A touchy subject: Touché isn’t the same in French and English

Many of us change, at least a little, after we travel abroad. The same can be said for the word touché.

Touché is a French word that’s found its way into English. For Anglophones, saying “Touché” either  means “You hit me with the tip of your foil” if you’re fencing  or “Wow, that was the perfect retort/You made a really good point.”

But as is often the case with words adopted into other languages, touché isn’t always used the same way in French as it is in English.

Let’s look at the meaning of touché in French – or, rather, meanings, since there are quite a few.

How do you say “Touché!”  in French?

A person in a reddish brown plaid shirt or jacket over a black shirt sits at a desk. The wall behind them is painted a dark blue and there is a painting on another wall. Beside them on the desk is a plant. But most notable is the fact that this person is wearing a plastic or possibly paper geometric looking Cthulu mask.
<<Si je porte ça, aucune fille ne voudra sortir avec moi.>>

Touché can have lots of meanings in French. But only one of those – touché as a fencing term – is the same in English.

In French, touché isn’t typically used to express “nice one” or “fair enough” in French. It may be possible, depending on the situation – maybe some fencing champions are bantering? – but it’s not really a thing. So, how do you express this way of using  touché in French?

Depending on things like the situation and who’s speaking, there are a number of ways to express it. The most typical ones are bien vu or très juste.  

For example:

Si je porte ça, aucune fille ne voudra sortir avec moi.

If I wear this, no girl will want to go out with me.

Aucune fille ne veut sortir avec toi actuellement de toute façon.

No girl wants to go out with you now anyway.

Très juste.

Touché.

What does touché mean in French?

A woman types on the keyboard of a laptop computer. Her phone and a pen are on the desk further away. She is wearing a dark blue sweater and her nails are painted a cobalt blue color that I must find for my own nails! Her blonde hair falls to about chest-length on one side. We only see to about her shoulders.

Touché doesn’t mean quite the same thing in French as it does in English. So, what does it mean in French?

Outside of fencing, touché isn’t likely to be a stand-alone word or interjection in French.

Touché is a participle of the verb toucher, which has several meanings. Because it’s an adjective or participle, there are times when touché will have to agree with another part of a phrase or sentence. So you will sometimes have to write it: touchée, touchés, or touchées.

For instance: 

Ma grand-mère m’a dit, « Ton film m’a vraiment touchée. »  (My grandma told me, ‘Your film really moved me’.)

Elles sont touchées par la crise sanitaire. (They’re affected by the health crisis.)  

Here are the most common ways you’ll see touché used in French:

To be physically touched or hit by something

This is where the fencing term touché comes from – literally, to be touched by the tip of the fencing foil. In French, touché can extend to other weapons, as well. For instance: Elle a été touchée par 5 balles. (She was hit by five bullets.)

To physically touch something or someone

Note that in French, toucher often tends to be replaced by a more precise verb, for instance palper, caresser, tatonner, etc.

Ex: Quand le gardien ne regardait pas, Sam a touché le trône de Napoléon. (When the museum guard wasn’t looking, Sam touched Napoleon’s throne.)

With this definition in mind, as well as the “hitting” one, a button on a keyboard or phone is called une touche.

To be emotionally affected by something

This is the equivalent of the English “touched” or “moved”.  For instance, Son cadeau m’a touché. (His present really moved/touched me.) 

By extension, you can also transform touché into the gerund touchant: Ils ont trouvé le livre plûtot touchant. (They found the book pretty moving.)

To be affected by something in a non-physical way, usually in a negative sense

In the French press, you’ll often see statements like La ville a été touchée par la crise. (The city has been hit by the financial crisis.). 

To come into money/to earn money/to receive benefits

Toucher can sometimes be used as a past participle or adjective when referring to coming into or earning money.  For instance, Ils ont touché 10.000 euros d’allocations cette année. (They got 10,000 euros of benefits this year.)

To get to a certain point/to arrive/to reach

La navette a touché le sol. (The space shuttle has touched the ground.)


You can find other meanings and uses of the verb toucherin this Word Reference entry.

The other toucher

A woman's hand with a metal bracelet decorated with a spiral shape holds out her hand to gently touch the pink blossoms of a plant that are all around her. They seem to sworl into the background.

Related to touché and toucher is the noun le toucher. This is the French word for “sense of touch”.

The verb se toucher

When toucher becomes a reflexive verb, watch out! It can be used in an innocent way, to show placement, for instance: Les deux parties du jardin se touchent (The two parts of the garden touch each other/are connected). 

But most of the time it means “to touch oneself” and of course that usually means touching one’s naughty bits!


So there’s the difference between touché in English and touché in French. The overall takeaway is that touché is more or less the equivalent of touch or touch on in English, with a few exceptions.

I’ll leave you with a quote that I hope touches you – and helps you remember one of its most common uses:

Les hommes d’imagination sont souvent plus touchés des petites choses que des grandes. (Men of imagination are often more moved by the small things than the big ones.)- Victor Cherbuliez

Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.

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