What is the grammatical difference between beau and bel? They are both the masculine singular form of the adjective beau, right?


"Beau" and "bel" are both french adjectives of the some token. That is that 'beau' becomes 'bel' before a french singular masculine noun starting with a vowel or a mute 'h'. Hence, if we take the nouns "Art" and "homme", the plural of beau stays unchanged while becoming plural: "les 'beaux' arts" or "l'Ecole des 'Beaux' Arts de Paris".

So, 'beau' keeps its form when qualifying a plural noun here, 'arts'.

But if art was singular, it's 'bel' that would has been used.

Example: "Quel 'bel' art !" or "Quel 'bel' homme !" and "Quels 'beaux' hommes !" for the plural.

While using the same process we would have said: "Quelle 'belle' femme !" for the singular, and "Quelles 'belles' femmes !" for the plural.

We will here use the same process for:

"Quel 'vieil' homme !" and "Quels 'vieux' hommes!".

Where, 'H' is also mute.

  • Beaux-arts prend le trait d'union et le sens de beau y est peu usuel (l'idéal). – user3177 Dec 28 '15 at 23:08
  • It also works for nouveau and nouvel – OldBunny2800 Dec 29 '15 at 1:20
  • So it stays 'beau' if the word after is not the noun, even starting with a vowel? 'Un beau et puissant sentiment...' ? – Destal Oct 19 '16 at 6:33

Actually, it is pretty simple. If there is a vowel after "beau", it becomes "bel":

Il est bel et bien avocat.
Quel bel écureuil !
Quel beau cheval !

You can see more exemples and exercises here.


By default, use "beau". The form "bel" is used only when the noun which it is linked:

  • is directly after the adjective
  • begins with a vowel

For example:

  • un beau rocher
  • un bel arbre

There are very few adjectives with 2 forms: short, before a noun begining with a vowel, and another often bigger, to put after the noun.

And it is for masculine, singular.

I see 4 cases (with help of M. Glisse):

  • beau / bel
  • vieux / vieil
  • nouveau / nouvel
  • fou / fol
  • 1
    fou / fol, etc. – Marc Glisse Dec 28 '15 at 21:53

Yes, they are both the masculine form of beau, but bel is used when the noun after it starts with a vowel. For example,

Un bel appartement

Note that bel is before the noun. Follow the rule called BANGS word. B stands for Beauty, A stands for age, N stands for new/old, G stands for good, and S stands for size. If any adjective falls in a category of BANGS, then it will go before the noun. Usually they go after the noun.

  • 3
    BANGS is more of a guideline than a rule; there are plenty of instances where adjectives fall in those categories but go after the noun anyway, see french.stackexchange.com/q/319/217. – Kareen Dec 28 '15 at 16:15
  • 2
    It is incorrect. In fact, almost every adjectives can go before or after the noun. There are some exceptions: colors (but not always: "un noir dessein"). I dont see a lot. – guillaume girod-vitouchkina Dec 28 '15 at 16:27

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