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In the eye of the beholder Posted by on Jun 20, 2017 in Grammar, Music

Belle isn’t just the name of the main character in Disney’s latest film. Belle is also a French adjective that means beautiful, lovely, pleasant, or agreable (unlike joli/jolie – pretty, belle doesn’t only pertain to appearances).

Ok, so that’s not entirely true. In another oddity of the French language, belle is technically not its own word. It is the feminine singular version of the adjective beau (which you can think of as handsome, but that’s a bit of an oversimplification). Beau and belle (and bel and beaux) all mean ‘attractive, aesthetically pleasing, visually pleasing’ and like all French adjectives, they agree in gender and number with the nouns they modify.

Two other words follow a similar pattern, so I’m going to outline them here as well. See below the table for example sentences.

Singular Plural
Masc. Fem. Masc. Fem.
attractive beau, bel* belle beaux belles
old vieux**, vieil* vieille vieux vieilles
new nouveau, nouvel* nouvelle nouveaux nouvelles

* bel, vieil, and nouvel are variations on the masc. singular forms that you use in front of words that start with a vowel or silent h.
** vieux always ends with an ‘x’ whether in the singular or plural.

Pierre est beau. Il est un bel homme.
Peter is handsome. He is a handsome man.
Monique est très belle. Elle est une belle femme.

Monica is very pretty. She is a beautiful woman.
Elle a de beaux*** yeux bleus.
She has beautiful blue eyes.
J’aime les belles voitures.
I love beautiful cars.
Je me sers souvent de mon vieux livre de français.
I use my old French book often.
Nous avons des nouveaux voisins.
We have some new neighbors.
Charles-Henri est un vieil ami de mon père.
Charles-Henry is an old friend of my father’s.

*** Remember that certain consonants which are not normally pronounced at the end of words (like beaux) are pronounced when they are followed by another word that begins with a vowel. You can click the play button after any of the examples above to hear the sample sentences pronounced.

Here’s another fun song from Claude François that is relevant to this week’s lesson. Pay particular attention to the way he pronounces comme (like, as) in the chorus (‘belle commE l’amour’/’belle commE le jour’).


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Image Credit: By Walter Crane – unbekannt, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55126635

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris


Comments:

  1. Sam ieng:

    It is very useful for some of the lessons, they help to keep my French alive and at the appropriate level, even let me learn some new rules I did not know before.
    Thank you

    • Tim Hildreth:

      @Sam ieng Merci, Sam! I’m glad you find the lessons useful. If there are any lessons you’d like to see, feel free to let us know.

  2. L:

    Malheureusement, le vidéo n’as pas du son. 🙁

    • Tim Hildreth:

      @L I’m sorry you’re having trouble with the audio. I verified that the video does have sound. Est-ce que vous pouvez accéder au son des phrases?

  3. Suzanne Waddell:

    Thanks for your lessons. I’ve been studying on my own for several years and those changing adjectives are still difficult to grasp.
    Also, I am in love with Cloclo since hearing/watching him sing Belinda on your blog a couple of days ago.
    One final thing: belle is technically not ITS own word.

    • Tim Hildreth:

      @Suzanne Waddell Merci, Suzanne! I guess my French grammar is better than my English ;-). I’m glad you are enjoying the music of Cloclo. 40 years on, it’s still very popular for any celebration in France