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What is the difference in connotation between “plaisant” and “agréable” (in referring to a conversation, event, etc.)? I had always assumed that the former was mildly derogatory or pejorative, but even good dictionaries give no guidance here.

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5 Answers 5

"Plaisant" has the sense of "pleasing" and is a bit subjective. Something that is "agreable" has a "positive" quality, a term that is a bit more objective.

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First and foremost, they both mean the same, that is, the English “pleasant”.

Then, as Shlublu mentions, “agréable” is more commonly¹ used in that sense, and “plaisant” can sound a bit more formal, therefore be less employed.

“Plaisant” is more often² used ironically to tell something ridiculous (relatedly to “plaisantin”, someone who makes light-hearted jokes). You can found examples in the Wiktionary (in french).

¹ I do hear “plaisant” more² in Canada, in its original “pleasant” sense.
² Still not a lot, but comparatively slightly more.

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I would have a hard time trying to describe the meaning of those words, but to me there is a slight difference:

  • "plaisant" states the object as being likable to some extent, but without providing any reason. Also since it comes from the verb "plaire" I would even say it implies the object has an effect on the person : it makes her like it
  • "agréable" is more focused on the nice feeling it conveys.
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Even though I do agree there's a very slight difference, IMHO “likeable” has it very wrong: that's “being liked”, rather. Or were you describing “appréciable”? –  Nikana Reklawyks Nov 8 '12 at 6:27
    
Appréciable is yet a slightly different meaning. I wouldn't argue on whether "likable" is appropriate as I am not fluent enough in English to fully get all the subtlety of its meaning. That being said, your profiles says you're in Canada; I wouldn't be surprised if the meaning of plaisant and agréable was different for you and me. –  Julien Guertault Nov 8 '12 at 14:01
    
Oh, I'm very french a native, currently passing by Canada, by chance. I don't see any subtelty in “likable”, only the simple decomposition of the suffix into “that can be liked”, which is why I said this would better match to “appréciable”, i.e. that's the same suffix (agréable too, but it lost that sense). Maybe I'm the one missing some English sense to “likable”, though. –  Nikana Reklawyks Nov 8 '12 at 14:08

Plaisant can mean the same thing as the English pleasant: something that (some) people will like. It is very slightly dated in that sense. There is a connotation that something plaisant is likable or beautiful. More often, plaisant means something that might generate a smile or a chuckle, in particular (but not always) something that is not serious.

Agréable is a rather straightforward translation of pleasant.

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I think this is a question of level of language. Plaisant sounds a bit more advanced than agréable to me. But the meaning is actually the same.

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