Alouette: The surprising French children’s song that took over the world

Alouette means “lark” in French – but it’s also the title of a catchy children’s song whose melody has echoed in playgrounds, classrooms and even been sung by US marines.

Its meaning is way less famous though. In fact you may be surprised to learn that the song is all about the plucking of a lark.

Let’s delve into Alouette’s lyrics, meaning, and history!

What is the song Alouette about?

The song Alouette is about plucking the feathers from a lark. Luckily, this doesn’t seem to be a cruel act but rather the act of preparing a meal.

What are the lyrics and translation of Alouette?

Here are the lyrics to Alouette, and their English translation:

Alouette, gentille alouette, (Lark, nice lark,)

Alouette, je te plumerai. (Lark, I’ll pluck you.)

[Verse 1]

Je te plumerai la tête. (I’ll pluck your head.)

Je te plumerai la tête. (I’ll pluck your head.)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

A-a-a-ah (A-a-a-ah)

Alouette, gentille alouette, (Lark, nice lark,)

Alouette, je te plumerai.  (Lark, I’ll pluck you.)

[Verse 2]

Je te plumerai le bec. (I’ll pluck your beak.)

Je te plumerai le bec. (I’ll pluck your beak.)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

A-a-a-ah (A-a-a-ah)

Alouette, gentille alouette, (Lark, nice lark,)

Alouette, je te plumerai. (Lark, I’ll pluck you.)

[Verse 3]

Je te plumerai les yeux. (I’ll pluck your eyes.)

Je te plumerai les yeux. (I’ll pluck your eyes.)

Et les yeux ! (And your eyes!) 

Et les yeux ! (And your eyes!)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

A-a-a-ah (A-a-a-ah)

Alouette, gentille alouette, (Lark, nice lark,)

Alouette, je te plumerai. (Lark, I’ll pluck you.)

[Verse 4]

Je te plumerai le cou. (I’ll pluck your neck.)

Je te plumerai le cou. (I’ll pluck your neck.)

Et le cou ! (And your neck!)

Et le cou ! (And your neck!)

Et les yeux ! (And your eyes!)

Et les yeux ! (And your eyes!)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

A-a-a-ah (A-a-a-ah)

Alouette, gentille alouette, (Lark, nice lark,)

Alouette, je te plumerai. (Lark, I’ll pluck you.)

[Verse 5]

Je te plumerai les ailes. (I’ll pluck your wings.)   

Je te plumerai les ailes. (I’ll pluck your wings.)

Et les ailes ! (And your wings!)

Et les ailes ! (And your wings!)

Et le cou ! (And your neck!)

Et le cou ! (And your neck!)

Et les yeux ! (And your eyes!)

Et les yeux ! (And your eyes!)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

A-a-a-ah (A-a-a-ah)

Alouette, gentille alouette, (Lark, nice lark,)

Alouette, je te plumerai. (Lark, I’ll pluck you.)

[Verse 6]

Je te plumerai les pattes. (I’ll pluck your legs.*)     

Je te plumerai les pattes. (I’ll pluck your legs.)

Et les pattes ! (And your legs!)

Et les pattes ! (And your legs!)

Et les ailes ! (And your wings!)

Et les ailes ! (And your wings!)

Et le cou ! (And your neck!)

Et le cou ! (And your neck!)

Et les yeux ! (And your eyes!)

Et les yeux ! (And your eyes!)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

A-a-a-ah (A-a-a-ah)

Alouette, gentille alouette, (Lark, nice lark,)

Alouette, je te plumerai. (Lark, I’ll pluck you.)

[Verse 7]

Je te plumerai la queue. (I’ll pluck your tail.)     

Je te plumerai la queue. (I’ll pluck your tail.)

Et la queue ! (And your tail!)

Et la queue ! (And your tail!)

Et les pattes ! (And your legs!)

Et les pattes ! (And your legs!)

Et les ailes ! (And your wings!)

Et les ailes ! (And your wings!)

Et le cou ! (And your neck!)

Et le cou ! (And your neck!)

Et les yeux ! (And your eyes!)

Et les yeux ! (And your eyes!)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

A-a-a-ah (A-a-a-ah)

Alouette, gentille alouette, (Lark, nice lark,)

Alouette, je te plumerai.   (Lark, I’ll pluck you.)

[Verse 8]

Je te plumerai le dos. (I’ll pluck your back.)

Je te plumerai le dos. (I’ll pluck your back.)

Et le dos ! (And your back!)

Et le dos ! (And your back!)

Et la queue ! (And your tail!)

Et la queue ! (And your tail!)

Et les pattes ! (And your legs!)

Et les pattes ! (And your legs!)

Et les ailes ! (And your wings!)

Et les ailes ! (And your wings!)

Et le cou ! (And your neck!)

Et le cou ! (And your neck!)

Et les yeux ! (And your eyes!)

Et les yeux ! (And your eyes!)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et le bec ! (And your beak!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Et la tête ! (And your head!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

Alouette ! (Lark!)

A-a-a-ah (A-a-a-ah)

Alouette, gentille alouette, (Lark, nice lark,)

Alouette, je te plumerai. (Lark, I’ll pluck you.)

*Note that pattes can mean the paws/feet or the legs of an animal. Most translations of Alouette opt for “legs”.

What does the song Alouette mean?

A white feather in the foreground with a bright blue sky with scattered white clouds in the background.

Alouette is about plucking a bird, specifically, a lark. The speaker calls the lark nice (gentille) and says which part of it they will pluck. Each verse mentions a different part of the lark’s body going to be plucked, which is then repeated. This is followed by a list of each part that’s already been plucked (repeated once each time).

You may have noticed that some of the bird’s body parts, like the beak and eyes, don’t have feathers on them; the idea is probably that the singer is plucking the feathers around these areas.

Where can I hear the song Alouette?

Alouette is such a popular song that it’s very easy to hear a version of it by doing a search for “Alouette comptine” (Alouette children’s song) on YouTube. This is my favorite version; I think the singers harmonize nicely and make this often-heard song beautiful.

YouTube video

Who wrote the song Alouette?

No one knows who wrote the song Alouette, or even where or when exactly it came from….

Is Alouette a French-Canadian song?

View of Mont Tremblant, in Quebec, and surrounding area, a wilderness of trees, rolling green hills, and mirror-like lakes.

The first known mention of the song Alouette comes from A Pocket Song Book for the Use of Students and Graduates of McGill College, which was published in Canada in 1879. This means that in 1879 (and probably a lot longer, as it was included in a book of traditional songs), Alouette was being sung in the French-speaking parts of Canada.

Some historians theorize that Alouette was first sung by French fur traders in the early days of the exploration and European colonization of Canada. The song’s repetitive nature suggests that it might have been sung while they paddled their boats to trading posts where they would turn in the pelts they’d gathered.  

For these reasons, Alouette is considered an iconic French Canadian song.

But since we can’t be certain where it originated, some experts theorize that it was originally sung in mainland France and brought over with French traders and settlers.

Is the bird in the song Alouette alive?

If you grew up singing Alouette, you might have imagined that the song was about plucking the feathers off a live bird. As you may have discovered if you’ve ever sought it out on YouTube, most animated videos of the song suggest this, as well, featuring bullying birds singing to the lark, or in this delightful version, a cat and (for some reason) a frog dreaming of catching the soaring lark and plucking him.

But it’s much more likely that the lark in the title was shot by a hunter (the speaker) and is being plucked so it can be eaten.

There are several traditional French lark dishes, but most mainland and Canadian French people don’t eat lark today. (Alouettes sans têtes (headless larks) may seem to disprove this, but it’s actually a beef or veal dish from Provence.)

This shift in the lark’s role from potential food source to just another bird may explain some of the confusion many of us experience when it comes to the song’s meaning.

And when you think about it, when it comes to those Alouette videos for kids, maybe it’s more child-friendly to portray a bullied bird than a dead one getting its feathers pulled off.

Why is the song Alouette so popular?

It’s hard to pin down why exactly Alouette is so popular. The English version of the song’s Wikipedia page suggests that it was brought back to America (and maybe other non-French speaking countries?) by soldiers who were there during World War I, and they taught their families the catchy tune.

But I haven’t come across this theory in other sources, so who knows? It also doesn’t account for how the song became known in other countries and cultures as well. And of course, since the song is so closely associated with Canada and was obviously popular there already – why wouldn’t Americans have learned it from our “neighbor to the north”?

Whatever the case, Alouette is a centuries-old song that has staying power and a global reach today. Maybe the answer lies in the song’s easy-to-learn lyrics and, especially, its pleasant melody.

Is Alouette a good song for French students to know?

Closeup of a man's hand strumming the strings of an acoustic guitar. The front is decorated with a black panel with chalk or line drawings of plants.

Alouette is such a famous song that many people know it even if they don’t speak or study French. But knowing the lyrics to Alouette is especially beneficial to French students.

Notably, it’s an excellent way to memorize how to refer to body parts in French.

For some speakers of other languages, including English, the French way to refer to parts of the body can be very confusing. Notably, possessive adjectives (my, your, etc.) aren’t usually used with body parts in French. So for instance, “I hit my head” is Je me suis cogné la tête; the definite article la (the) is used with tête (head), not the possessive adjective ma (my). 

There are some exceptions to this rule. Notably, when you want to emphasize or draw attention to a body part, in some cases you would use the possessive adjective. But this indirect way of referring to body parts is the general rule in French  – and many of the lyrics to Alouette can help you remember it.

Another reason Alouette is a good song for French students to know is that it serves as a reminder that in many French songs and poems, the final “e” in a word, which is usually silent, is pronounced. That’s why in everyday speech you’ll hear the word pronounced alouette, but in the song, it has an extra “euh” sound at the end. In fact, in its first known appearance in print, the song’s title was written Alouetté, with an accent on the final “e”, to indicate this pronunciation.


I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about the song Alouette. Why not celebrate by listening to your favorite version of it?

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Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.