The 25 Most Beautiful French Words (And How to Pronounce Them)

Many people consider French to be one of the most beautiful languages in the world. But what are some of the most beautiful French words?

It turns out that while the French have a lot of opinions about many different topics, favorite words doesn’t seem to be among the most popular. Of course, this is all a matter of opinion anyway.

So, here’s our list of twenty-five beautiful French words, in alphabetical order.

25 Beautiful French Words

An open book, with a moon-shaped light and fairy lights in the background.
  • azur(e) – azure (blue)
  • brouillard – fog
  • céleste – celestial
  • coquelicot – poppy
  • crepuscule – twilight. For fans of the book and movie series, the title is just “Twilight” in French, not Crepuscule.
  • croquette – croquette (a small ball of fried dough stuffed with something (meat, cheese, etc.)/kibble
  • croustille/croustillant(e) – to crunch when eaten/crunchy/crusty. The French are great for descriptive food-related words that sound like what they mean. These are among the best! Just saying them feels like biting into a crusty baguette.
  • émerveiller/émerveillé(e)(s) – to fill someone with wonder/to be filled with wonder
  • ensorceler – to enchant /cast a spell on someone
  • évanescent(e) – evanescent
  • exquis(e) – exquisite
  • flâner – to stroll.
  • flèche – an arrow
  • flic-floc – An onomatopoeia for the sound of rain drops hitting a hard surface.
  • glace – ice/ice cream/mirror. Don’t worry, it’s less difficult to confuse those possible meanings than you might think.
  • gourmand(e) – someone who loves to eat. Really insist on the “our” sound, it’s like opening your mouth to eat and savor something.
  • jaspiner – to chatter/gossip/gab
  • lisse – smooth.
  • luciole – firefly/lightning bug
  • plume – feather/quill pen
  • pourpre – crimson (purplish red)
  • rouge – red
  • saperlipopette – an old-fashioned exclamation that could roughly translate to “Oh my goodness!” or “Oh my stars!”  It’s a fun word to say and considered very cute today.
  • tristesse – sadness.
  • velours – velvet. This word is beautiful but also a faux-ami. It was borrowed into English to make the synthetic, inexpensive fabric velour seem more luxurious. Interestingly, there is no one-word equivalent of “velour” in French; it’s usually called velours maille.

What words do French people think are beautiful?

Scattered wooden letter tiles painted in different pastel colors with small numbers on each, as if for a DIY Scrabble game. One also has a drawing of a heart.

Our list was mainly compiled by me, an American who speaks fluent French and has been using and hearing the language for a majority of her life. But I’ll never be a native French speaker. I wanted to know how my list measured up to some sort of official list or large-scale survey of native Francophones.

It turns out, though, that no one seems to have created any kind of large-scale beautiful word survey for French people.

One reason for this may be that euphony (beautiful sounds) is an integral part of French. I didn’t think of this, myself, until I came upon this very interesting dichotomy:

The English Wikipedia entry for “euphony” (which redirects to “Phonaesthetics”) features many examples of poetic lines and phrases, theories about aesthetically perfect word combinations like “cellar door”, and so on. The French Wikipedia entry for euphonie, however, doesn’t contain examples like that in French.

But its author does point out that some of the very rules of French grammar only exist so that phrases can sound more pleasant to the ear – for instance, inserting a “t” between words in certain phrases, to avoid a double vowel sound (example: Combien y-a-t-il?). There’s no reason to do this besides avoiding what would be an unpleasant sound to French ears.

So maybe one of the reasons there’s such a lack of information on this subject is because in French, beauty isn’t just something you happen upon; it’s been intentionally implanted into the bones of the language.

That being said, lists of what Francophones consider the most beautiful French words do exist, just not in a particularly wide-reaching capacity. This survey, for instance, asked an unspecified number of French people to share their favorite words. Only twelve responses are shared,   and it turns out that most of the words were chosen for their meaning, rather than how they sound.  

The same can be said for this list, except there are more replies and the reasons these “favorite words” were chosen is more varied.

Other lists, like this one, have no attribution whatsoever. The words may be the result of a survey or some kind of research, or maybe it’s just the author’s own selection of beautiful French words.

The words compiled here, via fun listicle site Topito, come exclusively from the mind of the author, who specifies that, sure, it’s subjective, but c’est mon top en fait, rab (who cares, it’s my list, IDGAF (rab is French internet slang for rien à branler)). 

Some sources take a different approach. For instance, Le dictionnaire des jolis mots is a site that compiles old-fashioned, obscure, and beautiful French words (or at least what its author(s) consider beautiful).

This video series features three Francophone authors discussing their favorite words. Fascinating as the idea is, it turns out that they tend to talk more about the meaning behind the words than about their aesthetic qualities.

In the same vein, this podcast spotlights 44 “perfect words” chosen by French writers.

I feel bad that I can’t give you some big, official answer about the most beautiful French words – well, nothing beyond my own opinion and a few other people’s.  But maybe, in a way, that’s a beautiful thing. Since there is no definitive survey or list, you have more freedom to think about what’s beautiful to you, and to savor the lovely words you come upon as you keep studying, practicing, and listening to French.

What French word or words are beautiful to you?  Feel free to share in the comments!

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. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.

18 thoughts on “The 25 Most Beautiful French Words (And How to Pronounce Them)”

  1. Maybe because I live by a river and we walk there often I love the words “libellule” (f) = dragonfly and nenuphar (m) = waterlily ….

    Reply
  2. Chere Alysa,
    Your ideas of teaching French are
    unique and so inspiring As a French teacher for 40 years in schools and colleges, in Mumbai, I really love and appreciate your efforts. From your list, my favourite is ‘croquettes’, which my Goan mother used to make.
    Merci beaucoup, Dr Ramona Srinivasan

    Reply
  3. J’adore le mot étinceler. Un matin en hiver, j’ai vu la glace en l’herbe, et je pensais: Oh là là! L’herbe étincelle!

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  4. So many to choose from! “Quelque chose'”which I love the tripping sound of. “Parapluie” makes me think of how the rain lands on my umbrella.

    Reply
    • Salut Alison, I haven’t ever considered “quelque chose” as beautiful, but I kind of get it! And you are so right about “parapluie”! I hadn’t really thought of it that way. Thanks for giving me another way to look at a familiar word.

      Reply
    • Salut Pauline – Oooh “étincelant” is a beautiful word, indeed! And I love the image it brings to mind for you.

      Reply
  5. Benjamin, the inclusion of ‘azur’ in your list reminds me of that most beautiful *phrase*, from the Charles Trenet song, La Mer: Bergère d’azur, infinie.

    But I must disagree with the American author’s comment on the *insertion* of -t- in phrases like y-a-t-il. Surely, because French ‘a’ derives from Latin ‘habet’, it’s more that the ‘t’ has *remained* when a vowel follows – of course, to make it easier to pronounce.

    Thanks for everything,
    Dave

    Reply
    • Hi Dave, I’m the American author 🙂 I have never heard that about the Latin “habet” and the third-person conjugation of avoir. The general rule and idea behind adding a “t” to separate “a” from another vowel sound is tied to pronunciation/aesthetics. For instance, you would still insert a “t” with words like “sera” in an inverted phrase (Où sera-t-il ?) because two vowel sounds together usually sound bad to native French speakers. But there could indeed also be a tie to the Latin in the case of “avoir”. Language is such a fascinating thing and there is so much that we keep learning and discovering. Thanks for this new insight to ponder.

      Reply
  6. For the sound of it—mine has to be “amour”. Even better: l’amour. In English, “love” can sound abrupt, curt. But l’amour can be drawn out, and sound like a caress. 🙂

    Reply

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