France is famous for its water.
Évian. Perrier. Volvic.
The stuff of life.
But there’s more to water in French than the vogue of bottled water.
Consider La Côte d’Azur (French Riviera).
The Loire. The Seine.
The famous fountains of Versailles.
The healing eaux thermales (thermal springs) of towns like Vichy and Évian-les-Bains.
Water is all around us, and life wouldn’t be possible without it.
Since it’s such an essential, let’s explore how to talk about water in French.
Get in the Flow with French Water Words
Start moving gently down the stream of French water vocabulary with these varied learning resources.
A shower of videos
Whether it’s cooking videos, French films or TED talks, French-language media is saturated with water-related words.
Watch a flood of multimedia to see and hear how French speakers talk about water in everyday life.
Talk about the weather and more
Practice your French water vocabulary while having conversations en français (in French). Water words can become second nature to you during the give-and-take of a tête-à-tête (face-to-face).
Start by discussing the weather, then roll down the conversational river to other water-related topics.
If you’re too shy to speak aloud, or you’d prefer to practice the written language, give French chatrooms a shot.
A sprinkle of poetry
These heartfelt and fanciful verses evoke the myriad emotions that water can express.
- Guillaume Apollinaire: “Le Pont Mirabeau” (“The Mirabeau Bridge”)
Apollinaire paints a picture of pain and joy, flowing like the waters of the Seine under the Mirabeau Bridge in Paris.
- Paul Verlaine: “Il pleut dans mon cœur” (“It’s Raining in My Heart”)
The rain is a pain in the poet’s heart, yet it’s also a soothing melody falling on the ground and roofs outside.
- The Charles d’Orléans: “Le temps a laissé son manteau” (“The Season Removed Its Coat”)
This poem features rivers, fountains, streams and rain.
This YouTube video from Imaginfinity combines French water poetry with fantastic footage of rivers, lakes and other waterscapes in Canada and France.
Water in French and Its Many Quenching Forms
Here’s a deluge of water-related words—describing temperature, wetness, drinking water, wet weather and bodies of water.
And, we’ll tie it all up in a bow with un arc-au-ciel (a rainbow) of French water idioms.
How to say “water” in French
Before we get into all the different water-related words, here’s how to say just plain water:
eau — water
But wait, that’s just three vowels. How do you even say that?
You can hear how to pronounce the word eau on Forvo or check out this excellent video from Alexa.
La température d’eau (Water temperature)
These water descriptors will take you from freezing to tepid to scalding.
gelée — freezing
glacée — frigid, ice-cold
glaciale — icy, glacially cold
tiède — tepid, lukewarm
à température ambiante — room temperature
A related expression, servir chambré, means to serve at room temperature. It can be used to refer to wine and food. A word for ‘‘room,’’ chambre, is part of the past participle used here.
chaude — warm
très chaude — hot
frémissante — simmering
bouillante — boiling
brûlante — scalding
Practice resource: French language recipes
The Recettes website and the Cuisine (cooking) section of Le Journal des femmes (Ladies’ Journal) both have an extensive recipe collection.
The Recettes recipes are written fairly simply and clearly. Le Journal illustrates each ingredient with a photograph—but the recipe texts are much more challenging.
L’eau potable (Drinking water)
French bottled water is just about as iconic as la tour Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower) and the béret. With this fluid vocabulary, you can be fluent in the most basic and necessary beverage of all.
l’eau plate — still water
l’eau pétillante — fizzy/sparkling water
l’eau de Seltz — Seltzer water
l’eau minérale — mineral water
l’eau de source — spring water
l’eau purifiée — purified drinking water
Also called l’eau épurée.
l’eau distillée — distilled water
l’eau en bouteille — bottled water
l’eau courante — running water
l’eau du robinet — tap water
l’eau trouble — cloudy water
Practice Resources: Les supermarchés et les restaurants (Supermarkets and restaurants)
Linger in the bottled water aisle and read the labels on French brands, trying to identify l’eau minérale (mineral water), l’eau de source (spring water) and other French-language ways to wet your whistle.
If you have a nearby bistro or café with French-speaking waitstaff, challenge yourself to request your verre d’eau (glass of water) in French, describing the exact variety you desire.
Le temps pluvieux (Wet weather)
Pack your poncho and prepare to ride the rapids of French wet weather terms.
la brume — mist
la bruine — drizzle
l’averse — rain shower
la chute de pluie — rainfall
La chute de pluie is a single, local instance of rainfall. If you were measuring cumulative rainfall, you’d say les précipitations.
les fortes pluies — heavy rainfall
le déluge — deluge
la pluie torrentielle — torrential downpour
une inondation — flood
un orage — thunderstorm
la pluie verglaçante — freezing rain
la neige fondue — sleet
Literally, ‘‘melted snow.’’
Practice Resources: La météo (Weather forecasts)
Skip your local news and use these websites to get a forecast in French.
- The Météo Monde (World Weather) section on the Météo France (French Weather) website can tell you if your town is expecting la pluie (rain) or just la bruine (drizzle). The Éducation (Education) pages are chock-full of information about wet weather and other meteorological phenomena.
- The video-rich France Info TV weather site will help you practice your auditory comprehension of French precipitation events comme des orages et des inondations (like thunderstorms and floods). The visuals provide highly detailed context clues.
- For forecasts with a Québecois flair, float on over to the Canadian government’s official weather site.
Les degrés d’humidité (Degrees of wetness)
Master a scale for measuring degrees of wetness—especially in the context of food, clothing and nature.
humide — damp, moist
trempé(e) — soggy (clothes), drenched, soaked
detrempé(e) — soggy (ground), waterlogged, sodden
Interestingly, a tear-soaked Kleenex would be described as détrempé—the same sort of ‘‘soggy’’ as the rain-soaked ground.
mou (molle) — soggy (breakfast cereal, chips or bread)
This is used for commenting about foods that are generally crisp, firm or crunchy, but which have, sadly, become soggy.
The masculine and feminine forms of this adjective share the same structure as fou/folle (crazy).
This one doesn’t translate from the French as “soggy” so much as ‘‘limp,’’ ‘‘flabby,’’ ‘‘feeble’’ ‘‘spineless’’ or ‘‘soft.’’ The noun form, un mou, is a moniker for a wimp.
mouillé(e) — wet
Être tout mouillé means ‘‘to be all wet’’ or ‘‘to be wet through.’’
When used with le sourire (smile) or le regard (look), it means ‘‘tearful.’’ Le sourire mouillé might be translated as ‘‘a watery smile,’’ implying that the person is crying or near tears.
saturé(e) — saturated
Practice Resources: Des étiquettes de lessive (Garment care instructions)
As you’re doing your laundry, look for the French-language instructions for washing your garments properly. They’ll tell you whether you can laver à l’eau froide (wash in cold water), à l’eau tiède (in cool water) or à l’eau chaude (in warm water).
If you use un détachant à lessive (laundry stain remover), see if there’s a French section on the label to tell you whether you should laver dans l’eau la plus chaude (wash in the hottest water).
Les masses d’eau (Bodies of water)
From underground water to the largest ocean, you’ll do swimmingly with these words describing bodies of water.
la nappe phréatique — groundwater; water table
la flaque — puddle, pool, spill
This wouldn’t be the type of pool you’d use to play Marco Polo!
la piscine — swimming pool
La piscine is similar to the English word ‘‘Pisces,’’ which is a fishy astrological sign. Picture a fish doing a doggy paddle in a swimming pool.
le lac — lake
le fleuve — large river
la rivière — somewhat small, narrow or shallow river
la mer — sea
le bras de mer — inlet
This is ‘‘the arm of the sea.’’ (Not to be confused with La Manche (the Sleeve), also known as the English Channel.)
le ruisseau — stream, brook or creek
le détroit — strait
Yep, it’s exactly like the city in Michigan, only with an accent aigu (acute accent).
un étang — pond
un océan — ocean
le flot — tide
The plural, les flots, refers to waves on the ocean.
Practice resource: Navigate French waterways
Sail down les Voies navigables de France (the navigable French waterways) website to explore content about watercraft-accessible bodies of water.
Learn in-depth about les fleuves (large rivers), les lacs (lakes) and les mers (seas), as well as the ships that cruise them.
Des verbes qui concernent l’eau (Water-related verbs)
This collection of verbs will help you talk about wet weather and water-related activities such as gardening or doing laundry.
arroser — to water plants
Think about watering a small rose garden at home.
Arroser au jet means “to hose something off or down.”
irriguer — to irrigate
Unlike arroser, this would be more like the irrigation on a farm.
pleurer — to cry; to weep
larmoyer — to get teary-eyed, to tear up, to snivel; to get watery eyes; to get maudlin
This word can mean a range of different things. It’s often about being emotional and weepy but can also refer to eyes made watery by allergies.
pleuvoir — to rain
Pleuvoir (to rain) can easily be mixed up with pleurer (to cry), although their conjugations are different.
bruiner — to drizzle
mouiller (quelque chose ou quelqu’un) — to get (something or someone) wet
humecter — to dampen (a rag or cloth)
tremper — to soak
Tremper le linge (soak the laundry) to loosen stubborn stains before washing.
saturer — to saturate
Practice resources: Verb tables and French conjugation exercises
Each fluid-filled verb above is linked to its very own verb table, so you can put each of these words into action.
Note that bruiner (to drizzle) and pleuvoir (to rain) only conjugate in the third person masculine singular, since they’re verbs used to describe the weather.
With the exception of pleuvoir (to rain), and the stem-changing verb larmoyer (to get teary-eyed), the French water verbs in the above list follow the regular –er verb conjugation patterns. This is great news because it means you can learn their conjugation patterns by practicing with any regular –er verb.
Check out these resources for practicing your French verb conjugation:
Hosted by a dapper grenouille (frog), the Conjuguemos website offers French conjugation practice through graded exercises, as well as crossword puzzles, word searches, flashcards and memory match games. Choose the present-tense –er verbs specifically, or mix it up for more of a challenge: You can practice all French tenses and moods at once, or narrow it down to specific moods, tenses or verb groups.
For no-frills drills, try the Français interactif (Interactive French) website from the University of Texas at Austin. This collegiate collection of conjugation exercises will put you through your paces! Choose from different verb families and verb tense conjugations.
Des expressions impliquant de l’eau (Expressions Involving Water)
Fill your linguistic well with these poetic water-soluble metaphors.
pleuvoir des cordes — to rain heavily
This phrase is the French equivalent of ‘‘it’s raining cats and dogs.’’
couper d’eau — To cut with water; to water down; to dilute
Un coup d’eau, on the other hand, means a ‘‘gulp of water.’’
avoir de l’eau dans le gaz — things aren’t going well
Literally meaning “to have water in the gas,” this is an example of an idiomatic avoir expression.
porter l’eau à la rivière — to perform a futile task
In English, we might say something like ‘‘to carry coals to Newcastle.’’
tomber à l’eau — to go by the wayside; to be nixed
mettre à l’eau — to launch
This is often used in a nautical context.
mouiller l’ancre — to drop anchor
Rather than focusing on the action of dropping the anchor, this refers to it getting wet.
être mouillé dans un scandale — to get mixed up in a scandal
avoir l’eau à la bouche — to have one’s mouth water
naviguer en eaux troubles — to fall in with a bad crowd
Nager (to swim) can be used in this expression, instead of naviguer.
un flot d’injures — a torrent of abuse
être à flot — to be on an even keel (financially)
à l’eau de rose — overly sentimental
se mettre à l’eau — to stay sober
Also means “to go swimming,” or “to put oneself in water.”
arroser quelqu’un de vin — to top off someone’s wine
arroser quelqu’un avec des pots-de-vin — to “water” someone with a bribe; to grease someone’s palm
être en eau — to be in over one’s head; to be covered or bathed in sweat
Practice resources: French multimedia
Take a deep dive into French pop culture with romans (novels), poésie (poetry) and films (movies).
As you’re reading or watching, keep your eyes or ears peeled for scintillating water-based expressions, such as the ones listed above.
Now that you have this pool of French water words, you can glide confidently through water-related content and conversations in French.
Bon voyage! (Have a good trip!)
Michelle Baumgartner is a language nerd who has formally studied seven languages and informally dabbled in at least three others. In addition to geeking out over slender vowels, interrogative particles and phonemes, Michelle is a freelance content writer and education blogger. Find out more at StellaWriting.com.