I've been learning French since 5 months ago. I have this question about French usage. Let's consider the following translations, for instance.

  • Je suis beau – I am beautiful.
  • Elle est belle – She is beautiful.

My question is very simple: what is the exact difference between these two words "beau" and "belle"? Is the difference based on formal/informal, male/female or even present/past contexts?

  • 2
    As a side note, there is a third form : bel to be used for male gender when the next word starts with a vowel sound: un bel arbre/un bel homme.
    – njzk2
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 19:38
  • 1
    See also this.
    – user3177
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 23:37
  • @Mehrdad HAD the only answer so far that addresses the importance of context (i.e., WHAT is being described) when trying to FULLY understand the meaning of "beau/belle" in French AND when trying to CORRECTLY translate it into another language (English in this case, judging by your specific, now deleted request for answers in English). Although incomplete, Mehrdad's answer was no more so than answers that completely omit any discussion of the important distinction between “handsome” & “beautiful,” and that’s why I upvoted it as a helpful, even essential part of this discussion.(to be continued)
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 18:32
  • To say or even imply by omission that one can ALWAYS TRANSLATE “beau/bel/belle” to EITHER “handsome” or “beautiful” REGARDLESS of context is ignoring the importance of context when trying to fully understand and ACCURATELY (not just literally) TRANSLATE this set of words into English (e.g., “une BELLE mer” = a CALM sea; “une BELLE vague”= a BIG wave; “une BELLE femme”= a BEAUTIFUL woman; & “un BEL homme”= a HANDSOME man. Although now deleted, please take heed of the legitimate point that Mehrdad was making when you decide whether to use “handsome” or “beautiful” in translations. @Mehrdad
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 18:34
  • I didn't see the discussed answer, but the OP question seems to be more related to the provided translation context (ie: male/female comparison of beau/belle) than about accurate uses of beau/belle ?
    – Uriel
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 19:58

5 Answers 5


It's simply male/female variation.

"Je suis beau" means I am a boy and I am beautiful. "Je suis belle" means I am a girl and I am beautiful.

So you will also say: "Elle est belle" and "Il est beau".

And for the plural forms:

"Elles sont belles" and "Ils sont beaux".

Note that "beau" is the masculine form and "belle" is the feminine.

  • 5
    It would be more appropriate to associate this variation with grammatical gender in general as inanimate nouns have gender in French: La forêt est belle en automne.
    – GAM PUB
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 21:01
  • I am a boy and I am handsome. One has to be careful with: I am a boy and I am beautiful.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 21:22

If you're learning French, there is a significant difference with English in that adjectives change according to masculine/feminine and singular/plural. So in your example, the gender explain the difference :

  • masculine singular : "he is handsome" translate to "il est beau"
  • feminine singular : "she is handsome" translate to "elle est belle"
  • masculine plural : "they are handsome" translate to "ils sont beaux"
  • feminine plural: "they are handsome" (with exclusively female subjects1) translate to "elles sont belles"

You may also find "bel" as a male singular form, when the adjective appears before the nouns starting with a vowel sound. For example, you will say "c'est un bel homme" and not "c'est un beau homme". If you're a starter, do not focus on this, but you may read it here and there. If you're not a starter, take extra care for what kind of h start such words: you must say "c'est un beau hamster".

Note 1: This grammatical rule known as "Le masculin l'emporte sur le féminin" raises discussion in France, as some consider it implies gender discrimination.

  • 1
    bel is not only to make sentences clearer: it is actually required before vowel sounds -- "un bel homme" is correct, "un homme beau" is correct too, but "un beau homme" is incorrect. Watch out for rough 'h' : "un beau hamster". Same for the rather scarce 'fol' ("un fol amour" = "un amour fou"). Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 21:07
  • @AlexandreC. You're right ; I adjusted the answer accordingly.
    – Uriel
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 21:37
  • 2
    The use of male and female in this context seems both misleading and inappropriate. Grammatical gender is usually described as masculine and feminine. About Note 1, masculine is the default gender in French, as singular is the default number, and 3 person the default person. There is no discussion about these facts, only about the poor wording people generally use to formulate the facts.
    – GAM PUB
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 16:46
  • @GAMPUB : adjusted the answer to use the more correct masculine/feminine. Nonetheless, the default masculine still raises issues, as it can anyhow be linked to non-grammatical gender.
    – Uriel
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 19:58
  • 1
    @Uriel As I was saying before, defaults exists for all inflectional attributes, not only gender. They are needed for example when you have an impersonal subject (M, SG, 3SG => il faut), a verbal subject (3SG => fumer tue) or a clausal complement (M, SG, 3SG => qu'il fait beau, Paul le sait). AFAIK German has a more complicated situation where there is a default for inanimates and another one for animates...
    – GAM PUB
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 20:55

Le féminin des adjectifs

Règle générale:

Adjectif masculin + E = Adjectif féminin


  • grand–grande
  • vert–verte

Règles d'exception:

–e devient –e


  • jeune
  • rapide
  • facile
  • magnifique

–er devient –ère


  • léger – légère

–f devient –ve


  • neuf – neuve

–eux devient –euse


  • heureux – heureuse

– et, –el, –eil, –en, –ien, –on deviennent –ette, –elle, eille, –enne, –ienne, –onne


  • cadet–cadette
  • formel–formelle
  • pareil–pareille
  • européen– européenne
  • ancien–ancienne
  • bon–bonne


  • complet – complète
  • secret – secrète

–al, –in, –ain, –ein, –un deviennent –ale, –ine, –aine, –eine, –une


  • national–nationale
  • voisin – voisine
  • américain–américaine
  • plein–pleine
  • commun–commune

–eur devient –euse


  • moqueur–moqueuse

–teur devient –trice


  • protecteur–protectrice


  • meilleur – meilleure
  • antérieur – antérieure
  • inférieur – inférieure
  • supérieur – supérieure

Les féminins irréguliers:

  • beau – belle
  • fou – folle
  • mou – molle
  • nouveau – nouvelle
  • vieux – vieille
  • public – publique
  • sec – sèche
  • doux – douce
  • blanc – blanche
  • favori – favorite
  • frais – fraîche
  • grec – grecque
  • long – longue
  • turc – turque
  • bas – basse
  • gros – grosse


  • un beau garçon – un bel arbre – une belle fille
  • un vieux monsieur – un vieil homme – une vieille dame
  • un nouveau livre – un nouvel hôtel – une nouvelle auto
  • un mou caractère – un mol ananas – une molle neige
  • un jour fou – un fol effort – une vache folle

(Bonne chance)

  • 1
    You might want to consider gender neutral adjectives as the rule rather than the exception.
    – GAM PUB
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 20:58

Trois points qui ont besoin d'être rappelé à tout le monde :

  1. Attention au 'h' aspiré: le héros, mais l’héroïne ( a deux sens)

    Donc : un beau héros, mais une belle héroïne

  2. « plusieurs » reste invariablement neutre.
  3. Au contraire de toutes les autres langues romanes, en français le nom des ressortissants s'écrit toujours avec une majuscule :

    Le Bordelais, L'Alsacien, le Londonien

  • 1
    Pourrais-tu clarifier STP comment les deux derniers points répondent à la question ?
    – livresque
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 1:32

(This is a completely indirect answer to the question, so feel free to downvote.)

My husband, dog, and I were travelling through a French-speaking community and stopped to walk our dog. A lady wanted to meet our dog, and we started chatting (or rather, my husband did since my French is terrible). At one point, the lady asked us this question about our dog: "Beau ou belle?"

By setting up an alternative of the masculine and feminine forms of the adjective, she was asking if our dog is male or female.

This wording relies on the language having grammatical gender and requiring agreement. I don't believe it is possible to translate it directly into English. Asking something like "handsome or beautiful?" would likely not be understood as inquiring about the dog's gender, and furthermore relies on outdated notions of beauty and gender.

Asking "beau ou belle?" seems less direct than how we'd typically ask in English (e.g. "Is it a boy or a girl?" or "Is it a 'he' or a 'she'?"). The indirectness of the question feels (to me, at least) more polite than the English alternatives, and quite appropriate to the situation of talking with strangers on the street.

  • She could have been asking the dog's suggested name with the same intention, "Beau ou Belle ?"
    – livresque
    Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 19:10
  • Hahaha. This is a nice one.
    – cuSK
    Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 10:09

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