The French word l'eau means water in the singular. But what does it mean in the plural? In English, if we say "waters", we typically refer to bodies of water like seas, lakes, or oceans. Does it have the same meaning in French? If not, what does it mean?

  • Varieties of water, bodies of water, instances of water (to boil down what has been said, hopefully comprehensibly). I summarize it this way because that's a frequent function of the plural for mass nouns.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 11:00
  • does "waters" really refer to bodies of water in English? Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 15:29
  • @martinjakubik Not often, but see for example Genesis 7:18.
    – ktm5124
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 15:36
  • @martinjakubik Or this NBC headline: "The world's most pirate-infested waters".
    – ktm5124
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 15:38
  • yeah, I'll take the NBC one :) wiktionary has some examples too. You're right it's definitely used, but offhand I would say it comes up in different contexts in English than les eaux in French. Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 15:41

3 Answers 3


"Water" as in English can designate a or some particular waters or water by its substance (same case as "fire", for instance).

Often, "l'eau" using singular is relative to the substance and often the plural is to indicate specific ones. But there is a plurality of meanings (please have a look here).

Some examples to illustrate the point, but please don't forge a too strict opinion about them as we can surely imagine a variety of meanings using this word:

"L'eau est un élément composé d'hydrogène et d'oxygène" (substance)

"Les eaux nationales" (particular areas)

"L'eau s'est écoulée sur la table" (we are talking about a particular water, probably identified before)

"De l'eau s'est écoulée sur la table" (here the nature of water matters)

"L'eau du puit est consommable" (is particular but refers the nature of the water)

"L'eau de pluie est souvent polluée" (the substance)

"Les eaux de pluie sont souvent polluées" (the substance in its variety as they are inhomogeneous, also "rain" can be considered as particular areas too)

"L'eau terrestre est différente de celle de Mars" (the water in general)

"Les eaux terrestres sont différentes de celles de Mars" (the variety of waters that can be found on earth)

"L'eau thermale est bonne pour la santé" (thermal water is good for health in general, by its nature)

"Les eaux thermales sont bonnes pour la santé" (all thermal waters, whatever they contain, are good for health)


Les eaux has indeed the same meaning in French as Waters in English.

Depending on the context it can refer as you suggested to bodies of water.

Also, when a woman is about to give birth and her water(s) just broke French people say that "elle vient de perdre les eaux".


Also, "prendre les eaux" means go to a thermal city, like Bath in UK or Baden-Baden in Germany.

  • In English there is the same phrase, "to take the waters" :-)
    – psmears
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 13:51

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