P*****! My arms are falling off!

There are many ways to express surprise in French – how many do you know?

10 November 2016
By Jessica Smith

MANY people in France probably woke to express surprise at the news that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. Some may even have uttered oaths very different to the one used at his inauguration on January 20, 2017.

Here we look at some ways you can express surprise in French and some expressions you may hear.

Les bras m’en tombent: You could have knocked me down with a feather (literally meaning ‘my arms are falling off in shock’)

Ca m'a troué le cul: Similar to above, but less polite. Literally, ‘it perforated my bum’

J’en suis tombé(e) sur le cul: I’m gobsmacked, or literally ‘I fell on my backside’

Mon Dieu! ‘Oh My God’

Putain! This is the most commonly-used swear-word, and can cover an impressive range of reactions from surprise, shock and disappointment to awe and joy. It is not suitable for polite company. In text speak it can be abbreviated to ‘put1’ or ‘pt1’. It literally means ‘prostitute’.

Zut! The shortened version of zut alors, meaning ‘damn’

Ca m’étonne I’m astonished

Incroyable! Unbelievable

Oh là là! Yes, people actually do say this

Tiens! A gentle expression meaning something like ‘well how about that!’ (other polite expressions include flute! and mince!, which roughly mean ‘crumbs!’ and ‘drat it!’)

Ce n’est pas possible! It’s impossible !

Ce n’est pas vrai! It can’t be true !

Comment? ‘What’s that?’ or ‘pardon?’

Quoi? The direct form of ‘what?’

And one not to use…
Sacré bleu! – This expression became known through the Tintin comics and Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and was picked up by the British media. However, no-one actually uses it in France any more. It literally means ‘sacred blue’, with the word blue being used to replace dieu (God) in an effort to avoid blasphemy. It was once considered offensive, but its modern English equivalent would be something like ‘Oh my goodness’ or ‘golly gosh’. 

Do you know any other French expressions to express surprise and shock? Please let us know if we have missed any off our list…

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