Avoir l’air is an everyday French expression meaning “to look like / to seem.” It works like a verb, and it’s much more commonly used than its alternatives!
How does this expression work? What does it mean? And how can YOU use it when speaking French? We’ll explore all that and more in today’s lesson. Let’s dive in!
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1 - Avoir l’air = to seem, to look (like)
Avoir l’air is pronounced [/a.vwaʁ l‿ɛʁ/] (“avwar lerr.”)
Literally, it’s: avoir (= to have, irregular verb) + l’air (= the air) = to have the air of. It’s a French verbal expression that means: “to seem / to look / to look like.”
Verbs such as paraître or sembler are synonyms of “avoir l’air,” but they’re much more formal, so we don’t really use them in everyday spoken French.
You can use “avoir l’air” in three ways:
a) Avoir l’air de / d’ + [verb in the infinitive]
→ Il a l’air de vouloir sortir. = He looks like he wants to go outside.
As you can see, there’s only one subject in French, whereas it’s repeated in English:
[Subject] + “avoir l’air de” + verb = [Subject] looks like [same subject] [verb]
Il + a l’air de + vouloir… = He looks like he wants to…
b) Avoir l’air de / d’ + [noun]
→ Elles ont l’air de boulangères douées. = They look like competent bakers.
For this one, we also tend to use:
– Avoir l’air d’être + [noun] :
Elles ont l’air d’être des boulangères douées. = They look like they are competent bakers.
Alternatively, especially when talking about someone’s physical appearance, you might use the verb “ressembler” instead:
– Ressembler à + [noun] :
Elle ressemble à Julie ! = She looks like Julie.
c) Avoir l’air + [adjective]
→ Tu as l’air triste, ça va ? = You look sad, are you OK?
Tu as l’air triste means both “You look sad” and “You’re making a sad face. / You have a sad air.” It’s a subtle difference, but it matters a bit.
When we mean to say “having an [adjective] face / expression”, the adjective agrees with “l’air” in the masculine singular. As in:
Ils ont l’air bête avec ce chapeau. = They look dumb in this hat. (“dumb” is singular)
Otherwise (as in most cases), the adjective agrees with the subject:
La maison a l’air grande ! = The house looks big! (feminine singular)
It’s subtle, and most times there’s ambiguity. When in doubt, have the adjective agree with the subject – it’s never incorrect!
2 - “Avoir l’air” in French : Conjugation
As we’ve already seen, avoir l’air is:
– Avoir (= to have), an irregular verb that changes with the subject and follows its usual conjugation.
– l’air (= the air), which never changes.
** Le truc en plus **
There are two ways to introduce negation with adjectives, depending on what you mean:
– “(n’)avoir pas l’air + [adjective]” (= doesn’t look like…)
→ Ce gâteau a pas l’air bon. = This cake doesn’t look good.
– “avoir l’air + [adjective]” (= look like it’s not…)
→ Ce gâteau a l’air pas bon. = This cake looks like it’s not good. // This cake looks bad.
3 - “Avoir l’air” in French: everyday expressions
There are several instances in everyday French conversation where we might use “avoir l’air” to say what we mean. Here are some common examples:
Sans en avoir l’air = without seeming like it.
→ Il m’a appris beaucoup de choses, sans en avoir l’air.
= He taught me a lot, without seeming like it.
Ça n’a l’air de rien. = it looks insignificant.
→ J’ai quitté Facebook. Ça n’a l’air de rien, mais j’ai gagné beaucoup de temps dans une journée !
= I quit Facebook. It looks like nothing, but I got back a lot of time in my day!
Avoir un air de famille = to have a family resemblance
Se donner des airs = to pretend / to be a poser
4 - “Avoir l’air” in French: Your turn now! (Quiz)
How would you say the following in French?:
You don’t seem to be hungry.
[with tu. “To be hungry” = avoir faim]
I look dumb in this picture.
[“dumb, in this picture” = bête, sur cette photo]
Marie looks like a boy in this outfit.
[“a boy, in this outfit” = un garçon, dans cette tenue]
Can you guess?
Try it yourself before checking out the answers just below.
Are you ready?
OK! Here are the answers:
Tu n’as pas l’air d’avoir faim.
= You don’t seem to be hungry.
J’ai l’air bête sur cette photo.
= I look dumb in this picture.
Marie a l’air d’un garçon, dans cette tenue.
(Or Marie ressemble à un garçon, dans cette tenue.)
= Marie looks like a boy in this outfit.
Now you can dive deeper into learning French for fun and for free with these other lessons you will enjoy:
– Understand Fast Spoken French (with French TV show Call My Agent) when they drop the “Ne”
– 5 Easy Everyday Expressions
– The first 7 French verbs you only need, to start learning French conjugation
– Le Futur Proche : an entire French tense with only ONE easy conjugation
À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next lesson!
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