11 ways to express shock or surprise in French

Someone just jumped out at you wearing a ghost costume? Seen something truly weird online? Here are 11 of the best ways to express your shock or amazement in colloquial French.

Surprise and shock in French language
Learned something surprising about France? Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Oh là là – a French cliché that is actually true, the French really do say oh là là and they say it a lot. We should point out though that it’s oh, not oooh, and it doesn’t mean that something is sexy or flirty, the way it is often used in English.

Oh là là can be either a good or a bad surprise while its stronger cousin oh là là là là là là (always 6) is usually bad. You’ll hear it a lot during sports commentary when a player has just missed an absolutely nailed on certainty of an open goal.

Oh là là, c’est magnifique ! Merci mille fois – Oh my god, it’s gorgeous! Thank you so much

READ ALSO How the French really use oh là là

Putain – France’s most versatile word strikes again, putain is used for all types of surprise – it’s usually for something bad but not exclusively.

How strong the word is really depends on how you say it, if you laughingly exclaim ‘Oh putain !‘ when your colleague taps you on the shoulder while you were daydreaming then that’s pretty mild.

If on the other hand the work experience kid spills boiling hot coffee in your lap and you scream ‘Argh, putain !‘ that basically says ‘I am very shocked and annoyed right now. Hide’.

La vache – A slightly more family friendly option is exclaiming ‘the cow’!

La vache is frequently used as an alternative to swearing if you’re in polite company or around kids. If you see something surprising or are shown an image that is bizarre then exclaiming ‘Oh, la vache !‘ is a good option that roughly means ‘Oh, I don’t believe it!’

Bon sang – Also more commonly heard from grandmothers and parents of small children is bon sang (good blood) which is roughly equivalent to ‘oh for heaven’s sake’ or ‘good grief’ and is therefore usually used in a negative way.

Bon sang ! Il a renversé du lait sur le sol – For heaven’s sake! He’s spilled milk all over the floor

Mon dieu – My god is used in roughly the same way as in English, to react to something surprising or unexpected, whether that is bad or good. The English expression OMG (Oh My God) is now very common online in France, and sometimes you’ll even hear French people saying ‘Oh my God’ in English at times of surprise.

Mon dieu, son diamant est énorme – My god, her diamond is enormous

Tu es sérieux, ou quoi ? – If you’re being told something that is so surprising that you just can’t believe it, you might ask ‘Are you serious, or what?’ or the shorter sérieusement – seriously? 

La langue française a un temps grammatical uniquement pour écrire des romans ? Tu es sérieux ou quoi ? – The French language has a grammatical tense purely for writing novels? You have got to be joking?

Tu blagues ? – similar to the above, you might also ask ‘are you joking’ or ‘are you kidding?’

Gérard Depardieu est candidat à l’élection présidentielle de 2022 ? Tu blagues ? – Gérard Depardieu is running for president in 2022? You’re kidding?

These two phrases are both used with ‘tu‘ because they are in general informal phrases used between friends. You could ask the fonctionnaire Vous êtes sérieux ? when he tells you that you need to fill out all your forms again, but it’s likely to come over as pretty rude with someone you don’t know so we wouldn’t advise it.

MDR – if you’re communicating by text messages or on social media and you want to convey that you’re laughing at something bizarre or surprising then you’ll want MDR – mort de rire (dead of laughing) – it’s the French equivalent of LOL and you’ll see it a lot on social media or in text messages or WhatsApp groups.

Je suis choqué(e) – if you want to literally say that you’re shocked by something, je suis choqué conveys that. Like its English translation it can also be used sarcastically to show that you’re not shocked at all and it’s probably more common in this context. 

Le gouvernement a augmenté les impôts après avoir promis de ne pas le faire ? Je suis choqué – The government has raised taxes after promising not to? I am shocked

Je n’en reviens pas – If you’re truly shocked, you can say ‘I’m not coming back from it’. Je n’en reviens pas is handy because as well as expressing your shock in the moment, you can also use it after the fact to show that you still can’t get over what you’ve witnessed or learned. 

J’ai vu les deux s’embrasser à côté de la Tour Eiffel. Je n’en reviens pas – I saw the two of them kissing by the Eiffel Tower. I’m still not over it.

C’est énorme ! – In French, you can say ‘It’s enormous!’ to describe something’s that’s great, like a huge piece of good news, or to express your surprise.

Les billets sont gratuits ? C’est enorme ! – The tickets are free? That’s amazing!

Sacre bleu – don’t bother with this one. Despite an apparent rule that all headlines about France in English-language newspapers must use the phrase sacre bleu it’s actually pretty rare in France.

It’s extremely old-fashioned so if you do hear it the speaker is likely to be quite elderly. Trying to slip it into conversation with a group of young people is a bit like exclaiming ‘cripes’ or ‘heavens to Betsy’ in English.

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The new French words added to the dictionary

The latest edition of France's Larousse dictionary set to be published this June, and it has announced it will add 150 new words.

The new French words added to the dictionary

Each year, France’s Larousse dictionary holds up a mirror to society, showing its evolution by making official the words and phrases that were most important in the year previous. This year, in preparation of its 2023 edition, the dictionary added 150 new words, which according to the publishing company, “testify to both the vitality and diversity of the French language.”

These are the words that have gotten people talking the most:

Covid long

After over two years of Covid-19, it is not surprising that a number of coronavirus-related words have entered the dictionary. “Covid long” refers to the condition of lingering Covid-19 symptoms, sometimes for weeks or months after infection. Other Covid-19 related words and phrases that are now included in the Larousse are: passe vaccinal (vaccine pass), passe sanitaire (sanitary pass), vaccinateur or vaccinatrice (vaccinator), vaccinodrome (vaccine center), and distanciel (at a distance).


The noun “wokisme,” which made headlines and sparked controversy this past year, is now defined by the Larousse as follows: “Woke-inspired ideology, centered on questions of equality, justice and the defense of minorities, sometimes perceived as an attack on republican universalism.”

Le séparatisme

Another word reflective of the political climate in France, “Séparatisme” has been added to the dictionary under the definition “the will of a minority, usually religious, to place its own laws above national legislation.” A lot of times, you will see this word in debates surrounding religion and immigration.


Grossophobie” is defined as “a hostile, mocking and/or contemptuous, even discriminatory, attitude towards obese or overweight people.” In English, this word is “fatphobia.”


The rise of tech and all things crypto is not specific to the anglophone word. Now, the English acronym, NFT, has made its way into the French dictionary, defined in French as “Les jetons non fongibles” (Non-fungible tokens). 


Finally, the Larousse dictionary added plenty of words with non-French origins, like “Halloumi” which is a type of cheese made from mixed goat and sheep’s milk that is originally from Cyprus.

The Larousse 2023 will also include other new words from different foreign languages, like konjac (a Japanese plant), kakapo (a New Zealand parrot), tomte (a Swedish elf) and yodel (a singing technique from the German-speaking Alps).

These are just a few of the 64,000 words that will be included in the 2023 version of the dictionary.