Talk about Illness in French


Last Updated: August 29, 2022

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Health and sickness are a normal part of life – most of us just hope not to get sick while on vacation. If you find yourself in France and getting sick, we have the perfect vocabulary for you to communicate with the local doctors to get you back to full health in no time!

We’ll explore some of the common French names for diseases and ailments and ways you can treat yourself.

French Illness

Les Maladies/Diseases

Nobody likes to have les maladies, or illnesses at any time, but it’s not the end of the world now that you’ll have the perfect French vocabulary to describe precisely how you’re feeling or to be able to say a disease in French.

The first time that you say “Je suis malade,” or “I am sick,” it’s best to seek assistance to figure out how to treat it immediately. Sicknesses can start mild, but transition into worst situations if left untreated.

For example, if you begin to have èternuer, or to sneeze, we’d hope that it’s only because of les allergies, or allergies. If the problem continues, it could quickly become un rhume (a cold), la grippe (the flu), or even une pneumonie (pneumonia).

The same goes for having un toux (cough in French). While it might be mild at first, if left untreated, it could progress to become une bronchite, or bronchitis.

How to Talk About Aches in French

Many French translations of ailments follow similar patterns as they do in English. In English, we tend to use the –ache suffix to signify where exactly were’ feeling the pain or discomfort. In French, you’d add “mal à-” before the area of discomfort to signal that there’s a problem.

Some of the common aches you might experience include:

  • Headache = mal à la tête
  • Stomachache = mal au ventre
  • Toothache = mal aux dents
  • Heartache = mal a cœur

A related word that follows the same pattern is mal à a gorge or sore throat, which means an ache in your throat.

Severe illnesses and diseases in French

We’d hope that you never have to use these words to describe how you’re feeling, but it’s worth learning about some of the more severe cases of being sick that might require a bit of extra medical attention.

Most kids usually go through a period of having chickenpox, or la varicelle. While it’s not fatal, it’s definitely contagious for people who’ve never had it, so it’s best to stay at home when symptoms appear.

Our diets play a significant role in our health. Eating too much bad food can lead to being overweight, or worst, le diabète (diabetes). Whether it’s something that you ate or drinking too much alcohol can lead to nausée or nausea, and ultimately vomir, or to vomit. It’s best to watch what and how much we eat to avoid these common food-related illnesses.

The worst kinds of diseases and illnesses that you’ll find are le sida, or aids, and le cancer, a French cognate for “cancer.”

Now that you know how to say some diseases and ailments in French, it’s time to learn a few vocabulary words for getting better!

Bon rétablissement/Get well soon

If you have any health concerns, whether big or small, you should always go to see le docteur, or doctor. We’ve all tried to self-diagnose ourselves based on what we think we have, but it’s best to get a professional opinion so that you can get the correct treatment.

For the minor illnesses, you can visit la pharamacie, or the pharmacy to buy in-store médicaments, or medicine. You might even need to get un ordonnance, or prescription if you need a particular treatment not found over-the-counter.

If you find yourself using more of the severe illnesses to describe your health condition, you might want to take a trip to l’hopital, or the hospital. Luckily now, you’ll have just enough French to be able to communicate with the doctors so they’ll know the best way to treat you.

Perhaps you might need antibiotiques, or antibiotics; other cases might require vaccin, or vaccine.

Ideally, whatever they prescribe will be sufficient enough to restore your health.

As you go through the complete list of French vocabulary for diseases and ailments, you’ll notice many words similar to their English translations. It makes it much simpler when you visit the pharmacy, for example, and looking for the right medicine to treat your illness.

See below for the French vocabulary covered above:

French Diseases Vocabulary

Illnesses/Sicknesses/DiseasesLes maladies
I am sickJe suis malade
AllergiesLes allergies
FluLa grippe
ColdUn rhume
PnumoniaUne pneumonie
DiabetesLe diabète
SinusitisUne sinusite
ChickenpoxLa varicella
AidsLe sida
CancerLe cancer
BronchitisUne bronchite
HeadacheMal à la tête
Sore throatMal à la gorge
TonsillitisUne angine
StomachacheMal au ventre
ToothacheMal aux dents
MeningitisLa méningite
DoctorLe docteur
PharmacyLa pharamacie
Get well soonBon rétablissement

Let us know in the comments what you like to do to feel better when you get sick!

About the author 

Bryan Shelmon is a travel writer, living the digital nomad lifestyle as of the past few years to immerse himself into the travel industry. Bryan has traveled to regions including the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe, and Southeast Asia. While traveling, he enjoys attending local cultural events and working on creative projects. Bryan continues to grow as a writer, achieving a #1 Best Selling travel culture guide on Amazon and exploring new regions of the world.

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