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bêtes = animal?

Can someone explain why bêtes translates Stupid, silly, AND ANIMAL, or why you would use bêtes in place of l'animale?

June 19, 2012



Oh man, great question. This is because you should first think of the word as "beast," and the rest will make sense after I explain. First, I should say that when you see the "e" with a circumflex "ê" - it means that in old French, an "s" used to come right after that letter, so current French "bête" = old French "beste" which is pretty close to "beast" when you think about it.

Now, the other translations. So, if you think about it, telling someone they act like a "beast" or "beast-like" is pretty derogatory and kind of implies that they do silly or stupid things or that they don't have the intelligence of mankind. This is where the other translations come from. As for your question as to when to use "animale" or "bête" - "animale" is more of a formal or academic word to use in conversations when you are being more polite or making and educated point about something. "bête" kind of has a derogatory tone to it, and so it is a much less formal word, and might translate into English as "stupid animal" in addition to just "animal," so you use this word in less formal conversation or when you want to comment on the fact that a particular animal (say, a squirrel that is acting crazy) is doing stupid things, you might call it a "bête" as opposed to an "animale."

Hope this helps.


I believe it can mean "beasts" as well.


Also I should have mentioned that generally accepted lower intelligence animals such as most kinds of livestock are more often referred to as "bêtes" than "animaux." I make this point for when you are doing translations on an article for agriculture or animal-husbandry for example.


Please note that French "animale" is the female form of the adjective "animal". The noun is spelled "animal" (no 'e', just as in English).


Yeah, my spelling is atrocious sometimes.


Thanks for that answer wmdutton. Makes perfect sense now.


Anytime man. One of my favorite things about French is learning slang and knowing how and when to use it. Also, I should have pointed out that anytime you see a circumflex on ANY letter, not just "ê" but "ô," or "â," for example it means that in Old French there was an "s" after that letter that slowly stopped being pronounced and eventually dropped out of the language.

For a little French linguistic rant, English borrows words from both Modern French AND Old Norman French (from the Norman Invasion), and the Norman dialect of French tended to pronounce "g"s as "w"s, which is why "William" (my real first name) translates to "Guillaume" in French. I guess the Normans would have pronounced it like "Weellaume" or something like that. Also, the word for "wasp," for example, comes from the French word "guêpe" or (you guessed it) "guespe" - but the Normans would have likely pronounced it as "wuespe" and so we have "wasp."

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