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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

How to get really angry in French: Useful verbal missiles

To avoid you being lost for words and having to resort to rude gestures or English insults here are some useful verbal missiles for when you get angry in French. WARNING: Use with caution.

How to get really angry in French: Useful verbal missiles
Photo: AFP

One of the hardest things about living abroad is not knowing what to say when you get into a heated argument with a local, as inevitably happens from time to time.

Especially in France where a good old verbal rumpus is seen as both healthy and a sign of intelligence. 

Although The Local’s official advice is to take a deep breath, hold your tongue and go and calm down in a bar with a verre de vin, sometimes it’s impossible not to get angry, it is a Latin country after all.

So we feel it is our duty to show you how, even though much of what follows is highly insulting and should be used in extreme caution (or freely whilst watching football).

For a start, forget about saying “sacre bleu!” or “zut alors” because pretty much no one does.

If you are going to get angry in French, by far the most important word you will need is “putain”. Putain is so important that it’s gets its own article – read here.

There’s also “merde”, which means “shit”, a lovely word to shout out every time you step in a merde de chien on the pavements of Paris.

(Dominic Summers/flickr)

You might also hear the French shouting the word “Salope!” at someone, which means “bitch”. 

And many locals will mutter or blurt out one of the following: con, conasse or conard, which depending on the sex of the person they are talking about basically means “asshole” (conasse for a woman).

But many of the French ways of expressing anger at someone are more inventive. For example…

Lâche-moi les baskets! / Lâche-moi la grappe!

Literally translates as “Let go of my trainers” and “Let go of my bunch” it is used in French to say “Leave me alone!” or “Get out of my hair!”

The first originates from the first version of the expression which referred to basques, the lower parts on a tailcoat. More recently it's been adapted to today's fashion, where baskets (trainers) are much more in vogue.

The latter, let go of my bunch, doesn't need as much explaining, you've figured it out.

“Tu me prends la tête”

Literally – “You’re taking my head.” As in, “You’re doing my head in” or “You’re wrecking my head.” Useful when someone is so stupid, or loud, or repetitive that it actually hurts.

(Photo: Lbtve/Youtube)

Va te faire cuire un oeuf!

To mildly tell someone in French to “p*ss off and leave me alone” you can kindly instruct them to go and cook an egg. The equivalent of go fly a kite, in English.

Tu me casses les pieds! / Tu me casses les bonbons / Tu me casses les couilles!

You can “break” many things when you get on the nerves of a French person. Depending on their patience, they'll tell you that you're breaking either their feet, their sweets (a gentle reference for the following), or perhaps more predictably, their balls.

T’occupe!

A shortened version of “Ne t’occupe pas”, as in “Don’t worry about that” but what it really means is “Mind your own damn business!” This phrase is so short and sharp that it should stop a potential dispute dead in its tracks, or frighten the life out of anyone reading your newspaper over your shoulder on the Metro.

And there are other more imaginative versions of saying the same thing.

(Mark Peterson/Flickr)

Et ta soeur elle bat le beurre?

If someone is being too indiscreet and you basically want to them to mind their own business there's no better way to do it than sarcastically asking whether their “sister spends time whisking butter”. Alternatively you could just blurt out “Et ta Soeur!”

And in the same vein you could also say…

Est-ce que je te demande si ta grand-mère fait du vélo?

Similarly to the inquiry about their sister, “do I ask about whether your grandmother rides a bike?” can be addressed to an impertinent person, to tell them to mind their own business. A shorter equivalent is “Je t'en pose des questions?” – do I ask you loads of questions?

Tu me gonfles! 

“You're inflating me” – Can be seen as someone getting on your nerves so much that they're inflating you and you're about to explode. If you add the possessive to it by saying “tu me les gonfles” (you're blowing mine up), it will subtly refer to the male genitalia. Alternatively “ca me gonfle!” just means “it's pissing me off”.

(Tnarik Innael/Flickr)

La moutarde me monte au nez!

If you really want to warn someone you are about to get angry you can tell them the mustard (wholegrain Dijon probably) is rising up your nose.

Arrête ton cinéma!

Make yourself clear that they must stop exaggerating and tell someone to stop their cinema. Has the advantage of also working with a calmer voice and still sounding firm.

Tu me rends dingue!

A good one to use when you have had enough. The word “dingue” which means a “freak” or a “nutcase” gives away the meaning of this often used and useful phrase, which in English is basically “you are driving me crazy”.

Ta gueule!

“Shut up!” Not the politest expression in French, but nevertheless it might come in handy if you can't get to sleep at night because of your noisy neighbours.

Dégage!

A fairly acceptable way of telling someone to get lost.

Casse toi pauvre con

This expletive was made famous by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, when he muttered it to a French farmer in ear shot of the TV cameras. “Get lost you sad idiot” is one of the many possible translations. “Casse toi” on its own also works.

Tu m’emmerdes

Literally means “you're filling me with shit”. This one is suitable to blurt out when that stiff upper lip finally cracks and you boil over. It basically means “you are really pissing me off now”. 

And another version of the same angry expression is…

Tu me fait chier…

It has a similar direct translation in that it means “you make me shit” but is not used to shout at the restaurant owner whose steak tartare gave you a terrible gastro… it's used more to shout at a driver who is driving right up your backside. Or just “fait chier” means “it's pissing me off!”

And on the same note…

A more polite version of “fait chier” is “ça me soûle” (literally “it gets me drunk”), which is very often used by teenagers, especially during fights with their parents.

C’est à moi que tu parles?

“Are you talking to me?” This is an aggressive way to assert your authority over someone.

For the example par excellence of how to pull this off in French, check out this clip of Vincent Cassel’s performance in the cult French film La Haine. This scene may be familiar to some as an homage to Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. 

Tu veux ma photo?

Okay, maybe they don't use this one anymore. It translates as “Do you want my picture?” as in “What are you looking at?” and is often used by children, but can sound a little ridiculous coming from anyone else.

Tu as fumé la moquette!

Literally “You smoked the carpet too much.” Also slightly cheesy and outdated, but it's a great way of saying “what are you on, have you gone mad!”

For example: “Tu veux regarder le match?” might be met with a “Tu as trop fumé la moquette, ma cherie!” – Do you want to watch the match? You've gone mad darling!

Va te faire foutre

This is probably as rude as it gets in French and must be used with extreme caution. Although if you are angry, indeed very angry and you really feel the need to tell someone the equivalent of “Go f**k yourself”, then this is for you.

By James Vasina

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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