I never carry an umbrella in Paris.
Sure, it rains, but you can always duck into a bar, order a Ricard (aniseed liquor), and share complaints with the assembled old drunks, comparing for example the sky to a pissing cow (see #42 below).
Whether you’d like to take part in the timeless Parisian sport of complaining about the weather, or if you’re one of those classier types who actually has a destination and wants to understand a forecast, this piece will cover the vocabulary you need.
I’ll start with the absolute basic words you’ll need (sunny, rainy, etc.), followed by intermediate vocab for inclement weather and a few fun expressions. Finally, we’ll learn to quote Balzac and complain about people who complain about the weather.
But first, a quick primer on practicing this vocabulary.
How to Practice French Weather Vocabulary with a Language Partner
If you’re a beginning student of French, you’ll probably learn a conversation like:
— Quel temps fait-il ? (What is the weather like?)
— Il fait beau. (It’s nice out.)
That’s great, but it’s a pretty short conversation. If you’ve got a language exchange partner or fellow learner, you can practice the rest of your weather vocabulary by extending your conversation to talk about different places:
— Quel temps fait-il à Montréal ? (What is the weather like in Montreal?)
— Il niege. (It’s snowing.)
Likewise for à Dakar, à New York, etc. You can use this actual information on the weather right now in different parts of the world to spark these conversations.
You can also talk about the situations that you love and hate. For example: J’adore quand il pleut (I love it when it rains) and Je déteste quand il fait trop chaud (I hate it when it’s too hot).
43 French Vocabulary Words and Phrases for Chatting About the Weather
Il fait… — When the sky is making things
Il fait literally means “it makes” and you’ll use it with some of the most basic weather expressions, as follows:
1. Il fait froid. — It’s cold.
2. Il fait très froid. — It’s very cold.
3. Il fait frais. — It’s cool (temperature).
4. Il fait beau. — It’s nice out (Literally: It makes beautiful).
5. Il fait chaud. — It’s hot.
6. Il fait mauvais. — The weather is bad.
7. Il fait moche. — The weather is bad (Literally: It makes ugly).
8. Il fait du vent. — It’s windy. Note: This can also be said as il y a du vent, and usage depends on region and age. Ask your French-speaking friends how they say it’s windy!
9. Il fait beaucoup de vent. — It’s very windy (Literally: It makes a lot of wind).
10. Il fait (du) soleil. — It’s sunny.
11. Il y a du brouillard. — It’s foggy. (Literally: There is fog). There’s always one that doesn’t follow the pattern…
C’est… — “This is” just how it is
You can also start your basic weather sentences with c’est (lit., this/that is), followed by an adjective:
12. C’est nuageux. — It’s cloudy.
13. C’est gelé. — It’s icy.
14. C’est glacé. — It’s icy cold.
15. C’est orageux. — It’s stormy.
16. C’est humide. — It’s humid.
Il + [verb] — It’s doing something
The verbs pleuvoir (to rain) and neiger (to snow) are used in the third-person singular:
17. Il pleut. — It’s raining.
18. Il neige. — It’s snowing.
Intermediate French vocab for extreme and other weather
The following are not quite everyday terms, but good to know for your more vexing meteorological situations:
19. foudre — (f.) lightning
L’arbre a été touché par la foudre. (The tree was struck by lightning.)
La maison a été frappée par la foudre. (The house was hit by lightning.)
20. tonnerre — (m.) This means thunder, and a “thunder clap” is un coup de tonnerre. The verbs for “to thunder” are tonner and gronder. Tonner can be used with people too, as in: Le politicien tonne contre l’indépendence (The politician thunders/protests against independence).
21. tornade — (f.) tornado. The tornado looms big in French imaginations; as a Midwestern guy in France, I was quite often asked about this.
22. ouragan — (m.) hurricane. While hurricanes are tropical storms that don’t usually come to Europe, the following phrases will be especially handy on French-speaking Caribbean islands. Note that this word can also be used figuratively:
Son annonce a provoqué un ouragan. (His announcement caused a storm.)
23. a été frappé par un ouragan — was hit by a hurricane
24. saison des ouragans — (f.) hurricane season
25. avis d’ouragan — (m.) hurricane warning
26. inondation — (f.) flood
27. être inondé — to be flooded
La maison a été inondée. — The house was flooded.
28. grêle — (f.) hail (noun)
29. grêler — to hail (hailstones falling); to cause damage by hail
L’orage a grêlé la voiture. (The hail storm damaged on the car.)
30. degré — (m.) degree
31. Il fait vingt degrés. — It’s 20 degrees. (And remember that the French use Celsius, of course!) To get the equivalent in Fahrenheit, multiply by nine, divide by five and add 32. But yeah, I know, now you can just ask your smartphone.
32. Le ciel est clair. — The sky is clear.
33. arc-en-ciel — (m.) rainbow.
Le drapeau arc-en-ciel est utilisé par la communauté LGBT. (The rainbow flag is used by the LGBT community.)
34. canicule — (f.) heat wave.
On a passé une période de canicule. (We went through a heat wave.)
35. pluie verglaçante — (f.) freezing rain
36. goutte de pluie — (f.) raindrop
37. givre — (m.) frost.
Il y a du givre sur mon vélo. (There’s frost on my bicycle.)
38. flocon de neige — (m.) snowflake.
C’est beau à Paris quand il neige à gros flocons. (It’s beautiful in Paris when large flakes of snow are falling.)
39. tempête de neige — (f.) blizzard; snowstorm.
Je suis sorti dans la tempête de neige. (I went out in the blizzard.)
Intermediate weather expressions
40. Il est trempé jusqu’aux os. — He’s soaked to the bone.
41. Il pleut à seaux. — It’s raining buckets.
42. Il pleut comme vache qui pisse. — It’s raining like a pissing cow.
43. On crève de chaud. — The heat is killing us!
Advanced: Getting philosophical in French about the weather
Finally, here are a few advanced French sayings and quotes about the weather.
Orage de nuit: peu de mal, mais bien du bruit.
(A storm at night doesn’t do a lot of damage, but makes a lot of noise.)
This common saying is a way of calming children or others who may be concerned by the horrors booming away outside. It’s like saying, “Don’t worry, it will all be okay in the morning.”
Le soleil du matin ne dure pas tout le jour.
(The morning sun doesn’t last all day long.)
This proverb can be taken literally, but also to mean that a project that starts well can sometimes end in disaster.
The following dialogue was written by Raymond Queneau:
LA PASSANTE : Vous vous intéressez à la météorologie, Monsieur ?
ETIENNE : Un peu. Je possède un parapluie.
(PASSERBY: Are you interested in meteorology, sir?
ETIENNE: A little. I own an umbrella.)
Etienne’s quip illustrates the silliness of weather as a subject of passionate interest and conversation.
Honoré de Balzac takes a similar criticism in a more metaphorical direction:
Il est dans le caractère français de s’enthousiasmer, de se colérer, de se passionner pour le météore du moment, pour les bâtons flottants de l’actualité. Les êtres collectifs, les peuples seraient-ils donc sans mémoire?
(It’s part of the French character to get excited, upset and passionate for passing weather patterns, for the floating sticks that are the news. The collective bodies, the peoples, will they therefore be without memories?)
Note that météore can be a meteor, but also any phenomenon observed in the atmosphere.
Balzac probably wouldn’t have liked Twitter; I can definitely imagine him as one of the old men grousing with me in a bar over a Ricard.
When not in a Parisian dive bar, Mose Hayward registers his complaints about French culture, romance, cocktails and more at TipsyPilgrim.com.
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