You remember Franck? He’s tall…dark-haired…really into making model airplanes?
How often do we describe people in our lives?
You need to describe that guy whose name you can’t remember, that funny street performer from yesterday, that hot girl you met while out on the town.
This skill is so useful we hardly think about it—until we’re struggling for the words, that is!
That’s why it’s so important to master words and phrases for describing people. Once you know the important adjectives and phrases that will help you describe people, not only will you be able to reference them in conversation, but you’ll be able to do many more useful things you likely haven’t even thought of yet!
Why Is it Important to Learn to Describe People in French?
There are a lot of reasons it’s important to learn to describe people in French. Some are mundane but no less important, like referencing people in conversation, as you saw above. We don’t realize nearly how often we use adjectives and other ways of describing people as a way to jog someone’s memory when a first name does not suffice. Describing people in this way can be endlessly useful.
Of course, there are other reasons it’s important to be able to describe people. Imagine you’re about to introduce two friends or set someone up on a blind date! How hard would that be without the appropriate words for describing those people?
And these words can come in handy in other ways as well, for example when describing fictional people or characters in a book or movie you have seen or would like to see. Or how about those moments when an actor’s name escapes you? You know, that really handsome, muscular actor who’s always running around and trying to save his family from destruction.
And let’s not forget the most important thing of all: Describing yourself! When you introduce yourself, you hardly ever stop at a first name. As you’re getting to know new people, it’s not uncommon to describe yourself, for example saying things like, “I’m a bit clumsy,” “I’m kind of messy,” “I’m very studious” or “I’m quite active.”
For all of these reasons, it’s imperative to learn these words and expressions in any language you seek to master, which is why from the very beginning of your French learning adventure, you should set your sights on learning these words and ideas in French.
5 Keys to Describing People in French
When you are describing people in French, you’ll need a host of new vocabulary. Some of these words and expressions will describe physical attributes, while others will be character defining. Here are some of the most important terms to use when describing people in French and—above all—how best to put them to use in conversation!
1. Describing Relationships in French
Imagine you’re introducing your friend, Franck, to a group of friends who knows Franck’s sister. One of the first things you might say is: “This is Franck, Julie’s brother.”
Describing people with regards to their relationships with others is very common. In order to do so, you first need to know the correct format to use. Instead of using a possessive ‘s the way we do in English, in French you use a possessive preposition:
“Voici Franck, le frère de Julie.” This is Franck, Julie’s brother. The use of de + the person creates a possessive in French.
The second thing you need to know in order to use this way of describing people are, of course, the words for different relationships. Here are a few major ones, to get you started:
La mère – mother
Le père – father
Le frère – brother
La sœur – sister
La cousine – female cousin
Le cousin – male cousin
La tante – aunt
L’oncle – uncle
L’ami(e) – friend
La copine – girlfriend
Le copain – boyfriend
Le/la voisin(e) – neighbor
Le/la collègue – colleague
2. Describing Hair and Eye Color in French
This form of describing people is most often used when jogging someone’s memory. Let’s go back to Franck. Imagine you’re describing Franck to your friend Marie. Marie has met Franck before, but when you mention Franck, she can’t quite remember who he is. You can say something like:
“Tu sais… celui avec les cheveux foncés, mi-longs, aux yeux bleus…“ (You know…the one with dark, kind of long hair and blue eyes…)
Immediately, Marie’s memory is jogged. She remembers Franck.
While there are other physical traits that are sometimes used to describe people, hair and eyes are some of the most commonly referenced.
To describe hair, you can use either color, length or texture.
For color, the most common are:
les cheveux bruns – brown hair
les cheveux blonds – blonde hair
les cheveux roux – red hair
les cheveux noirs – black hair
les cheveux gris – grey hair
You can also say that a person is:
brun(e) – brown-haired (brunette)
blond(e) – blond(e)
roux (rousse) – red-haired, redhead
chauve – bald
For length, one can talk about:
cheveux courts – short hair
cheveux longs – long hair
cheveux mi-longs – mid-length hair, somewhere between long and short
For texture, one can talk about:
cheveux lisses – straight hair
cheveux bouclés – curly hair
cheveux frisés – very curly hair
When using more than one adjective, they should be used in the following order: length, color, texture.
Il a les cheveux longs, blonds et bouclés. (He has long, blond, curly hair.)
To describe eyes, the only characteristic to speak of is color. One can have:
les yeux marron* – brown eyes
les yeux bleus – blue eyes
les yeux verts – green eyes
les yeux noisette* – hazel
*Marron and noisette are invariable adjectives, which is why they don’t change when plural.
3. Describing Other Physical Traits in French
Hair and eyes are not the only physical traits that one can describe in French.
Often, it’s seen as rude to comment on someone’s weight, but the words gros(se) (fat) and mince (thin) are the words used in French should you decide to go that route. However it’s far more common—and more polite!— to comment on someone’s height—grand(e) (tall) or petit(e) (short).
4. Describing Personalities in French
While physical traits and relationships can be useful for triggering someone’s memory, when you’re truly describing someone, it’s far more common to describe their personality. Here are just a few useful words to be used for this endeavor.
timide – shy
sympa/sympathique – nice
gentil(le) – kind
intelligent(e) – smart
dynamique – dynamic
organisé(e) – organized
Many of these words are cognates in English, so if you stumble upon a word you’d like to use in French but isn’t on this list, try francisizing the English word!
5. Describing Interests and Hobbies in French
Aside from describing someone’s personality, it’s often useful to be able to describe someone’s interests and hobbies, especially when you’re introducing them to someone new.
If you are describing something that someone likes to do, you’ll often say, “Il aime (faire).” He likes to do. For example, “Il aime la peinture.” He likes painting. Or “Il aime faire du tennis.” He likes playing tennis. These sentences can be used with almost all hobbies and interests.
However, there are also some words that can be used as adjectives to describe someone’s interests and hobbies. Here are just a few:
sportif/sportive – sporty, athletic
créatif/créative – creative
doué(e) – talented
académique – academic
Games to Practice Describing People in French
Once you’ve learned the keys to describing people in French, it’s time to practice! Here are just a few of our favorite games to practice all of your new words and phrases.
In this game, which can be played with two or more people, one person is the interviewer, while another is the interviewee. Ask your friends questions to find out more about them, then create a written portrait describing them. This game can be modified so that the person you are interviewing takes on a role instead of answering as him or herself.
For this game, you’ll need a Guess Who board, or you’ll need to make your own version of this board game. The rules are simple: Play the game in French! You now have all the tools to make this game fun and educational.
We’re all familiar with this childhood game. Play with a friend, either preparing people in advance on slips that can be drawn at random, or having each person come up with a person to identify when their turn comes up. Your questions should try, as much as possible, to put your new vocabulary to good use.
Now that you know how to describe yourself in French, a host of new conversation topics awaits. But perhaps the most important is this: Now you can adequately and exactly introduce yourself to your new French friends!