The essential guide to common shapes and shape expressions in French

The word for “shape” in French is une forme.

Let’s learn how to say the most common shape names in French – and discover some common expressions related to them along the way!

Basic shapes and shape expressions in French

A child's hand reaches out to add a green block to a stack of colorful rectangular blocks.

Here’s how to say the most common shapes in French. Many of these are also used in common French phrases or have common alternate meanings, which you’ll find below as well.

un  carré – a square

Carré also has several other meanings/uses.

One is “squared”, which is why you’ll often encounter this common phrase if you’re looking for a home in France (or just browsing): mètre carré (square meter).  

Another common additional meaning of carré is honest and upright. Describing someone as carré(e) is a common way to say they’re straightforward, serious, and/or very organized. Example: Son père est très carré. (His father is very straightforward and organized.)

un cercle/un rond – a circle

As you can see, there are two ways to say “circle” in French. But they’re not exactly the same.

What’s the difference between cercle and rond? As many sources explain, un cercle refers to the actual geometrical figure of a circle, while un rond is a more general term for a round form or shape.  You can find out more about this in this in-depth children’s math video.

So you could say that cercle means “circle” and rond means “a round shape”. In fact, as this Wiktionnaire entry points out, in everyday French, rond can sometimes also be used to describe shapes related to a circle, like a sphere or ball.

That said, not all French people make a difference between the two words, especially in everyday speech.

And despite its precise meaning, cercle isn’t only used in mathematical contexts.

For instance, you could use it more figuratively, to describe a group or club (fans of the movie Dead Poets Society may know its French title is Le cercle des poètes disparus).

We can see other figurative uses of cercle in the common expression un cercle vicieux (a vicious circle)

or in the derivative verb encercler (to circle around something/someone).

Like cercle, rond can sometimes be used figuratively, for instance:

un chiffre rond (a round number)

tourner en rond (to go around in circles)

ne pas avoir un rond (to not have a single cent/dime)

une table ronde (a round table (discussion))

These are probably the most common you’ll come across, but WordReference has a list of lots of other expressions with rond, if you’d like to learn some more.  

Another notable way rond – or rather, its feminine form, ronde – is used, is as a somewhat polite way to describe a chubby or heavy woman. It’s similar to the English term “curvy” or “voluptuous” (the derivative rondeurs means “curves”). Depending on the speaker and context or speaker, it could be derogative. Even if you’re using it in a positive or neutral way, be careful, since not everyone would want to be described this way (even though there’s nothing wrong with being curvy!).

un rectangle – a rectangle

Note that in geometry, this word can also mean “right” in a right triangle: un triangle rectangle.

un triangle – a triangle 

As in English, triangle can also be used figuratively or outside of a geometric context, as you can see in these common French phrases:

un triangle amoureux (a love triangle)

le triangle des Bermudes (the Bermuda Triangle)

Geometry fans can find out how to say the different types of triangles in French in this WordReference entry.  And music fans, in case you were wondering, the instrument is called un triangle in French, too.

un ovale – an oval

un cube – a cube

Cube can also mean cubed – for instance, sept cube (seven cubed).

un cylindre – a cylinder

une sphère – a sphere

As in English, sphère can also be mean a “realm” or “field”, as you can see in a common French phrase like la sphère privée – the private sphere.

un hexagone – a hexagon

In everyday French, you’ll most often hear hexagone used to refer to…the country of France. As we discussed in our post on names for France, l’Hexagone is a common way to refer to mainland France. It comes from the idea that mainland France has six coastlines or borders.

When used this way, Hexagone is always capitalized, since it refers to a specific place.

What are some other shapes and geometric terms in French?

Our article focuses on the most common shapes you’ll come across in French, but if you’re gunning for more geometry, this list is a good source of additional French shapes vocabulary.

How to use shapes as adjectives and say “-shaped” in French

closeup of a person's index finger and thumb holding a small yellow ball with a smiley face on it.

Now that you know how to say common shapes in French, you may be wondering how to use them in a descriptive way.

As in English, you usually have two options: either using the adjective form of a shape word or using the shape with a French equivalent of “-shaped”.

French shapes as adjectives

Most of the common French shapes have an adjective form. Note that, with the exception of rond(e), carré(e), and hexagonal(e), these adjectives don’t change depending on the gender of the subject, since they all end in “e”. On the other hand, they are pluralized if the subject is plural.

For instance: une pièce rectangulaire vs des pièces rectangulaires 

Here are the most common French shapes and their adjective forms, in a handy chart!:

shapeadjective
un carré (square)carré(e)
un cercle (circle)circulaire/rond(e)
un rond (circle/round shape)rond(e) 
un rectangle (rectangle)rectangulaire
un triangle (triangle)triangulaire
un ovale (oval)ovale
un cylindre (cylinder)cylindrique
un cube (cube)cubique
une sphère (sphere)sphérique
un hexagone (hexagone)hexagonal(e)

How to say “-shaped” in French

Pretty much any French shape, whether the ones with adjective forms, common ones, uncommon ones, etc., can also be paired with two phrases to mean -shaped:

en forme de

Example:

Derrière la maison se trouve une grande piscine en forme de cercle. (Behind the house is a large, circle-shaped swimming pool.)

avoir la forme de

Example:

La piscine avait la forme d’un cercle. (The pool was circle-shaped.)

Note that these two phrases work for most French shapes or to describe how something is shaped, but there are a few exceptions, including ovale, which is just used in its adjective form – ovale – when describing something.

Let’s look at a few other examples of these phrases paired with some common French shape words from our list:

Les ballons peuvent varier en taille mais ils ont tous la une forme d’une sphère. (Balls can vary in size but they’re all sphere-shaped.)

Le miroir dans son dressing est en forme d’hexagone. C’est très original ! (The mirror in her walk-in closet is hexagon-shaped. How unique!)

These phrases can also be used with non-geometric shape words. For instance:

Elle a une bouche en forme de cœur. (She has a heart-shaped mouth.)

Benoît a fait des gâteaux en forme de Père Noël. (Benoît made Santa-shaped cookies.)

Occasionally, you’ll come across an expression that cuts out the forme de and only uses en. These expressions are usually common or even cliche phrases, but not always. One notable example is Elle avait des yeux en amande.(She had almond-shaped eyes.)

There’s no hard and fast rule for why some of these descriptive shape phrases only use en. The best way to learn them is by reading, listening to, and watching things in French. This will also be a great way to familiarize yourself with the shapes in French and how they’re used.


I hope you enjoyed this article on common French shapes and shape-related phrases. If you are looking to learn more useful vocabulary like this, give our conversational French app a try! It will teach you how to use all these words in the context of real-life conversations.

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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.