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French Expression of the Day: Ta gueule

The Local France
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French Expression of the Day: Ta gueule
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you hear this French expression, it’s a good indicator that an argument is moving out of the “agree to disagree” phase and into full blown confrontation.

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Why do I need to know ta gueule?

Because it is one of the French language’s most common and basic verbal attacks, and knowing it will help you to understand when a situation is becoming tense.

What does it mean?

Ta gueule - roughly pronounced tah guhl - is usually an unpleasant or aggressive way to tell someone to shut up. While some might use it while joking around, you should beware that this phrase can be quite offensive. 

As far as the origins of the word - gueule means ‘muzzle’ or ‘maw’, and is a colloquial, often pejorative way of referring to either someone’s mouth, like ‘gob’ or ‘trap’, or their whole face, like ‘mug’ or ‘kisser’.

The phrase ta gueule is a shortened form of ferme ta gueule, meaning ‘shut your gob’ or ‘shut your face’. The longer version is often seen as more offensive, and when combined with bien (as in 'Ferme bien ta gueule') it is considered to be quite rude.

Ta gueule, the most frequently used variation, is most often translated as ‘shut up!’

While there’s really no way to politely ask someone to shut their mouth and stop talking, it can be done less aggressively.

The reflexive verb se taire means to ‘keep quiet’, and the commands tais-toi or taisez-vous - ‘be quiet’ - could foreseeably be uttered by an irritated school teacher.

Replacing the word gueule with bouche, as in ferme ta bouche (‘shut your mouth’) makes the phrase slightly less combative, though still not exactly pleasant. This will sometimes be shortened to ta bouche, ferme-la or la ferme, translatable as ‘shut it’.

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Finally, there’s ta gueule, la mouette or vos gueules, les mouettes ! Meaning, ‘shut it, seagull(s)’, and this reproach is a little bit gentler and more comical, making it preferable if you don’t want to hurt anyone's feelings.

Use it like this

T’as vu? Le PSG a perdu à nouveau hier soir! / Ta gueule! - ‘Did you see? PSG lost again last night!’ / ‘Shut up!’

Arrête de me donner des instructions depuis la banquette arrière. Ta gueule! - Stop giving me directions from the back seat. Shut up!

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Comments (1)

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Iain 2023/10/17 15:18
I remember being taught this phrase in grammar school over 60 years ago. It was, said our teacher Reggie Moss, not to be used in normal conversation and should be confined to parents telling young children to be quiet. Incidentally Le Prof, although a distinctly liberal progressive, would have been (ah, the future perfect always a problem in French) horrified by the modern newspaper practice of using words like 'actor' for both genders. "If there's a feminine noun what's wrong with using it?"

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