For members


Getting explicit: Your guide to how to swear like a French person

When it comes to foreign languages, everybody wants to learn the rude bits. But swearing in anything other than your mother tongue can be a tricky thing to get right. So here is our guide to fluent French swearing. Warning - contains (a lot of) explicit language.

Getting explicit: Your guide to how to swear like a French person
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

1. Putain

While the word's primary meaning would be 'hooker', putain is, to some French people, more of a punctuation sign than a swear word. This is basically the counterpart of the English 'fuck'.

Putain was made to express joy, anger, surprise, indignation and so much more you may as well adopt it immediately.

Putain, je suis admis dans l'université de mes rêves! – Fuck, I am accepted into my dream university!

Ce putain de train a encore du retard! – This fucking train is late again!

On a day-to- day basis, no one will be especially outraged to hear you swear by using putain but try not to overdo it: French people do love it, but even love has its limits. We love it too, so much so that we've written an entire article on it here.

READ ALSO The nine very best French insults (for use when you're very, very cross)

Got road rage? Let it all out in fluent French. Photo: AFP

2. Merde

Merde is probably the second most used swear word in France, just behind putain. This is both an insult and a swear word, or as the French people call it, un gros mot.

Tu n'es qu'une merde! – You are just a piece of shit!

Merde, j'ai oublié mes clés. – Shit, I forgot my keys.

So many expressions have derived from merde – such as verbs like merder or emmerder – it has become virtually impossible for a French person not to use it. 

Je t'emmerde! – Screw you!

Je comprends pas pourquoi ça a merdé – I don't understand why it went to shit.

While we concede that using merde wildly is a really tempting prospect, moderation will be key!

3. Branleur

Branleur is French for slacker, skiver or in a stronger usage wanker. The word derives from the verb branler, which is a slang synonym for 'to masturbate'. This is often used to describe young people who are a bit passive and lack energy.

Son fils est un branleur, il passe ses journées à jouer aux jeux vidéos – His son is a slacker, he spends his days playing video games.

French people sometimes have a tendency to ne rien branler, especially on weekends. It means 'do sod all' and has therefore nothing specifically to do with not masturbating.

Or in its strongest use it can be used to describe someone as a wanker, which is how Le Parisien translated English actor Hugh Grant's sweary rant about the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government.



4. Casse-couilles

A casse-couilles is a pain in the ass. In a more literal translation, this is someone so annoying they could crack someone's balls – casse means break, and couilles is a French slang word for testicles.

Cet exercice de maths est vraiment casse-couilles. – This math exercise is really tedious.

Mathieu est casse-couilles, toujours à faire des blagues! – Mathieu is a pain in the ass, always pranking us!

An alternative to this word is casse-burnes, as burnes is a slang word for balls as well.

You may have already heard this saying in another form, as French people tend to say Tu me casses les couilles! quite often. This literally means 'You are breaking my balls!'

Men and women alike can use it: this a genderless word, despite the expression referring to male privates. To convey the idea of annoyance is more important than the expression being a hundred percent accurate.

Casse-couilles is quite widespread and is considered as a rather acceptable swear word. Though you would want to avoid using this in front of your boss or call someone you barely know as a casse-couilles to their face.

But if you want to be polite, a more courteous way to use this expression would be to substitute couilles by pieds (feet) – resulting in casse-pieds.

5. Connard, connasse

Connard is derived from the well-known French word con. While the latter only means dumb, connard is much stronger than this. 

French people will use connard – and connasse for women – to insult someone having an awful behaviour, being entitled, obviously rude or lacking manners. France's drivers are particularly fond of this word: connard and connasse appear as go-to swear words when on the road.

Mais accélère, connard! – Step on it, moron!

Quelle connasse, elle est passée devant tout le monde – What a stupid bitch, she jumped in front of everyone in the queue.

Many French people tend to use the word to describe Parisians as well.

The cliché is so persistent a French comic candid camera series entitled Connasse – about a spectacularly rude and entitled Parisienne – became a huge hit and was turned into a film.

6. Salaud, salope

This one is quite tricky depending on whether you are using it to for a man or a woman. Salope to describe women and salaud to describe men have the same origin, but not the same meaning.

The word comes from a small bird called an hoppe, hoopoe. Having a reputation of being a dirty bird, French people coined up a saying by adding the adjective sale -dirty – to huppe, resulting in sale hoppe.

Soon enough, the deriving word salop was born, for French people to describe shabby persons (salop was the former spelling of the now salaud).

From the 1700s, the feminine version salope began being used to talk about prostitutes. Come to our days, where salope is still used to describe women considered to be of easy virtue.

While there is a strong sexual connotation in using salope, the masculine version of salaud  is not as insulting.

Quel salaud, il a trompé sa femme pendant deux ans – What a bastard, he cheated on his wife for two years.

Quelle salope, elle a trompé son mari pendant deux ans – What a slut, she cheated on her husband for two years.

The word carries more meaning when aimed towards women, so be careful what you mean if you decide to use it anyway.

7. Fils de pute

Here is the French version of son of a bitch. There is no need for further explanation here, just a fair warning that if you are looking for trouble, you will probably find it by calling a man fils de pute.

Va te faire voir, fils de pute! – Get lost, you son of a bitch!

Vous êtes une belle bande de fils de putes! – You all are a bunch of sons of bitches!

On the other hand, even if calling a woman a fille de pute would not be technically wrong, French people make no use of the expression's feminine version.

How about a few more polite alternatives?

Peau de vache

Une peau de vache is someone mean and hostile. Bizarrely translating to 'cow skin', the expression has been around since the 1880s.

C'est une peau de vache, elle ne me dit jamais bonjour! – She is a cow, she never says hello to me!

The expression is mainly used to talk about women, though you can still call a man une peau de vache.


The secret to abruti being an effective swear word while being relatively polite is the tone of your voice when pronouncing it. You have to really mean it,as it came from the bottom of your heart.

Il faut vraiment être abruti pour se tatouer un truc pareil! – You must be a real half-wit to get yourself a tattoo like this one!

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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.


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


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 


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 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.