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One of the biggest thrills available to new language learners is coming across new and beautiful words. There is no shortage of beautiful words in French – it is a romance language after all, which is why many people fall in love with the way it sounds and how the phrases trip smoothly out of their mouths.
Those who love to learn languages are called linguaphiles, it is due to linguaphiles’ love for language and words that many are inspired to become polyglots. French is a language that inspires linguaphiles, not just because of the variety of beautiful French words and idioms, but also because of all the unique French words to describe things, feelings, and actions.
Unique French words are beautiful words, not just because of how they sound or how they feel coming off their tongue but because of the way they are often “untranslatable”. By “untranslatable, we don’t necessarily mean that they can’t be understood, but more that they have a meaning that is unique to the French culture and mindset.
While there may be an English equivalent to unique French words, they might not quite capture the essential beauty of the word’s true French meaning. Learning words like this doesn’t just improve your vocabulary but also helps you to gain some insight into the hearts and minds of native French speakers.
Here are a few unique French words that you should try to learn now. Not only will they help you communicate better, but they’re also sure to make an impression on your new French friends!
This French word can probably be translated to “short-lived” or fleeting. The English equivalent is “ephemeral”. It refers to the bittersweet beauty of a brief moment, of knowing that something beautiful and good is going to end soon.
This is one of those unique French words that is an adjective, meaning that it describes a noun. If you use this particular adjective to describe something, you are saying that it has a dream-like quality. It was something that came to you in your dreams.
This unique French word refers to a feeling that people of many cultures feel, but might not have words for. In English, the translation of this is “the wit of the staircase”. This occurs when, after an argument has ended, you all of a sudden think of the perfect counterargument or even just a witty retort that would have ended things in a way that was favorable to you.
The French are avid readers, with a grand literary tradition that includes luminaries such as Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, and Albert Camus. Reading modern French books, as well as classic novels, is a great way to gain an appreciation of the language and culture.
A culture as rich with authors as the French culture is, of course, puts great importance on the pleasures of reading. This unique French word is a reflection of the French’s love for a good story, novel, or poem.
The English equivalent is the phrase “to leaf” and it describes the act of “leafing through a book”, of turning through the pages casually and reading what is before you.
This unique word is also kind of untranslatable. The closest equivalent in English is probably “humming”. It is a verb that describes making sounds that match the melody of a song that you are trying to sing – because you can’t remember the words.
This is a French slang word that you might hear when someone is giving their opinion of something, like a film or a band.
While the English translation of this word is “cardboard”, you’re likely to hear young French speakers use this to say that something is great or awesome. It’s also used to describe a person or praise them for their actions.
For example, if you were able to help out your classmate by lending them your notes, they might express their gratitude by saying “tu cartonnes!”
When you hear a native French speaker utter this word, they are talking about an enjoyable activity. Specifically, they are talking about an activity that you do to rid yourself of an uncomfortable or unpleasant feeling.
It’s somewhat similar to the English idiom or idea that you can do something to “get your mind off of it”. So, for example, if you had a bad day in the office you might want to go to the gym or take a walk in your favorite park to forget or rid yourself of the “unpleasantness” of the day.
The simplest translation of this word in English is “celestial body”, so it might also be used as an alternative to “étoile” or “star”. But a true French speaker knows that this describes a lot more than just a bright, shining star.
A native French speaker will use this word to describe something that is beautiful and otherworldly. If they use it to describe a person, it’s the equivalent of saying that someone is “angelic”. For example, if you want to describe someone as “beautiful”, a flattering French phrase you can use is:
French: T’es belle comme un astre!
English: You’re as beautiful as an angel.
This is a rather poetic, if melancholy, word that is unique to the French language. The translation is roughly “the call of the void” and it refers to the slight, irrational urge to wonder “should I jump” when looking down from the heights.
The French people also love their vacation time, savoring being able to spend time with their friends and families outside of the city. This unique French word refers to one of these “sacred” times, the time between when school ends in June and begins again in July. Families all over France take advantage of this time to go on family trips to the beach or camping in the countryside.
This is another of those unique French words that refer to vacation time. This term refers to the summer vacation that some French speakers take during the month of August.
Like some of the other unique words in this list, the feeling behind this French word is a bit deeper than its literal translation. A “Retrouvailles” can be thought of as a “reunion”, but French speakers use it to describe something a little more emotional.
This word describes the happiness that you feel upon meeting a dear friend, family member, or loved one who you haven’t seen for a long time. This doesn’t just mean seeing an acquaintance or meeting a friend who you just saw yesterday, this means finally getting to see someone you’ve been longing to see.
This beautiful and unique French word is used by native speakers to describe the feeling of seeing or experiencing something that fills them with awe or wonder.
Sometimes a foreign language just SOUNDS better than its English equivalent. That’s the case for “jaspiner”, which is a great French word used to describe the act of chattering or gossiping.
The French known how to live the good life, and, in French, this is the word to describe such a person. The direct translation is something like “good liver”, but it actually refers to someone who knows how to live the good life. A “bon vivant” is someone who knows how to savor good food, good wine, and good conversation.
Learning all the beautiful and unique words in French is a great way to develop your fluency and keep your French language lessons interesting.
One great way to learn more French words is to make sure that you watch or listen to French media. You can pick up some interesting French vocabulary by watching French cinema or enjoying romantic French music.
If you really want to pick up unique French words, however, and learn how to use them properly in conversation, you should work with an online native French-speaking tutor. Tell your tutor that you are interested in learning more than just common French words and phrases. Their sure to have more suggestions on unique French words that you can use to impress in daily conversation.
Éphémère, Onirique, L’esprit d’escalier, Feuilleter, Yaourter, Cartonner, Un exutoire, Astre, L’appel du vide, Juilletistes, Aoûtiens, Retrouvailles, Émerveiller, Jaspiner, Bon vivant
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