Avoir L’air: Meaning + Uses in Everyday French

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.

For example:

** 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.

Congratulations !

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!

And now:

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Join the conversation!

  • Comme toujours, Géraldine: brièvement, clairement, accessible, avec des exemples evidents.
    “Quod erat demonstndum.”
    Je ne veux rien changer à vos plans. Puisque vous êtes bilingue, faites attention, s. v. p., à ce que l’on appelle en anglais phrasal verbs (les verbes à particule?). Il me serait très utile de connaître, de telles formules linguistiques. Elles sont les briques dans le mur de la langue francaise. Court, précis et vraiment… en français.
    Merci, Géraldine.

  • Can you use the expression in the passé composé and in the futur? Par example: He seemed sad yesterday. And, will you look a clown in this hat? Il a eu l’air malheureux hier. C’est bon? Aussi: Tu auras l’air un clown dans ce chapeau? C’est bon?

    • Hi Lynn!

      You absolutely can. It’s simply using the conjugation for “avoir” in the relevant tense.
      “Il a eu l’air malheureux” is indeed correct French. We’d rather use l’imparfait here: “Il avait l’air malheureux hier.” (= He was looking sad yesterday), but both work and it depends on the context.
      “Tu auras l’air d’un clown dans ce chapeau.” (don’t forget the d’ ) also works perfectly.

      Have a great day,

      – Arthur, writer for Comme une Française

  • In English phrases like ‘an air of sophistication’ meaning ‘an appearance of’ employ the same word in the same way (from 13th century French!), but it’s definitely more versatile and meaningful as used in French.

  • Merci Géraldine pour cet leçon j’ai trouvé très utile parce que je l’ai entendu beaucoup en conversations. J’aime cet petits phrases en français. Bonne journée Anne

  • About l’air. That’s easy to remember. I started French aged 8 to 18 then on hols throughout and a village French course. Can’t sign up for your course as too lazy to attend regularly. I just dip in and out. I do enjoy your you tubes and emails to me. Thank you

  • Thank you for the exercise, “looks like” is very difficult in French. You think you’ve got the hang of it then you come across expressions like “le temps est à la pluie” … it looks like rain. Layers and layers of difficulty!

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