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In English I could say "she had a sad expression (on her face)". Can I say "elle a eu une expression malheureuse sur son visage"?

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    1- sad → triste (malheureux → unfortunate). 2- Elle avait l'air triste (literally it means she looked sad), son visage reflétait la tristesse, more literal : l'expression de son visage était triste – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Dec 14 '16 at 18:11
  • @Laure: can you make this an answer? – Stéphane Gimenez Dec 15 '16 at 11:56
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It's typically the sort of thing you can't translate literally. You will probably get several proposals that can all be good.

As far as I'm concerned I find that French focuses more on the part of the body (here the face) and the person themselves stays behind the face. This implies the use of a different verb, not avoir

Son visage reflétait/exprimait la tristesse.

L'expression de son visage reflétait la tristesse.

In those sentences I've used a noun (tristesse) in place of an adjective (triste). You could still use an adjective with:

Son visage (l'expression sur son visage) était triste.

If you still want to keep the person up front I suggest something like:

Elle avait l'air triste.
Which is the literal translation for "She looked sad".

Complementary remarks:
1- "Sad" is triste in French. Malheureux means either "unfortunate" when used for things or "miserable" when used for people.

2- Without further context of a chain of events we would not use the passé composé but the imparfait in that sentence. It is a mere description of an uncompleted action/state.

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