Many students experience difficulties when trying to express their emotions in the French language, especially when they are trying to have a deep conversation with someone that they are close to. This difficulty can make even the most advanced learners feel frustrated.


However, not to worry, because this useful guide is here to help. Here, you will learn a number of useful French expressions for describing happiness, anger, surprise, fear and sadness. So, let’s take a look!


La joie


The most basic way to express happiness in French is to use être content(e) (to be happy). Remember though that je suis content is masculine, while je suis contente is feminine.


Another way to express this emotion is to say sourire jusqu'aux oreilles (to smile up to the ears). This refers to either a large smile or a great feeling of satisfaction, and is similar to the English expression “to grin from ear to ear.”




  • En apprenant cette nouvelle, il a souri jusqu'aux oreilles (Upon learning that news, he grinned from ear to ear).


To describe a sudden and noisy laugh, you should use éclater de rire (to burst out laughing).




  • J'ai éclaté de rire en regardant cette vidéo (I burst out laughing while watching that video).


Finally, being that angels represent heaven, we can also use the expression être aux anges to express happiness.




  • Aujourd'hui, je vais à la plage. Je suis aux anges! (Today, I am going to the beach. I am so happy!)


This last expression literally means that you are “with the angels,” and is similar to the idiom “on cloud nine” in English.


La tristesse


The most common phrase that is used to express sadness is être triste.




  • Je suis triste car tu me manques (I am sad because I miss you).


However, you can also use the word pleurer (to cry).




  • Pourquoi tu pleures? (Why are you crying?)


If your sadness is so strong that it prevents you from even speaking, you can simply use the expression rester muet (to remain silent):




  • Elles sont restées muettes toute la soirée (They remained silent for the whole evening).




  • Ils sont muets is masculine.
  • Elles sont muettes is feminine.


We can also use the expression faire grise mine. To understand this phrase, let's first take a look at the words that make it up:


  • La mine (a facial expression)
  • Gris (grey)


Obviously, someone with a grey face looks sad. However, this phrase does not necessarily describe a person.




  • Le ciel fait grise mine (The sky is so grey).


Finally, we have the famous expression avoir le cafard (to have a cockroach). Originally, it was linked with poverty and the presence of vermin in dilapidated housing. However, this expression has become a symbol of sadness in modern times. It was first coined by Charles Baudelaire, a French poet from the 1900’s (we will learn more about him in my next article).


La colère


To express anger in French, we say either être en colère or s'énerver (this last one is a reflexive verb). You can also use the expression être furieux if you are extremely angry.


A frequent sign of anger in French is to clench one’s fists or serrer les poings. We use this expression when someone feels very angry, but is trying not to explode with rage.




  • Serre les poings, garde ta rage (Clench your fists, hold your rage).


When someone is upset, but only wants to show their anger with their eyes, we say faire les gros yeux.




  • Quand je lui ai dis qu'il avait tord, il m'a fait les gros yeux (When I told him he was wrong, he looked sternly at me).


Finally, the color black represents extreme anger in French. This can be seen in the the phrase entrer dans une colère noire (to enter into a black anger).


La surprise


The most common way to express surprise is by using être surpris(e).


However, if you want to say that you are so surprised that you are speechless, you can use the expression rester sans voix.




  • Face à cette belle femme, il est resté sans voix (Face to face with this beautiful woman, he was speechless).


En rester bouche bée (to not know what to say, to be speechless) is a similar expression. In old French, béer meant “to have an open mouth.”




  • Mon ami australien parle Japonais et Farsi couramment, j'en reste bouche bée. (My Australian friend speaks Japanese and Farsi fluently. I am speechless).


You can also express that you are extremely surprised by using tomber des nues (to fall from the clouds, to be flabbergasted).




  • Quand elle a appris que Batman était Bruce Wayne, elle est tombée des nues! (When she learned that Batman was Bruce Wayne, she was flabbergasted!)


La peur


The most basic way to say that you are afriad of something is by using the phrase avoir peur.


However, sometimes when it is really cold, your body shivers all over, especially your back (dos). The expression avoir froid dans le dos illustrates this metaphorical feeling, and means “to be scared,” “to be anxious” or “to shudder.”




  • Quand je repense à ce film d'horreur, j'en ai froid dans le dos. (When I think back to that horror movie, I shudder).


Prendre ses jambes à son cou is another commonly used French phrase relating to fear. It means “to run away in fright.” However, the literal translation is something along the lines of “to put your legs up to you neck.” To non-French speakers, this literal translation might seem a little bit strange!




  • Lorsque j’ai vu ce gros serpent, j'ai pris mes jambes à mon cou (When I saw the big snake, I ran away in fear).


Finally, if you want to talk about being totally petrified, you can say être mort de peur (to be scared to death).




  • je suis mort de peur à l'idée de rentrer dans ce parc d'attractions abandonné (I am scared to death of the idea of going to that abandoned amusement park).


If you can learn all of these expressions, you will be able accurately describe your emotions in French. In addition, you will also be able to effectively recognize emotions when listening to story, as well as discuss your general feelings in everyday life.


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