20 of the best words in the French language

Everyone's got their favourite French words, whether they're amusing, odd or just fun to pronounce. Here are 20 of the very best, according to The Local's readers.

When it comes to describing a feeling, some French words capture it perfectly.

Reader Chris Brown, for instance, explains that 'rassasier', meaning 'to eat one's fill' or 'to satisfy one's appetite', seems the perfect way of describing how he feels in France. And there's probably no better place to feel rasassié (full up) than France.

Lilian Lau told us her favourite word was 'aléatoire', meaning 'random' or 'uncertain'. She says it “sums up life quite well and sounds good when it is pronounced”.

Melissa Housden opted for 'gentillesse' (kindness), as it is “something the locals always offer when I am in France”.

Sometimes, it is the pronunciation that tickles our fancy.

Those behind holiday home company Elegant Condorcet chose 'quincaillerie', which translates roughly as 'hardware store', because it took them forever to learn how to pronounce it properly. 

Reader Teoann Elaine Militsala has a preference for 'arbre', meaning 'tree', since the word always gets stuck in her throat, and Jay Vogler loves 'bimbeloterie', which translates as 'knick-knacks' in English, as “it’s just so fun to say”.

Tweeter Elelibs argues that 'parapluie' or 'umbrella' is the perfect French word because of the “alliteration, the 'r' roll, the satisfaction of the 'pluie' but mostly the literal translation (protection against rain)”.

Photo: Alon/Flickr

Remi Thackrey loves 'coccinelle', (ladybird), because “it sounds lovely.” She adds: “Did you know the collective name is a 'loveliness of ladybirds?”

Some people had a personal connection to a particular French word.

'Rouspéteur' (someone who grumbles) was Russ Goff's choice, simply because: “I’m Russ, and my dad was Peter, and together we used to grumble a lot.”

For Jacki Williams-Jones, the word 'poubelle' is not only a beautiful way of referring to ‘trash’, but it is also a favourite of his since there is a restaurant bearing the same name in his L.A home.

Others, such as Dawn Turpin, have preferences for words such as 'espérance', meaning 'hope', which reminds her of her favourite restaurant back in her English hometown. 

Julia Poulton, explains that poupée', 'doll' in English, will always have a place in her heart, since it reminds her of “teaching my children French and them laughing at the word”.

Photo: Eirien/Flickr

The blogger behind Diary of an Adult Runaway, Gabrielle Luthy, prefers 'libellule' (dragonfly) because “dragonflies are my lucky charm and it's such a beautiful word to say. I get to say it a lot, because I named my cat Libellule.”

Indeed, sometimes you can't put your finger on why, but a certain French word just sounds great.

Photo: Julie/Flickr

Theresa Lizama Hall said her favourite work was: 'Bisous' (kisses) – which the Urban Dictionary describes as: “A word that slips off the tongue with ease upon parting from anyone whose company you truly enjoy.” 

Gina Hunt says that 'pantoufle', (slipper) “just sounds good”, and Katie Benson picked ‘sortie’ (exit) “because it's just cute!”

'Trombone' (trombone/paperclip) was the favourite of Twitter user Debbie, “because a paperclip does look like one”.

Doug Urhuhart loves 'rocambolesque' (incredible) , “because it sounds so rocambolesque“.

Janine Uhlman was one of many who voted for 'pamplemousse' (grapefruit). She has “loved that word since the first time I heard it. It has a delicious sound, but not taste malheureusement!”

We'll leave the last word to Cheryl McCloud who loves the word 'merde', which surely doesn't need translating. She chose it because she's Australian and says “the word flows very freely from our swearing mouths”.

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Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.


Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty


Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 


And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  


Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.