Are these the ‘best’ 23 words in the French language?

To mark International Francophonie Day, here are the "best" words in the French language, from 'dragonfly' to 'hardware shop', according to learners.

Are these the 'best' 23 words in the French language?
Photos: Pixabay, The Earful Tower, Tom/Flickr

The French language can be one of the most frustrating of things… but there's no denying that some words are beautiful, mellifluous, and evocative. 

With this in mind, here are the top 23 words in the language, according to listeners of The Earful Tower podcast.

1. Pamplemousse (grapefruit), says Veronique who runs French Girl in Seattle. “It appeals to all my senses: I love the way the word sounds, the taste, and the appearance of a grapefruit… and I love the very distinctive scent,” she says.

2. Bof (a disinterested sound people make), says Paris tour guide Corey Frye. “The three most important letters in French,” he says. See his top tip for each Paris arrondissement here.

3. Quincaillerie, a hardware shop, says Facebook follower Joey Yanity. “It’s pretty fun to say” (and almost impossible to spell).

4. Merde (meaning shit), says author Stephen Clarke. Stephen’s numerous novels have the word merde (shit) in the title, so it’s no surprise he likes this word. 

5. Formidable (excellent): “It has a finesse to it in French, and makes me think of the Stromae song,” says Paris-based author Lindsey Tramuta.

The Stromae song:

6. Menilmontant, a place in Paris that means a lot to Samuel Barrantes, an American writer in France, as it reminds him of music his father used to play. Here’s the song he was talking about, by Charles Trenet. 

7. Rabibocher, meaning “to get back together” or “patch things up” after a break-up, says Carolyn Gorman, Aussie expat in Paris. “I like the way it sounds and rolls off the tongue.” 

8. Aspirateur, meaning vacuum cleaner. “It just sounds so much more interesting than the English equivalent,” says US expat Shelly Bittler.

9. Couilles, says British comedian Paul Taylor from What The Fuck France. This word means “balls” (as in testicles). Why does Paul like the word? “Because no anglophone can pronounce it properly,” he says. 

10. Vachement, meaning “really really” (or literally: cowly), says US writer in France Lisa Anselmo. “In France, a country famous for its cheese, it’s not terribly surprising a word like “cowly” would creep in,” she says.

11. Trottoir (footpath), says Kate Goodbody, a Brit in Paris who runs the More Native than the Natives blog. “I love the idea of people 'trotting' down the street,” she says.

12. Papillon, says Mike Cowan, an expat in Paris. “It means butterfly and bow-tie, two beautiful things and a beautiful word,” he says.

Photo: Queerbubbles/WikiCommons

13. Pompette, a pleasant word for “tipsy”, says Lina Nordin, a designer in Paris. “It sounds like the name of a poodle.”

14. Rouflaquettes, meaning “sideburns”, says Sam Davies, a journalist in Paris. “It doesn't sound like any English word.”

15. Libellule, says Jennifer Greco who writes the blog Chez Loulou. “For the fact that I love dragonflies and it’s a great word to say,” she says.

16. Truc, meaning “thing”, says Gail Boisclair who runs PerfectlyParis. “It covers everything, it’s vague, indirect and can refer to anything.” 

17. Grenouille (frog), says Coutume cafe’s Tom Clark. “If you can pronounce it, you can speak French. And the word captures the French spirit”

18. Dégueulasse (disgusting), says Ben McPartland, the editor of The Local France. “Sounds like a character from Lord of the Rings. And it can be shortened to degeu, which sounds as disgusting as the what the word means.”

19. Ancre/Encre (anchor/ink), says Fabien Renault, a Breton in Paris. “The words both mean a lot,” he says, “As literature and travel are important to me.”

20. En fait (actually).”You just chuck it on the end of everything and it works,” says Matt from movie masters in Paris Lost in Frenchlation.

21. Flâneur, an aimless walker, says Facebook follower Tami Tamir-Shaughnessey. “It’s my favourite thing to do in Paris.”

22. Déchetterie (a dump, a tip), says Facebook follower Jim Carmichael. “I like the way it rolls off the tongue,” he says.

23. Inoubliable (unforgettable), says podcast host Oliver Gee. “I like the sound of the word, it sounds like a foreigner imitating a French person…”

Listen to the full episode below, check out more from The Earful Tower here, and follow on Facebook here.


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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.