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


5 Answers 5


"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
    Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 23:08
  • 1
    It also works for nouveau and nouvel
    – AAM111
    Commented Dec 29, 2015 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
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 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.


"beau" is used by default.

The form "bel" is used when the next word starts with a vowel.

For example:

  • un beau rocher
  • un bel arbre
  • un bel et grand édifice

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

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
    Commented Dec 28, 2015 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. Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 16:27

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