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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Groin groin, coin coin and meuh – The weird things French animals say

So you think you speak French, but do you know what dogs, cows and pigs say?

Groin groin, coin coin and meuh - The weird things French animals say
Do you know what French pigs say? Photo: AFP

Ask a child what any animal says and they will most certainly know the answers. But ask a French and an English-speaking child the same questions, their responses will be quite different.

Just like French people, French animals 'speak' differently to English ones – sometimes they are more quirky and funnier, other times the sound hits the nail on the head in a way English expressions do not.

Here's a look at some of our favourites.

Cat – miaou, ronron

In French, meow is spelled miaou, but pronounced pretty much the same. When French cats meow, ils miaulentMiauler is the French verb for 'to meow'. Un chat miaule – a cat meows. 

The funnier version of cat-speak is the French version of 'purring'. In French, purring is called des ronronnements. 

Si le chat est bien content, il ronronne. – If the cat is really enjoying himself, he purrs.

Dog – wouf wouf/ouaf ouaf

Depending on whether we are talking about those deep barks of a big dog, or the sharp yelps of a tiny dog, dogs in France say wouf wouf or oaf oaf when they aboie – bark.

But dogs can also grogner (to growl), or even hurler (howl). J'ai peur des chiens qui grognent. – I'm afraid of dogs growling dogs.

You may recall that Tintin's dog Snowy says wooah wooah – but he's Belgian. In the French-language version of the comics, Snowy is named Milou.

Rooster – cocorico

In English speaking countries, roosters crow. In France, they chante – sing – a quite lenient way to describe what others would just call noise.

READ ALSO How a noisy cockerel exposed France's rural and urban divide 

As you may know, le coq gaulois – the Gallic rooster – is France's unofficial national symbol, and the French national football team's shirts all have tiny cockerels sewn in on them.

Alors, que dit le coq ? What, does the coq say?

Cocorico ! That's the French equivalent of cock-a-doodle-doo', which is pronounced cock-o-ricoooh.

French President Emmanuel Macron is petting one of the cows at France's annual agricultural affair, back in February. Photo: AFP

Cow – meuh

In English, cows moo.

In French, la vache mugit – the cow moos. Lorsqu'une vache mugit, elle dit meuh. – When a cow moos, she says 'meuh'.

Meuh is pronounced with a flat 'e' instead of the 'oo'. If you know basic French, you know the difference between a 'é' and an 'e', and it's this latter you use when pronouncing meuh. Just like meuf (chick, the female human, not the bird).

Duck – coin coin 

French ducks don't quack, at least not like the English ones do. In French, ducks say coin coin instead, which looks odd, but is actually pronounced 'kwa kwa'. The verb is cancaner (to quack), which also can mean ‘to gossip’.

Chicken – cot cot codet

In France, a chicken says cot cot codet, not cluck-cluck. If you're wondering how that's pronounced you should listen to the song in the video below by Professor Choron, a French comedian.

 
Pig – groin groin

French pigs' version of oink oink is groin groin, which is perhaps the oddest of all these animal expressions, especially to Anglophones, who know 'groin' as a more sensitive part of the body.

Donkey – hi han

When it comes to donkey sounds however, France has gotten it spot on. Compared to the British 'eeyore', hi han (pronounced hee-haw) is much truer to what donkeys actually sound like (video below).

Not all English versions of the terrible noise that donkeys produce are that far off, the Americans say 'hee-haw', just like the French pronounce hi han.

Turkey – glou-glou

In France, a turkey's gobble gobble is called glouglouter. When a turkey glougloute, they say glou-glou (gobble gobble in English). It's called le cri de la dinde – the turkey's scream.

Sheep – bêê

The French equivalent of baaa is broadly similar, French sheep say bêê.

The verb is bêler – to bleat.

Although the French describe dull or unoriginal people as comme des moutons (like sheep) in the same way as in English, there is no tradition of making a sheep noise at someone to suggest they are a dullard, so we would suggest you refrain from making bêê bêê noises in public, you will just make yourself look strange. 

Goat – bêê

And last but not least, French goats also say bêêUne chèvre béguète – a goat baas.

Member comments

  1. Ever since I learned in South America that roosters go “co-co-ro-co” or “qui-qui-ri-qui” this topic has fascinated me. Thanks for the article. A related question: when food is good, English speakers say “yum!” French speakers say “Miam!”

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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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