Learn French: How to Describe a Person's Appearance and Personality

Page content

A Few Ground Rules

Describing people, especially in another language, requires some skills. First of all, to describe someone well, you need astute observation skills. To describe them well physically, you need to take note of physical characteristics. To describe their personality accurately, you need to spend a little time with them and converse at least enough to gather their mood, their interests or something else about them as a person.

When describing a person in French, you must keep the gender issue in mind. Every noun in French is classified as either masculine or feminine in gender. When you are speaking about people, the gender usually corresponds to the actual gender of the person being described. For example, if you are talking about “my father,” “the boy,” “he” or “that man,” you will be using masculine nouns (or pronouns). And you must keep in mind that the adjectives you use to describe a person must be the same gender as the noun naming that person. So as you learn adjectives to describe people, be sure you memorize both the masculine and the feminine form.

Some Useful Words

Here are some vocabulary words you will need to find useful to describe people in French:

You will want to learn some nouns that name people:

  • le/la bébé - baby
  • l’enfant - child
  • le garçon - boy
  • la fille - girl
  • le jeune homme - young man
  • la jeuene femme - young woman
  • l’homme - man
  • la femme - woman
  • le vieillard - elderly man
  • la vieille femme - elderly woman

It’s also helpful to know some pronouns that refer to people:

  • il - he
  • elle - she
  • ils - they (masculine)
  • elles - they (feminine)

And here are a few nouns that describe parts of a person:

  • les yeux - eyes
  • les cheveux - hair
  • la barbe - beard
  • la moustache - mustache

To describe people, it is also very important to learn some adjectives that describe the appearance or personality of someone. Here are some adjectives in alphabetical order (the ending in parentheses is the feminine ending):

  • actif (-ve) - active
  • ambitieux (-se) - ambitious
  • beau, bel, belle - beautiful or handsome
  • blanc (he) - white
  • bleu (e) - blue
  • blond (e) - blonde
  • bon (ne) - good
  • brun (e) - brown
  • célibataire - single
  • chouette - cool
  • content (e) - happy
  • court (e) - short
  • disret (-ète) - discreet
  • ennuyeux (-se) - boring
  • généreux (-se) - generous
  • grand (e) - big or tall
  • gris (e) - grey
  • gros (se) - fat
  • honnête - honest
  • indépendant (e) - independnet
  • intéressante (e) - interesting
  • jaune - yellow
  • jeune - young
  • joli (e) - pretty
  • laid (e) - ugly
  • long (ue) - long
  • malhonnête - dishonest
  • marié (e) - married
  • marron - brown
  • mauvais (e) - bad
  • mince - thin
  • moche - ugly
  • noir (e) - black
  • occupé (e) - busy
  • optimiste - optimistic
  • orange - orange
  • paresseux (-se) - lazy
  • pessimiste - pessimistic
  • petit (e) - small, short
  • rose - pink
  • roux (rousse) - red [hair]
  • sensationnel (le) - wonderful
  • sérieux (-se) - serious
  • sportif (-ve) - athletic
  • timide - shy
  • triste - sad
  • vert (e) -green

Knowing these vocabulary words will enable you to make some accurate descriptions of people.

Some Important Phrases

To describe people in French, you need to have some vocabulary words: nouns and pronouns that name the people, and adjectives that describe a person’s looks or personality. But you also need to learn how to put those French words into sentences that accurately describe someone. Here are some example phrases and sentences that you might use to describe people. You can change out the various nouns and pronouns within the structures given here in order to make different descriptions about different people.

  • La fille a les yex bleus (bruns, verts).
    The girl has blue (brown, green) eyes.
  • L’homme a les cheveux courts.
    The man has short hair.
  • Il a les cheveux blonds et une moustache.
    He has short hair and a moustache.
  • Elle est jolie.
    She’s pretty.
  • Le vieillard est occupé.
    The elderly man is busy.
  • The baby is sad.
    La bébé est triste.
  • He is single.
    Il est célibataire.

You may notice that when you describe what someone has, such as “He has short hair” or “she has blue eyes,” you see the French word a. This is the word for “has” and can be used wherever you want to describe what one person has.

And whenever you want to describe what a person is, for example, “He is happy” or “she is kind,” then you use the French word est.

So if you see a bearded man running a marathon, you can remark on him descriptively by saying:

“L’homme a une barbe. Il est sportif.” This means, in English, “The man has a beard. He is athletic.”

So, describing people in French is not very difficult at all, especially once you’ve learned some useful vocabulary and some appropriately structured sentences. So memorize your French words, go out to people-watch, and describe to your heart’s content!

Final Advice

When you are describing people in French, you should be mindful of French culture if you are doing this in France. It is not rude to observe people in France; as a matter of fact, in France it may be acceptable for you to give someone an outright stare that would be considered very rude and intrusive in the United States.

But conversely, in France, you need to be more careful about how loudly you speak as compared to the United States. For example, if you see a man with a long beard and want to comment on it to your friend, be sure that you speak in a very hushed tone of voice. The French usually speak very softly so that they cannot be heard by passersby. So while you should feel free to observe people, be careful how loudly you describe them if you are in France and out in public.