However you may feel about them, swear words are a part of most languages, so at least being able to recognize them is an important stop on the road to fluency. Swear words (gros mots) in French are especially important, since in general, the French tend to be pretty open about them.
For example, many French television channels don’t censor obscene words and phrases — although there are some exceptions (including reality shows that use the “beep” to seem more American). This, and the fact that swear words to some degree feature in many people’s everyday conversations, means that as you hone your French, you’re bound to be exposed to gros mots.
Here is a handy a list of the major French swear words (yes, there are a lot) and expressions that commonly go along with them.
Merde – Shit
This seems to be France’s internationally recognized swear word, even if it’s not the most popular among the French (more on that in a little while).
Still, it’s very, very widely used here, both literally and figuratively, as an exclamation and as part of a phrase.
Putain – “Fuck” in French
Putain – Fuck or damn it. Literally “whore,” this word is the more versatile form of “fuck” in French. It’s not a verb, so does not describe the act of fucking or of being fucked over; instead, it can be an exclamation pertaining to a range of emotions – frustration, anger, joy, surprise, awe.
In the south of France, it’s often used to punctuate or even fill in sentences, which could be a bit disconcerting for a first-time visitor.
Beyond the bad word: According to a recent poll, putain is the favorite curse word of native French and expats alike. It is a fun word to say and does seem to perfectly resonate in your mouth when you’re angry.
On the other hand, the article accompanying the poll also points out that this word is widely used and isn’t always excessively obscene, the way “fuck” is. Although it’s never appropriate to say in front of kids or authority figures, depending on context and tone, its meaning can in some cases be as watered down as simply, “Whoa!”
Alternatives to putain include:
- putain de… – fucking… As in, Mon putain de congélateur ne marche pas – il va falloir manger toutes les glaces. (My fucking freezer doesn’t work – now we’ll have to eat all the ice cream.)
- Putain de merde – Literally “whore of shit”, this is what French people say when they’re really mad!
- Putain de bordel de merde – This is what French people say when they’re really, REALLY mad!
- Pute/Pétasse – “Whore”. By extension, “slut.”
- Fils de pute – Son of a bitch (Literally “son of a whore.”). Note that, while in English, you can just yell “Son of a bitch!” when you’re mad about something, in French, this is an insult directed specifically at someone.
Nique ta mère – Fuck your mother
This is the most common phrase you’ll hear with this verb. It’s also the meaning of the name of seminal French rap group NTM.
Branleur – a wanker
This one is pretty straightforward really.
Rien à branler – [I/You/He/She/It/We/They] don’t/didn’t give a shit/a fuck.
This can be used as a stand-alone expression, or as part of a sentence.
Jean a encore porté ses bottes pleines de boue dans la maison. Il en a rien à branler ! (Jean wore his muddy boots in the house again! He doesn’t give a shit!)
Jean n’en a rien à branler de tes règles – il a encore porté ses bottes dans la maison. (Jean doesn’t give a shit about your rules – he wore his boots in the house again.)
S’en branler – Literally “to jerk oneself off with it”,
This delightful phrase shows how little a person respects the situation/something that’s being said. The best equivalent I’ve ever seen is in the Harper Collins Robert French Unabridged dictionary that has been my companion for many years: “I don’t give a flying fuck.”
Enculé/Enculée – Asshole
There is a feminine form of this French swear word, but I’ve never seen or heard it used – this seems to be an insult mostly reserved for men. It is a very common one, too.
Alternative forms include:
- Enculer – to bugger/fuck in the ass. This can be used literally, for example in explicit erotic book passages or sexts, or figuratively, as in the expression Va te faire enculer!(Go fuck yourself!/Bugger off!)
- Enculer les mouches – Literally, “to fuck flies in the ass”. This expression – another one of my personal favorites – is a very obscene, imagery-rich way to say “to nitpick.”
Se casser/Casse-toi – Fuck off
Literally “Break yourself,” the equivalent of Casse-toi is “Sod/fuck off”.
If you don’t say it directly to someone, se casser would be the equivalent of “get out of here/there.” Elle a mis le collier dans sa poche. Puis elle s’est cassée. (She put the necklace in her pocket. Then she got out of there.); Je n’en ai rien à branler! Je me casse! (I don’t give a fuck! I’m out of here!)
Beyond the bad word: In 2008, then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was widely considered a rich, elitist snob out of touch with the common man, was on an official visit to the annual Salon de l’Agriculture (Agricultural Exposition), when there was some booing, and a man in the packed crowd said not to touch him. Casse-toi alors, pauv’ con (Then sod off, asshole), was Sarkozy’s muttered reply.
Unfortunately for him, the phrase was picked up by reporters’ sound equipment. It might be understandable if you or I said it, but in this case, it was considered by many as a sign of the President’s lack of regard for the common man. It remains a cultural reference to this day.
Con/conne – stupid
Con may be the most versatile, nuanced French swear word. Basically, it’s a harsh way to say “idiot” or “stupid”, and can also be used as a noun, for “idiot.” But it’s not always used to show a lack of intelligence; it can also be employed similarly to “asshole,” “cunt,” or “twat”.
Of course, there can simply be an overlap between the two. Interestingly, this versatility only applies to when it’s used as a noun; when it’s an adjective, it exclusively suggests a lack of intelligence.
- Ne l’écoute pas, c’est un con. (Don’t listen to him, he’s an idiot/asshole.)
- Ne l’écoute pas, il est con. (Don’t listen to him, he’s stupid.)
Beyond the curse word: Le dîner de cons is an iconic French film starring Thierry Lhermitte and Jacques Villeret. It tells the story of a group of elitist assholes (cons) who seek out truly stupid or boring people (cons) and invite them to a group dinner where they’re unknowingly the subject of mockery and a contest to find the dumbest one.
But something goes wrong, and zaniness ensues. It’s a great film to watch to understand one common source of humor for the French: making fun of naïve or stupid people (although the film does sort of question whether anyone really is completely con) and is genuinely funny.
Alternatives to con include:
- C’est con – It’s too bad/What a shame. As the use of con suggests, it implies that the failure was due to stupidity/foolishness/the meaninglessness of life, depending on who you’re talking to.
- C’est pas con – That’s pretty smart.
- Prendre [quelqu’un] pour un con/une conne – To take someone for a fool. Cinquante euros pour une mini-Tour Eiffel ! Tu me prends pour une conne ? (Fifty euros for a mini-Eiffel Tower! You think I’m an idiot?]
Connard/Connasse – Moron
These are related to con/conne but are more obscene and much harsher.
One cold night, a lady stepped in front of me in the taxi line at the Gare Montparnasse, and I spontaneously yelled out, “Connasse!” as she stole my cab. I’ve never felt more French.
Couille – dick
Couille– Literally “ball” (testicle). The word alone can also be an insult, short for couille molle (pansy, pussy), and by extension, may veer into hate speech, with the term being a hateful one for homosexual men. So, it’s probably best not to use this one as an insult, although it’s perfectly okay to refer to testicles this way (in a context where you can say gros mots, of course)
- Je m’en bats les couilles. Literally, “I hit my balls (testicles) with it.” This is another way to say, “I don’t give a fuck.”
- partir en couille – To go to shit
- casser les couilles – To annoy, make things hard for someone, to be a pain in the ass. Literally “to break someone’s balls”.
- (un/une)casse-couille – a buster/a troublemaker/pain in the ass. Dès qu’elle sait que sa sœur a le béguin pour un garçon, elle le lui dit. Quelle casse-couille! (As soon as she knows her sister has a crush on a boy, she tells him. What a troublemaker!
- Couillon/Couillonne – Another obscene way to say “idiot,” although not as harsh as connard/connasse. It literally means “little testicle.” Although there is a feminine form, I’ve personally never heard a woman called this – and using it seems to be more common among men, at least in my experience. Interestingly, in the south of France, couillon can be a term of endearment. Still, as a foreigner, I’d be careful trying to fit in with the locals by attempting to use it this way….
Cul – ass
Cul – Ass. The obscene anatomical term, not someone who is acting like an ass (for an example of that, look at many other words on this list.)
Beyond the curse word:: You may have heard someone ask for “du PQ” or “papier q”, one of the many French terms for toilet paper. The “q” is actually a stand-in for cul, since both are pronounced the same way.
Despite that, this term is used pretty frequently. I’d say it’s moderately impolite and obscene. You’d never ask an authority figure for “PQ,” but if you ask your friends or even people your own age, it probably won’t come off as horribly offensive or inappropriate.
Trou du cul – Asshole
Trou du cul is The literal, vulgar way to say asshole (body part). And of course, it can be used to describe people who are assholes, too.
Among younger or hip people, it’s often common to hear it truncated: trouduc – and to see it written that way in literature, online, etc., as well.
Bordel – A mess
This word literally means bordello or brothel, and is used in that sense, as well.
You’ll know the difference if you hear someone say, C’était un vrai bordel and you know they’re not talking about visiting a maison close.
Bordel de merde – For fuck’s sake
A very popular French swear word. It is not used in its literal sense, although a brothel made of shit gives you the idea of just how bad things are when this is pulled out.
It’s usually used as a stand-alone expression, not as a noun. Example: (You’re having a bad day and then you stub your toe: Bordel de merde !)
Foutre le bordel – Make a bloody mess
This can be literal or figurative.
Marc a vraiment foutu le bordel pendant qu’on étaient pas là ! (Marc made a bloody mess while we where not there!)
Dégage ! – Get out of my way! /Fuck off!
The verb dégager used to suggest movement – especially that of expulsing something – in non-obscene contexts, as well. As a swear word, it actually really depends on the way a person uses it. It would never be polite to say to someone if you want them to get out of your way, but it can range from “Move!” or “Get out of my way!” to “Fuck off!” depending on how angry/frustrated the speaker is.
Dégueulasse – Disgusting/repugnant
Sometimes shortened to “Dégueu.”
This can refer to a thing, a person, an action, a situation, etc. It’s used all the time, especially on reality TV and by teens across France, and is only moderately obscene. Still, when in polite company, use its perfectly above-board sibling, dégoûtant(e), instead. I say this from experience.
Ducon – Idiot
A portmanteau of con and the common French last name Dupont (the equivalent of Smith in English), this is something you can yell at a man who is acting like an insipid idiot.
Example: In my head as I try to hurry to a meeting and the guy in front of me is walking ridiculously slowly on the otherwise busy sidewalk: Oui, c’est ça, prends ton temps, ducon ! (Yeah, that’s right, take your time, asshole!)
Emmerder – To annoy
…Or worse. Literally, “to immerse in shit.” But the most common usage is without a doubt Je t’emmerde – basically, Screw you!
S’emmerder – To be bored shitless
Example: Je m’emmerde. On se casse ? (I’m bored. Want to get out of here?)
Emmerdeur/Emmerdeuse – Pain in the ass
This is one of my favorite French expressions because I love how it so concisely sums up one of my favorite English expressions: shit-stirrer.
Here, the shit-stirring can be unintentional (as in the eponymous classic French film), or quite deliberate.
Enfoiré/Enfoirée – Asshole
This word is used a lot in France, and more commonly used for men than for women.
Beyond the bad word: If you’ve been to France or follow French pop culture, you may be surprised to see that many stars call themselves Enfoirés. This (usually) means they’re taking part in a charity group that does concerts to help Les Restos du Coeur, a charity established by French comedic legend Coluche.
Coluche looked a bit like a clown but was never afraid to speak out about social injustice. He died under mysterious circumstances (some claim he was murdered by political rivals) in 1986, but Les Restos du Coeur and Les Enfoirés continue to be popular.
Garce – Bitch
This is normally an insult for women, but, as in English, could be used for a man, either to imply that you’re insulting his masculinity, or (usually jokingly) in gay culture.
Ta gueule – Shut the fuck/hell up!
This expression comes from the phrase Ferme ta gueule, but it’s so frequently used that just the last two words are necessary now.
Like some of the other words on this list, this one’s power seems to vary depending on the context and, especially, the tone of the speaker. It’s often used in French comedies when a person is getting angry or upset – and in those cases, where it doesn’t seem particularly violent or full of loathing, it could be best translated as “Shut the hell up!” or even simply “Shut up!”.
On the other hand, if the person saying it is doing so in an aggressive way, it could probably be better translated as “Shut the fuck up!”
Foutre – the obscene helping verb
Foutre is basically an obscene way to say “to do”. The French have an obscene helping verb! Here are some very common ways it’s used:
- Aller se faire foutre – Fuck off /Go fuck yourself. Va te faire foutre, connard ! (Go fuck yourself, asshole!)
- Foutre la merde – to fuck up. Il a foutu la merde dans sa vie. (He fucked up his life.)
- Ne rien foutre – To do fuckall. J’ai passé l’après-midi à ne rien foutre. (I spent the afternoon doing fuck-all.). Tu ne fous rien de tes journées. (You do fuckall with your days.)
- Rien à foutre (de) – Don’t give a fuck. You can use this phrase on its own – for example: Je n’ai rien à foutre (I don’t give a fuck), or Elle lui a dit de ne pas aller dans la chambre, mais il ne l’a pas écouté. Rien à foutre. (She asked him not to go into the bedroom, but he didn’t listen. He didn’t give a fuck.). You can also use it with de to express what a fuck is not being given about: Je n’ai rien à foutre de ton match de foot! (I don’t give a fuck about your football/soccer game!).
- S’en foutre (de) – don’t give a fuck. This is a very, very common expression. You can use it with or without de, which means “about” in this context. Here are two examples:
Je m’en fous. – I don’t give a fuck.
Je m’en fous de ton cheval. – I don’t give a fuck about your horse.
Beyond the swear word: Even extraordinary, legendary chanteuse Edith Piaf (imagine endless rows of heart emojis here) has a song called Je m’en fous pas mal.
Se foutre dans la merde – Fuck yourself over
Je t’ai dit de ne pas acheter des billets de loto au lieu de payer ton loyer – et voilà, tu t’es foutu dans la merde ! (I told you not to buy lotto tickets instead of paying rent – there you go, you really fucked yourself!)
Beyond the swear word: There are a number of common expressions with foutre, and not all of them are obscene. You can find a good list here. Although these phrases are often used, I’d advise being careful with them around polite company. Always try to use an alternative.
-de merde – Shitty/fucking
This phrase is used to show you dislike or are angered by something.
For example: Allez, va acheter tes baskets de merde ! (Go ahead, go buy your fucking sneakers/trainers!) or simply, Bagnole de merde ! (Shitty car! /Piece of shit car!)
Merdasse – A more vulgar version of merde
Beyond the bad word: You may have started to notice a pattern with some of these words. The suffix -asse is frequently used to suggest (or add on) obscenity or vulgarity.
Sacrebleu – French pirates’ swear word of choice
It’s the gros mot (swear word) we all imagine the French saying, but like most stereotypes about the French, this one isn’t true. Sacrebleu, as it’s actually spelled in French (and not sac,le bleu), was a bona fide French swear word in medieval times. Back then, swear words were often tied to blasphemy. The origins of sacrebleu are debated, but it probably comes from sacré bleu – “sacred bruise,” as in a sacred wound of Christ. To use this as a simple expression of surprise or anger was not cool at the time.
Over the centuries, however, French swear words veered into sexual acts or lack of intelligence territory. This phenomenon has been observed by linguists in other languages (including English), as well. If you’re intrigued by the history and evolution of “bad words,” I highly recommend giving this Lexicon Valley podcast episode a listen.
All that to say, if you say sacrebleu to a French person today, they’ll probably stare at you, a bit confused. They definitely won’t be offended.
Okay, but what about zut?
Unlike sacrebleu, Zut and its common emphasizing phrase Zut alors! are used by contemporary French people fairly often. But they don’t make the cut because they’re not really obscene. They’re the equivalent of “darn” and “Darn it!” in English.
Tabarnak – The Canadian French swear word
Each region, cultural group, and francophone country also has its own specific swear words – in addition, of course, to the standards on this list.
One of the most popular is the Canadian swear word tabarnak (side note: swear words in Quebecois often don’t follow that evolutionary rule about blasphemy – a number of them relate directly to Catholicism) which is a rough equivalent of “fuck.”
A few useful French insults
- Sa/ta race – The word race is a general term for a racial group or a breed of animal, but of course the connotation of the idea of “race” can make it a bit charged. This is probably why this word has also entered into the French swear words lexicon, although the phrases it’s associated with are insults unto themselves and not racist in connotation. Since these insults originated in the banlieue (the French equivalent of inner cities), it may simply have unfortunately been a term many of its originators were used to. Today, you’ll usually hear or see the phrase enculé de ta race or Nique ta race, whose meaning Urban Dictionary explains nicely.
- Salaud – A real son of a bitch. This word is always masculine; the feminine counterpart I’ve seen most often used is salope.
- Sale… “Dirty/Rotten”. Example: Sale gosse! (Rotten kid!)
- Salope – Bitch, slut, cow.
- Se taire – Shut up! Like its English counterpart, this isn’t so much obscene, as impolite. “Tais-toi” is the most common form.
You can find a lot more insults in the other article we wrote on the topic.
Some French curse words to know, but never use.
Personally, I love swear words and use them regularly. Armed with this list now you, too, can go forth and (when reasonable) pepper your conversation with them, if you choose. But there are some French swear words that I decided not to include on this list because they put something into the world that most of us don’t want there: hatred and prejudice.
It’s easy to find racial slurs in French, as well as insulting terms for members of the LBGT community, disabled people, women, people of various religious beliefs and other nationalities – well, just about anyone – simply by doing an online search. Depending on who you talk to and what media or entertainment you’re exposed to, you may know some already.
It’s not a good thing to use these words, especially today, when ignorance is rarely a real excuse. But it is important to recognize them, since they do make up a part of the language and social history of France, and so that you understand what’s being expressed in case anyone ever uses one of them when referring to you or a friend/loved one.
Probably the most common insults of this type are pédale (faggot – although depending on context, this can simply mean a bike pedal) and pédé (fag), which are also used as an alternative for “pussy”/ “poof”. I’m including these particular examples because they’re very widespread. This isn’t to say that French culture is particularly homophobic – unfortunately, you’ll find words like these in many languages, especially online. You’re likely to come across these terms at some point, but I hope you’ll never use them.
What are the most common French swear words?
As you’ve probably realized by now, the French tend to swear a lot. So it’s surprising that no major French survey seems to have been done regarding how frequently particular swear words are used.
Then again, this can be hard to gauge, since we all have our own personal vocabulary and some situations may call for modifying what words you use, etc.
Still, I want answers, don’t you?
The best I could find was the frequency chart included in this blog post (which is also an excellent piece unto itself), which puts merde as the most often uttered, followed distantly by putain, which kind of surprised me, since the French people I spend time with tend to use putain (or other words on my list) more.
So, take it with a grain of salt, maybe? The important takeaway, though, is that merde and putain are the king and queen of French curse words. If you only learn two, those are the two to know.
Note from Benjamin: the frequency list the French Together app is based upon also confirms that merde and putain are the most common French curse words.
Of course, the fun thing about curse words – like any vocabulary – is that, as long as they make sense in context, you can pick and choose the ones you like. Recognize the biggies, but feel free to build your own personalized French swear word repertoire!