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How to Express Surprise and Enthusiasm with Exclamations in French

French exclamatory expressions often use interrogative words, like quel (what + noun), que (how + adjective), and quoi (what), as well as other expressions like comme (which literally means as but translates to how for exclamations).

Do you sometimes get excited to the point that you need to burst into an exclamation? You may exclaim with delight, as in What a beautiful bird!, or frustration, or even anger, as in What a stupid thing to say! The expressions you use are exclamatory.

Here are some French exclamatory expressions:

Quel oiseau magnifique! (What a beautiful bird!)
Que c’est laid! (How ugly it is!)
Comme il est mignon! (How cute he is!)
Quoi! Il a fait ça! (What! He did that!)

How to include a noun in a French exclamation

If you are marveling or griping about something in particular and you want to name that thing, use quel (what) + a noun without an article, followed by an exclamation mark, like in English.

Quel génie! (What a genious!)
Quelle folie! (What a crazy thing to do!)
Quels imbéciles! (What fools!)
Quelles notes! (What grades!)

Quel is an adjective and as such it must match the noun it describes in gender and number.

To make things even more specific, the noun can also be described by an adjective, as in Quels grands arbres! (What tall trees!). When you use an adjective, the rules of placement of adjectives apply and the BAGS adjectives come before the noun, whereas regular adjectives follow it.

The following examples illustrate the difference between BAGS adjectives (which come before the noun) and regular adjectives (which come after the noun).

BAGS adjectives refer to beauty like beau (beautiful/handsome), age, like jeune (young), goodness, like bon (good) and size like petit (small), and they precede the noun they describe.

Quelle jolie fille! (What a pretty girl!)
Quelle fille intelligente! (What a clever girl!)

BAGS adjectives have an alternate masculine singular form when the noun they describe begins with a vowel, as in bel oiseau (beautiful bird).

How to include just an adjective in a French exclamation

When what you’re exclaming about is obvious enough, you don’t need a noun in your exclamation and you can just say something like How beautiful!, skipping both a noun and the verb. To do the same thing in French, you can skip the noun, but you can’t skip the verb. C’est (it is) must be included.

But you have a choice for the exclamatory expression: You can use que or comme, which are totally interchangeable, or sometimes skip the exclamative word and make a very short sentence with just an exclamation mark. Check out these examples, which all convey the same message:

Que c’est beau! (How beautiful!)
Comme c’est beau! (How beautiful!)
C’est beau! (That’s beautiful!)

When you use just c’est + adjective, without an exclamatory word, sometimes ça (that) is added at the end for emphasis like this: C’est fou, ça! (Literally: That’s crazy, that!)

After c’est, all adjectives are masculine when the noun is not expressed (included in the phrase), despite the gender of the noun. C’est beau can refer to either la lune (the moon) or le soleil (the sun).

Use the following list to find some very common exclamations that don’t translate literally into English.

  • Quelle chance!/Quelle malchance! (How lucky/unlucky!)

  • Quelle horreur! (How horrible!)

  • Quel travail! (That’s a lot of work!)

  • Quel imbécile! (What an imbecile!)

  • Quelle barbe! (What a bore! [literally: What a beard!])

  • Comme c’est triste! (How sad!)

  • C’est beaucoup! (That’s a lot!)

  • Quoi! (What!)

  • Comme c’est gentil (à vous/toi) (How kind [of you])

  • Quel soulagement! (What a relief!)

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