s the gentleness of an embrace, for instance, to soothe a child. It’s the mildness of a summer night. It’s the sweetness of candies, such as the box of chocolate you offer for Valentine’s Day. You even find it in the phrase douceur de vivre, to express the sweetness of life.
As in English, the word étincelle (sparkle) can be used literally to refer to the sparkle of a candle, a fire or a star, or symbolically, for instance in the phrase une étincelle de vie (a sparkle of life).
The term frimousse may not refer to an exact body part, but it evokes the sweet little face of a child with one of the prettiest words of the French language. Think of The Little Rascals, or, to use one of the most famous cartoon characters in France, Le Petit Nicolas.
Translated literally, dépaysement would mean “de-country-zation”. In reality, the word evokes, at its best, a change of scenery when you travel to a foreign country, or, at its worse, a sense of disorientation or confusion when you find yourself in an unfathomable place or situation.
Yes, libellule is the French term for dragonfly. But even the name of an insect can feature among the most beautiful words in French. With its alliterations of the consonant l, the very sound of the word can give an impression of lightness and of fluttering around, very much like this insect is prone to do.
To help you start using these beautiful French words, here is a quick recap, with their meaning in English and their correct pronunciation, using the phonetic alphabet:
|little cute face
|change of scenery
We could go on and on, but our short list is a good start to give you a taste of some of the most beautiful words in French. You can learn their different meanings and practice their pronunciation, as well as some of the expressions they can appear in. It’s the surest way to fall in love with the language!