The essential guide to the parts of the body in French | With Audio

Want to learn the parts of the body in French? It’s nothing to lose your head over!

Let’s look at the parts of the body in French, as well as what articles to use them with and a few French body parts phrases and expressions!

The parts of the body in French

A woman seems to be lifting her bare legs and feet up against a light blue wall. We can't see the rest of her body or the context of where she's placed, but it looks fun and the colors are good together.

Here are common body parts in French. They’re listed in their singular or plural form first based on the most frequent way you’ll read them. The other form is listed after the translation.

“Naughty” body parts in French

“Naughty” is relative, of course, but these are body parts you might not see on most standard lists. The words here are neutral, not obscene or vulgar, so you can them if you’re describing a problem to a French doctor or in other general everyday situations. Of course, you may come across them in saucier situations, as well.

If you want to learn more obscene terms for some of these words, you can start with our post on French swear words!

  • les seins – breasts
  • les parties intimes – private parts
  • les parties génitales – genitals
  • le sexe – penis
  • le pénis – the penis. This term is slightly more scientific than le sexe. And of course, there are MANY other ways to say “penis” in French, just like in English! You can find others by looking them up in online or actual old-school French-English dictionaries, including Word Reference and Wiktionnaire.
  • le vagin – the vagina.  Yes, it is weird that female genitalia is paired with a masculine article! This is probably because the word comes from a Latin term for things like “sheath” or “envelope”. Note that, as in English, le vagin is not the most anatomically precise word for the visible female private area. That would be la vulve (vulva). But most French people use vagin in a non-scientific, everyday life way. 
  • les fesses – behind/butt/bottom. Note that this word is almost always plural. You could say une fesse or something like la fesse droite (the right buttcheek), but it’s unusual.

Internal body parts and organs in French

An anatomical model of a heart is positiioned on a metal display pole. The various parts are in different colors. Around it and in the background are other anatomical models of organs on display, but we can't easily make them out.
  • le squelette – the skeleton. Watch out – this word is a bit tricky, since the “-ette” ending seems like it should be feminine.
  • le crâne – skull. To describe a really bad headache, a French person might say J’ai mal au crâne.
  • un os – a bone. Plural: des os
  • les dents – teeth. Singular : une dent
  • la langue – the tongue
  • le cerveau – the brain
  • le coeur – the heart
  • l’estomac – the stomach
  • le ventre – the stomach. Le ventre can also sometimes mean “womb” in figurative or poetic language (although in medical or scientific language, “womb” is l’utérus).  This is the same as the way we might use “belly” in English.
  • le foie – the liver
  • les poumons – lungs. Singular: un poumon
  • les nerfs – the nerves. Singular: un nerf. As in English, you can use nerves in a figurative sense; Tu me tapes sur les nerfs is the equivalent of “You’re (getting) on my nerves.”
  • le sang – blood

What articles to use with French body parts

orangey-yellow tulips and stalks of lavendar are seen close-up. They look like they are growing wild in a meadow or field of flowers.
Ces fleurs me démangent le nez.

The French have an interesting grammatical relationship with body parts.

In a majority of cases, you don’t use a possessive adjective when talking about a body part in French. Instead, you use  a reflexive verb with a definite article.

This reflexive verb can be any verb that’s needed for the situation – just add a reflexive pronoun and use the helping verb être when conjugating compound tenses.

For instance, in English you’d say “I broke my arm”. In French, you’d say Je me suis cassé le bras.

As you can see, the way we know who the arm belongs to is due to the reflexive pronoun with the verb (me), and not a possessive adjective (my).

The same works for any subject. For instance: Paul s’est cassé le bras. (Paul broke his arm.) Again, the reflexive pronoun (se) is used to show whose arm is being referred to.

If there are multiple people, animals, or things involved, you would use an object pronoun. For instance: Paul m’a cassé le nez. (Paul broke my nose.)

Here are a few other examples:

Il s’est tordu la cheville. (He twisted his ankle.)

Le tueur l’a saisi par la gorge. (The killer grabbed him by the throat.)

Ces fleurs me démangent le nez. Je pense que j’y suis allergique. (These flowers make my nose itch. I think I’m allergic to them.)

That said, this general rule isn’t an absolute. In certain situations, French speakers will use a possessive adjective with a body part.

This is usually done to show a sense of immediacy or intimacy. That’s why the body part you’ll most often see or hear with a possessive adjective is probably the heart. In fact, mon coeur is a common expression of endearment in French.

Another example of using a possessive adjective with a body part in French is a lyric from Edith Piaf’s glorious song La vie en rose: Quand il me prend dans ses bras….  (“When he takes me in his arms…).

Come to think of it, the song has several other examples of using body parts with possessive adjectives: Un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche ; Il est entré dans mon cœur, and so on.

So, to sum up: In general, when talking about a body part in a neutral or medical way in French, you use it with an article and a reflexive verb or object pronoun. But if you’re being poetic or emotional, you may choose to use it with a possessive adjective.

How to say a body part hurts

A pair of gloved hands places a bandage over a person's knee.

Avoiding possessive adjectives and body parts continues to be the general rule when it comes to expressing pain in French. If you want to say “I have a __ache” or “My _ hurts”, you would use the expression J’ai  mal  à/au/aux.

For example:

An easy way to remember this is to think of the first English translations you see in the examples: “I have a __ ache”, rather than “My __ hurts.”

Unfortunately, things aren’t totally straightforward. When using these expressions as a noun, the à/au/aux becomes de. For example, a headache is un mal de tête. Ex: J’ai un sacré mal de tête ! (I have a terrible headache!

As in English, expressions of pain can also be used metaphorically. For instance, you’ll often hear French people say Ça fait mal aux oreilles (That hurts my ears). This could refer to physical pain, but also to someone being loud or singing badly, etc.

Here’s another common example: Ça fait mal au cœur means that something makes a person very sad – it’s the rough equivalent to the English expression “That’s heartbreaking” or “That breaks my heart.”

10 funny French body parts phrases and expressions

A woman holds a takeaway cup of coffee and a daisy in her hands. Her nails are painted an awesome shade of purplish-brown. We see only her torso. She is wearing a comfy gray cardigan and over it a muted orange scarf that looks just perfect for wrapping around your neck and nose to keep warm.
un cache-nez

There are many French phrases and expressions that use body parts. Here are ten of my personal favorites.

à tue-tête – at the top of one’s lungs. Ex: Ivre, il chantait à tue-tête dans la rue. (Drunk, he sang at the top of his lungs in the street.)

Ça ne va pas la tête ! – Are you crazy?! Literally, “Your head isn’t right/working,” this expression is sometimes pronounced quickly or very informally, leaving out the ne: Ça va pas la tête ! 

mettre la puce à l’oreille (de qqn) – to put an idea in someone’s head, to tip someone off. Literally to put a flea in someone’s ear. Ex: Sam voulait un nouveau vélo. Alors que Noel s’approchait, il a mis la puce à l’oreille de sa grand-mère. (Sam wanted a new bike. As Christmastime approached, he started hinting about it to his grandma.)

tape-à-l’œil – showy, flashy. Literally “hits-the-eye”. Ex: J’aime les costumes à rayure, mais mon mari les trouvent trop tape-à-l’œil. (I like pinstripe suits but my husband thinks they’re too flashy.)

un cache-nez – a knitted scarf. Literally “a hide-nose”. Ex: En hiver, elle portait toujours un cache-nez rouge et bien chaud. (In winter, she always wore a warm red scarf.)

baisser les bras – to give up. Ex: Il ne faut pas baisser les bras ! (You mustn’t give up!)

coûter un bras – to cost an arm and a leg. For the French, even costing one arm is too much – very reasonable! Ex: Tu veux un chat hypoallergénique ? Ça coûte un bras ! (You want a hypoallergenic cat ? They cost an arm and a leg!)

coûter la peau des fesses – to cost an arm and a leg. Literally “to cost the skin of your ass”, this is the vulgar version of the previous expression. Ex: Tu veux un chat hypoallergénique ? Ça coûte la peau des fesses ! (You want a hypoallergenic cat? They’re bloody expensive!)

être une main de fer dans un gant de velours – to be an iron fist in a silk glove. In other words, someone who seems kind or even gentle and harmless, but who has a will of iron. Ex: Simone a l’air d’une gentille petite mamie, mais méfie-toi : c’est une main de fer dans un gant de velours. (Simone seems like a nice little grandma, but watch out: she’s got a will of iron!)

mon petit doigt m’a dit (que)– a little birdie told me…  Literally, “My little finger told me”, which is much less cute than a bird telling you, but definitely memorable! Ex: Mon petit doigt m’a dit que tu connais toutes les parties du corps en français. (A little birdie told me you know all of the parts of the body in French)

In addition to being fun, these expressions are all very common in everyday French. If you’d like to learn more expressions and phrases with body parts in French, I suggest looking up a particular body part on a site like Word Reference or Wiktionnaire. The entry will include a list of these terms.

You can also do an online search for “expressions avec parties du corps”.

How can I remember the parts of the body in French?

When it comes to memorizing the parts of the body in French, I’d advise tackling it the same way you would any other vocabulary. But in addition, there are also some fun activities and techniques that can help you les garder en tête (keep them in mind).  These include:

– Use a song. If you’re familiar with the English song Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, I’ve got great news: there is a French version, Tête, épaules, genoux et pieds! Music can make things easier to memorize, and knowing that these vocabulary words directly correspond to their English equivalents is really helpful, too.

Another song you can use to learn and memorize body parts in French is The Hokey Pokey (or The Hokey Cokey if you’re from the UK). This song isn’t very common in French, but it does exist. You can use the basic formula to add in any body part vocabulary you want to memorize.

– Have fun with a picture.  Print out a photo or make a drawing of a person, character, or actor you like and label their body parts in French. Use bits of paper to cover the answers and test yourself regularly. You can even put the picture up somewhere you often find yourself, like your bedroom, kitchen, or even by your toilet!

– Play a game. If you and a friend are learning French, you can quiz each other by pointing to parts of each other’s bodies and saying the body part in French.

– Keep reading, watching, and listening to French. Parts of the body come up in everyday life as well as literature, fairly often. So, the more you read, watch, and listen to French, the more you’re likely to come across and get familiar with them.


Do you have a favorite French body part expression?  How about a good study strategy? 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. 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.

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  1. Just a suggestion for another fun game with body parts – Simon Says. Don’t know if it’s played in France but easy to adapt.

    Reply
    • What a great idea, Skol! Thanks so much for the suggestion! Simon says is played in France – it’s called “Jacques a dit” (Jacques said…).

      Reply

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