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Seven ways to say ‘I’m tired’ in French and their unusual origins

Show off your French language skills with some interesting phrases, from past and present, to express how tired you are

Woman falling asleep at her desk, head leaning on her hand

Several ways to say I’m tired in French Pic: fizkes/Shutterstock

One of the earliest French phrases we learn at school, and one which English-speaking residents in France use with regularity and confidence, is Je suis fatigué (‘je suis fatiguée if you are female) – meaning “I am tired”. Je suis épuisé(e) is another easy one to employ.

But with a little application, you can impress your neighbours as you make your excuses to leave for home after a long soirée: just add a little linguistic flourish to your expression of bed-readiness by learning a few elegant and charming expressions from yesteryear.

Read more: Être aux anges and more French ‘happy’ expressions

Read more: Faire la grasse matinée and more French sleep phrases

Just as we might say “I am on my knees” to express serious fatigue, the French are a little more specific: être sur les rotules is translated literally as “being on one’s kneecaps” – the French word for patella borrowed from the medieval Latin rotula, meaning – very cutely – “little wheel”. 

You can also use the adjective fourbu to explain your physical fatigue – ie. je suis fourbu which comes from the old French verb: soi forboire, which back then meant “to drink with excess, to get tired of drinking too much”. Today’s usage does not refer to having drunk too much, though. It just means worn out.


You can use the common phrase like je suis claqué(e) – “I’m beat” or “I’m bushed”. The word claque is onomatopoeic, from the klakk sound, and can refer to a short, firm slap (also called une gifle).

En avoir sa claque is an extension of this – it means “I have had enough”, or “I can’t take any more”. But back in the 19th century, it meant “to be satiated” – in Picardy, for instance, the claque in question referred to a measure of milk sizeable enough to render one full and satisfied!

Finally, a well-used, but very informal phrase is Je suis crevé(e) - “I’m knackered“ or “I’m dog tired“. The verb crever means to burst or puncture, so you are in fact saying you're flat and have nothing left inside. The same goes for “Je suis vidé(e) - literally “ I’m emptied“ !

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