Spiral staircase viewed from below

70 Advanced French Vocabulary Words

Now that you’ve got your grammar down pat, we can bring back the excitement with some challenging vocabulary, including advanced French verbs, adjectives and expressions.

In this post, we’ll look at a list of truly grown-up French words, ranging from the tricky, to the slightly naughty, to the very, very French.

On y go (an English-inflected French neologism of on y va, or “let’s go”)!



1. Aboutir à

To end up with, to lead to. Just like English, French has lots of ways to describe causality.

La réunion a abouti à un compromis.
(The meeting led to a compromise.)

2. Affirmer que

To affirm, say with certainty. Looking for some alternatives to dire (to say)? Try this one for added emphasis.

Il affirme que les commerçants de la region s’en sortent « plutôt bien » cette année.
(He affirms that the region’s shopkeepers are doing “pretty well” this year.)

3. Affubler

To get up in or to deck oneself out in (referring to an article or articles of clothing). Instead of using habiller (to dress) or s’habiller (to dress oneself), why not add a bit more color to your French and test out affubler?

Marie affublait sa petite fille de robe de princesse pour aller au cinéma.
(Marie decked her little girl out in a princess dress to go to the movie theater.)

A secondary definition is to ridicule. It’s the more metaphorical, abstract version of the first. Instead of dressing someone (or oneself) in clothing, it refers to “dressing someone up” with a moniker that is demeaning.

Je n’oserais pas vous affubler d’un tel qualificatif.
(I wouldn’t dare call you such a thing.)

“Such a thing” here could be along the lines of “doofus,” “jerk,” etc.

4. Amener  

To bring about. Not to be confused with mener à, for which see below.

Ce travail est destiné à amener les changements.
(This work is destined to bring about changes.)

5. Apercevoir

To catch sight of, to glimpse. When voir (to see) is just too straightforward, get this irregular verb up in your vocab.

Si tu vas en Californie, tu apercevras des célébrités.
(If you go to California, you will catch sight of celebrities.)

6. Atteindre

To reach, to get to.

Ma mère atteindra ses 60 ans l’année prochaine.
(My mom will be 60 years old next year.)

7. Constituer

To make up or constitute.

Cette loi constitue une avancée majeure pour les droits de l’homme.
(This law constitutes a major advancement for human rights.)

8. Craindre

To be afraid. Avoir peur de has the same meaning, but this word is easier to throw around once you’ve got the conjugation figured out.

Je crains d’oublier tous ces mots.
(I’m afraid of forgetting all these words.)

9. Déchaîner

To unleash.

En Europe, l’immigration est un sujet qui déchaîne les passions.
(In Europe, immigration is a subject that unleashes passion.)

Which is to say, it is a widely debated topic.

10. Déclencher

To trigger, to set off.

Ce genre d’extremisme pourrait déclencher une guerre.
(This kind of extremism could trigger a war.)

11. Déculotter

To defeat in an embarrassing or flagrant way. But leave it to French to have a verb that literally translates to taking off someone’s underwear, or “to pants” someone!

Marc s’est fait déculotter par Marie quand elle a exposé ses mensonges.
(Marc was embarrassed by Marie when she exposed his lies.)

12. Demeurer

To remain, to dwell, to reside.

La musique peut exercer une influence si puissante sur une personne qu’elle ne peut qu’en demeurer émue.
(Music can have such a powerful influence on a person that they cannot but be moved.)

13. Déroger

To depart from, to contravene the status quo (or the official terms that have been set). France is often referred to as the land of bureaucracy and déroger is the type of word you’re bound to come across in the small print of a registration form or other official document in the context of law.

La loi ne peut pas déroger aux dispositions du Pacte.
(The law cannot depart from the provisions of the agreement.)

14. Disposer de

To have available, to have at one’s disposal.

Charles dispose d’assez d’argent pour mener à terme son projet.
(Charles has enough money at his disposal to finish his project.)

15. Écoper

To bail out water (from a boat).

Les marins ont dû écoper l’eau de leur bateau pour ne pas couler.
(The sailors had to bail out water from their boat in order to not sink.)

To get, to receive. In this case, écoper almost always refers to a penalty or a punishment, like a fine.

Le conducteur a écopé une amende de 85 dollars pour un excès de vitesse. 
(The driver received an 85 dollar fine for going over the speed limit.)

16. Émoustiller

To excite, to render playful. Émoustiller is most often used in the context of taste or other sensory pleasures, as in Émoustillez vos papilles! which literally translates to “Excite your taste buds!” or “Whet your appetite!”

Le champagne émoustilla les invités.
(The champagne excited/loosened up the guests.)

Aside from its primary definition, émoustiller can also be used in the context of that other kind of excitement (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), meaning to titillate or to arouse.

Frédéric n’avait pas manqué l’opportunité d’émoustiller les rares femmes présentes au travail.
(Frédéric never missed the opportunity to arouse the few women present at work.)

17. Engendrer

To engender, to bring about.

Sa duplicité engendre des conflits dans le groupe.
(His duplicity engenders conflict in the group.)

18. Entamer

To start on

Je vais entamer mes devoirs ce soir.
(I’m going to start on my homework tonight.)

19. Entraîner

To lead to, to involve.

Une carence de vitamin C peut entraîner des infections.
(A vitamin C deficiency can lead to infections.)

20. Éprouver

To experience, to feel, to have.

Sarah éprouve toujours des difficultés à trouver la maison de Jennifer.
(Sarah always has difficulties finding Jennifer’s house.)

21. Exister

To exist. Use this when you want to be more formal than il y a (there is or there are).

Il existe plusieurs raisons pour laquelle je ne suis pas allée au concert la semaine dernière.
(There are many reasons why I did not go to the concert last week.)

22. Faire des bêtises

To get into mischief, act a fool, make a mess. 

Elle mange le riz avec un couteau. Elle fait des bêtises!
(She’s eating the rice with a knife. She’s being foolish!)

23. Figurer

To appear, to be present.

Votre nom figure sur la liste des adhérents.
(Your name appears on the members list.)

24. Fuir

Run for the hills! Flee! Hopefully you’ll read this more than speak it, but hey, you never know if you’ll need this for a future career as un espion (a spy).

Les abeilles! Il faut fuir!
(The bees! We must flee!)

25. Gémir

To moan or whine. This refers to the sound you make when you’re feeling pain, not when you’re complaining that you don’t want to eat your kale.

Il a gémi quand il a vu qu’il était quatre heures du matin. 
(He moaned when he saw that it was four in the morning.)

26. Mener à

To lead to. Similar to amener, but in the opposite direction.

Cela ne doit pas mener à la conclusion que la loi est inutile.
(This should not lead to the conclusion that the law is useless.)

27. Nouer

To tie or make a knot.

Il ne peut pas nouer ses chaussures ?
(He can’t tie his shoes?)

28. Occasionner

To cause, to bring about.

Les travaux risquent d’occasionner une gêne aux clients.
(The construction work might cause a disturbance to the clients.)

29. Paraître

To seem like or to appear to be, like its slightly easier-to-pronounce synonym sembler.

Cela paraît étrange de manger le petit déjeuner pendant la nuit, mais j’aime bien.
(It seems strange to eat breakfast during the night, but I like it.)

30. Peiner

To struggle. Feel free to use this for every struggle in your struggle book, from French vocabulary to accidentally leaving the TV remote in the kitchen.

Je peine à me réveiller le matin.
(I struggle to get up in the morning.)

31. Posséder

To have, to contain.

La maison de Scott et Laura possède un très beau mobilier.
(Scott and Laura’s house has very beautiful furnishings.)

32. Préciser que

To explain, to clarify.

Le président a précisé que la loi ne s’appliquera que l’année prochaine.
(The president clarified that the law would only be applied next year.)

33. Prétendre que

To maintain, to purport, to claim.

Les résidents prétendent que le maire a utilisé un langage inapproprié dans sa réponse lorsqu’il a laissé entendre que les impôts n’augmenteront pas.
(The residents maintain that the mayor used poor word choice in his response because he made it seem that the taxes would not increase.)

34. Recueillir

To get, to obtain, to receive.

La candidate a recueilli 20% des votes.
(The candidate has received 20% of the votes.)

35. Représenter

To depict, show, represent or embody.

Les garçons représentaient moins de 20% de l’ensemble des élèves.
(Less than 20% of the students were boys.)

36. Rester

To remain.

Les conditions restent favorables.
(The conditions remain favorable.)

37. Se diriger

To head for or to move towards. It’s the reflexive of the verb diriger, which means to move, guide or manage, and it sometimes includes the preposition vers (around) in its construction.

Elle criait, alors je me suis dirigée vers la sortie.
(She was screaming, so I headed for the exit.)

38. S’agir de

To be, to be about. It’s used in the expression il s’agit de.

J’ai lu un article dans lequel il s’agit du gaspillage alimentaire.
(I read an article that is about wasting food.)

39. S’éléver à

To come to, to amount to.

La facture s’élève à 200 euros.
(The bill comes to 200 euros.)

40. Souligner que

To emphasize, to stress, to highlight, to underscore.

Le médecin a souligné qu’une alimentation trop grasse et sucrée est nocive pour la santé.
(The doctor stressed that a diet too fatty and sugary is bad for one’s health.)

41. Trouver

To find. You can use it literally or figuratively, as in “I find that funny.” It’s more formal than il y a, but less than exister.

On trouve plusieurs variétés de plantes dans cette forêt.
One finds several species of plants in this forest.

42. Valoir

To be worth. Use it to talk about how many expensive treasures you have in your closet or use it more figuratively.

Cette bague vaut plus que ta maison.
(This ring is worth more than your house.)


43. L’Abnégation

Self-denial, self-sacrifice.

Collette mène son travail de recherche avec beaucoup d’abnégation. Sept jours sur sept, elle se lève à 5h et se couche à minuit.
(Collette is undertaking her research with a lot of self-denial. Seven days a week, she wakes up at 5 in the morning and goes to bed at midnight.)

44. Le/La Bisounours

Naive. The connotation is rather pejorative and condescending. A portmanteau of bisou (kiss) and nournours (teddy bear), bisounours was originally used as the French name for the Care Bears franchise (remember Care Bears?!). It has since made its way into everyday life.

On n’est pas au pays des bisounours!
(We’re not in la-la land! / Get real!)

45. La Calotte

A skull cap (formally, the Belgian kind) or a slap on the head (informally). The formal French version and the informal version of this noun are vastly different!

Sa mère n’aime pas quand elle donne une calotte à son frère.
(Her mom doesn’t like when she hits her brother [on the head]).

46. La Colimaçon

You can use colimaçon as you would escargot or snail—when talking about gardening, or your greatest fears—but when you’re visiting Notre Dame while traveling through France, try wowing your tour guide by referencing son escalier en colimaçon  (spiral staircase).

47. La Contrée

Region, land. This word is mostly used in literature. It’s more “Madame Bovary” than Elle magazine.

Au printemps, cette contrée revêt un tout autre caractère.
(In spring, the land takes on a whole new character.)

48. La Détente

The relaxation of political tension, or, alternatively, when something physically relaxes. It also can translate to mean a gun trigger.

On espère qu’un jour on aura une détente entre tous les pays.
(One hopes that one day there will be a relaxation of tension between all the countries.)

49. La Kyrielle

Plethora, host, multitude, bunch.

Le répertoire présente toute une kyrielle d’exemples de stratégies fructueuses.
(The inventory offers a plethora of examples of successful strategies.)

50. La Lame

Blade. Hopefully it’s not in your vocabulary a whole lot, unless you work in a kitchen, or a… knife store? But you’ll see it a bit in literature, especially if you like adventure novels.

Ne joue jamais avec une lame!
(Never play with a blade!)

51. La Œnologie  

The science of winemaking. (Did you really think you’d get through this post without a wine mention?) A true amateur (lover) of wine will know that an œnologue (a winemaker) is not the same thing as sommelier (a wine steward).

Après ses études d’œnologie, François Raget a accepté de diriger l’entreprise familiale.
(Upon completion of his studies in winemaking, François Raget agreed to run the family business.)

52. Le Parallélépipède  

Parallelepiped or a solid whose six faces are parallelograms. I know, I know, this isn’t a math blog, but I couldn’t resist throwing this one in for good measure, so to speak.

Le volume du bâtiment est constitué d’un simple parallélépipède recouvert de panneaux préfabriqués.
(The volume of the building consists of a parallelepiped covered with prefabricated panels.)

53. La Quincaillerie

Hardware store.

Tu n’as qu’à aller à la quincaillerie pour acheter de la peinture.
(All you have to do is go to the hardware store to buy paint.)

Cheap jewelry, trinket (usually metal).

Dimanche dernier nous avons trouvé pas mal de quincaillerie au vide grenier.
(Last Sunday, we found quite a few trinkets at the yard sale.)

54. Le Raidillon

Slope. This vocabulary word is especially useful if you live in the hills.

Le raidillon là-bas est parfait pour faire du skateboard.
(The slope over there is perfect for skateboarding.)

55. La Serrurerie

Locksmith’s trade, locksmithing.

Les serrures sont des pièces de serrurerie. 
(Locks are locksmithing items.)

Try saying this three times fast!


56. À l’abri

Under cover, as in: It’s a twister! Get under cover! It’s a monster! Get to safety! 

Il arrive; tout le monde trouve un endroit à l’abri!
(He’s coming; everyone find a place under cover!)

57. Abracadabrant

Bizarre, weird, befuddling. This word is a derivative of the magical incantation “Abracadabra.” I don’t know about you, but I love words that sound like what they mean.

Cette histoire est abracadabrante!
(This story is bizarre!)

58. Abracadabrantesque

Ludicrous, incredible (as in lacking credibility). A riff on abracadabrant, this is a neologism first used by Arthur Rimbaud and later resuscitated by President Jacques Chirac in a television interview in the year 2000, in reference to accusations of misuse of public funds during his presidency. His exact words were:

Je suis indigné par le procédé, par le mensonge, par l’outrance. Il doit y avoir des limites à la calomnie. Aujourd’hui, on rapporte une histoire abracadabrantesque.
(I am outraged by the behavior [of those here], by the lies, by the excess. There must be limits to slander. Today, we’re brought back to a preposterous story.)

Today, abracadabrantesque is used rather playfully in place of abracadabrant, as a sort of clin d’œil (wink) to a very memorable French political scandal.

59. Argentique

Not digital, analog. This literally translates to “silvery” and refers to photographs or photographic practice with rolls of film.

Mon professor d’art est de la vieille-école. Il ne fait que la photographie argentique.
(My art teacher is old school. He only does analog photography.)

60. Argotique  

Slangy. Argot is French for “slang.” Argotique is its adjectival form.

Thomas utilise un langage argotique et parfois j’ai du mal à comprendre ce qu’il dit.
(Thomas uses slangy language and sometimes I have trouble understanding what he says.)

61. Boursouflé

Swollen, puffed up.

Arnaud a fait une réaction allergique, il a la bouche boursouflée.
(Arnaud had an allergic reaction; his mouth is swollen.)

62. Digital

Relating to fingers. This is a faux ami that always trips up 21st-century French learners.

Le dossier contient nos empreintes digitales. 
(The file contains our fingerprints.)

63. Errant

Nomadic or wandering. This comes from the present participle of the verb errer (to wander), so you can use this adjective to describe your international adventures or your eccentric aunt who moves around in her RV every two weeks.

Je rêve de la vie errante.
(I dream of the nomadic life.)

64. Exécrable

Detestable, appalling, heinous.

L’homme a été condamné à l’enfermement à perpétuité pour ses crimes exécrables.
(The man was sentenced to life imprisonment for his heinous crimes.)


Mes enfants sont exécrables quand ils ne font pas la sieste.
(My children are obnoxious when they don’t take a nap.)

65. Furtif

To be stealthy or secretive. Technically, furtive is an English word as well. It’s not a super common one, but all the same.

Nous avons besoin de quelqu’un de furtif pour notre équipe.
(We need someone stealthy for our team.)

66. Imberbe  

Beardless, bare-faced—a concise way of saying sans barbe (without a beard). This can also be used in a more figurative way to talk about someone (usually a guy) who’s young and naive.

Depuis son retour d’Allemagne, Charles est imberbe.
(Since his return from Germany, Charles is clean-shaven.)

67. Numérique   

Digital, as in digital technology. So going back to my earlier photography example, un appareil photo numérique (not digital) refers to a digital camera. Whew.

Nous vivons dans l’ère numérique.
(We live in the digital era.)

68. Rocambolesque

Fantastic, extraordinary, unbelievable. 

Stella décrit l’expérience unique, parfois rocambolesque mais toujours passionnante que représente la vie d’une cinéaste allemande en France.
(Stella describes the unique, sometimes unbelievable, but always passionate life of a German filmmaker in France.)


69. Ainsi

Like this or in this way. It’s a great word to get bossy with—you’ve probably seen this word thrown around once or twice, but kept forgetting to look it up.

Il faut danser ainsi.
(One must dance like so.)

70. D’ailleurs

By the way, moreover or besides—its literal meaning is “from elsewhere.” Need more French filler words than donc and alors? Look no further than this favorite.

D’ailleurs, tu as quelque chose entre tes dents.
(By the way, you have something between your teeth.)

Resources to Learn Advanced French Words

After going through this list, you might be looking for some ways to practice these words. Get started with these:

  • Forvo: When it comes to learning any word, making sure you know how to properly pronounce it is important. On Forvo, you can listen to how native speakers pronounce any word. It lets you quickly search for a word and find its pronunciation, usually spoken by a number of different people.
  • FluentU: You can expand your French vocabulary with this language program, which uses native French media clips like TV show clips, music videos and talks. Each video has interactive subtitles that show you the meaning of each French word, plus you can save new vocabulary and review them with personalized quizzes.
  • Quizlet: Flashcards are the tried-and-true method of learning new words. Quizlet lets you create your own fun flashcard decks to review with. You can also search for decks other users have created.
  • Tandem: There is no better way to practice new words than with native speakers. But, it’s not always possible to find a speaker near you. That’s where Tandem comes in. Here, you can find a language partner to practice with—you can teach them English while they teach you French. It’s a perfect exchange!


And there you have it.

French is a very colorful language.

Profitez-en (take advantage of it)! 

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