In our blog this week, we’re going to be looking at the French word beau.
While it’s a common word that a lot of learners might know already, it’s always a good idea to start by listening to the pronunciation:
We’d also recommend listening to the pronunciation of its feminine form, belle, which sounds completely different:
When it comes to translating beau, it can mean different things in different contexts. That said, its most common and well-known translation is beautiful. It might help you remember the word because we can see the French word beau in the first four letters of the English word beautiful.
When it’s used as an adjective, beau changes spelling depending on the noun it describes. You’ll see it written as:
- Belle, its feminine form
- Bel, its masculine singular form before a vowel and most words beginning with ‘h’
- Beaux or belles, its plural forms
You can read more about this on our Easy Learning French Grammar page about adjectival agreements.
Now for some examples:
Quand j’étais à la campagne, j’ai vu le plus beau cheval. When I was in the countryside, I saw the most beautiful horse.
C’est un très bel homme. He’s a very handsome man.
S’il fait beau, nous allons à la plage. If the weather’s nice, we’re going to the beach.
La table est si belle. C’est du beau travail ! The table is so beautiful. Nice work!
Elle m’a donné des très belles fleurs pour notre anniversaire de mariage. She gave me some gorgeous flowers for our wedding anniversary.
avoir beau faire quelque chose to try as one might to do something
Vous avez beau essayé de le finir, mais vous n’avez pas réussi. You may well have tried to finish it, but you just haven’t manged to succeed.
les beaux-arts fine arts
bel et bien well and truly; indeed
In some situations, you’ll see different forms of beau which don’t translate as anything to do with beauty or looks. If you see it followed by a hyphen and a family member, we’re not talking about how beautiful they are! Depending on the context, we’re either talking about in-laws or stepfamily:
beau-frère stepbrother; brother-in-law
beau-père stepfather; father-in-law
belle-sœur stepsister; sister-in-law
belle-mère stepmother; mother-in-law
Nous sommes partis en vacances avec mes enfants, mon nouveau mari et ma belle-sœur. We went on holiday with my kids, my new husband and sister-in-law.
Après le divorce, mon père s’est remarié en 2019. Toute la famille adore mon beau-père ! After the divorce, my dad got remarried in 2019. The whole family loves my stepdad!
It won’t be long before you start speaking and writing beautifully in French. Keep up the good work and we’ll see you next week!
Written by Holly Tarbet, freelance copywriter and editor.
All opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of Collins, or its parent company, HarperCollins
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