French Weather: Rain, Snow, or Sun, and how to Talk About It

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The Basics

In English, we have different grammatical structures to describe the weather, using verbs, adjectives, and the like. In French, they also have different patterns that you will find. There are two main structures. Both are formed using the subject “il” (it). The first uses the verb “faire” (to do), which conjugates as “fait” for the subject “il.” Here are some of the more common phrases:

Il fait beau - The weather’s nice

Il fait chaud - It’s hot

Il fait froid - It’s cold

Il fait frais - It’s cool

Il fait mal - The weather’s bad

Il fait du vent - It’s windy

The other way to talk about the weather is with a specific verb, such as to rain or to snow. Here are some examples:

Il pleut - It’s raining

Il neige - It’s snowing

Il gèle - It’s freezing

You can of course use these in combinations as well. For example, you might say “Il fait mail, parce qu’il pleut beaucoup” to say that the weather’s bad because it’s raining a lot. If you want to ask what the weather is like, you use the question “Que temps fait-il?” You can see the “il fait” structure in this question as well, though it is inverted, making it a question. The word “temps” (masc.) is the general word for weather.

Fun Weather Expressions

In English, of course, we don’t always use generic statements like “it’s raining” or “it’s hot outside.” We use expressions to be more specific, and though many of them don’t make sense if you break them down, we still know what they mean. French is no exception to this pattern, and here are some common French expressions for the weather.

Il pleut des cordes - It’s raining cats and dogs (literally: It’s raining ropes)

Il fait un temps à ne pas mettre un chien dehors - The weather’s too bad to go outside (literally: The weather is such that I wouldn’t even put a dog outside)

Il fait un froid de canard - It’s cold enough to freeze a penguin (literally: It’s cold like a duck)

Il pleut des grenouilles - It’s raining enough to drown a fish (literally: It’s raining frogs)

Using expressions like these can make your French sound much more natural, and understanding them will also help you talk about the weather with French people when they don’t use standard ways of describing things. As with American expressions, sometimes you have to just think about it in context, and then you can understand.

Culture Points

There are a few things that are helpful to remember about the weather in France. First, they measure degrees in Celsius, not in Fahrenheit. Without going into the math between the two, just remember a few numbers. Freezing, at 32°F, is at 0°C, and average body temperature, at 98.6°F, is 37°C. So if someone tells you that it’s 25° outside, don’t bring your winter coat!

Another general point to remember is that in general, the French do not discuss the weather as much as Americans do. They do discuss it, of course, but it is not as common of a topic for small talk as it is in America. If you talk about the weather too much, you may come off as boring or standoffish, so other than a quick comment here or there, don’t use it as a conversation filler.