French Expressions: “Du coup,” “D’un coup” or…?

Bonjour !

French adverbs like “du coup” can look complicated. Because they are!

By the way, what’s this word “coup,” exactly? How do you pronounce it? Can you really use it in fifteen different ways? Can you make an embarrassing mistake if you use it wrong? (Yes you can!)

“Coup” is a useful word, a bit like the Top 10 Most Useful Words in French we’ve seen. However, it’s not as straightforward as most of these: it’s also an adverb with many subtleties, like the different translations of “for” in French. Let’s dive in today’s “hit” episode!

1. French expressions: “un coup” – literally

Literally, un coup is a blow, like a punch or a kick.

Il m’a donné un coup!
He just hit me!

-> The final “p” is silent!

(“Le coup” sounds like “le cou,” the neck, and “le coût,” the cost!)

You can be more precise:
Un coup de poing, a punch (“le poing” is a fist),
Un coup de pied, a kick,
Un coup de genou, a knee kick…

Or you can be more abstract:
Un coup du sort is a misfortune–literally, “being hit by Fate.”
Un coup au moral is a blow to one’s optimism…

Coup-de-poing can also be an adjective, that means “decisively, with force and surprise.” It could be imperfectly translated as “shock and awe.” A French close synonym is “choc” as an adjective.

It’s usually used for une opération coup-de-poing: a raid, a sweep, blitz operations…
They can be police operations, or some massive marketing events, or even for media stunts.

Also, un coup-de-poing américain (“an American punch”) is the French idiom for brass knuckles.

2. French idioms: “un coup” – figuratively

So many French idioms use “un coup,” it’s a long list of expressions!

Un coup de pouce (literally “a thumb punch”) = “a little help.”

Michel m’a donné un coup de pouce dans mes devoirs.
Michel gave me a little help with my homework.

Un coup de main (“a hand kick”) = “some help.”

Tu peux me filer un coup de main pour ranger la maison ?
Can you give me hand to clean up the house?

Un coup de téléphone = un coup de fil = un appel téléphonique = a phone call.

Baisse le son, je dois passer un coup de fil.
Turn down the volume, I have to make a phone call.

Un coup de soleil = sunburn.
It’s also a great song in French, where the singer uses the expression and creates new variations on that French expression!

Less poetically: by itself, “un coup” can also mean “un coup médiatique” “a media stunt.”
“Un gros coup” is a big opportunity. It can be both secret and/or illegal.

_“Un petit coup” is much more pleasant: it’s a drink! And a popular song, as well:

Allez, viens boire un petit coup à la maison !
Come on, come have a drink at home!
(Boire un coup means to have a drink.)

Finally, there’s another expression that doesn’t have a great translation: faire les quatre cents coups, “to make the four hundred blows”, or “four hundred tricks.” It means to be a bit wild, especially in your youth, and often with a friend.

C’est mon copain Michel, avec lui j’ai fait les quatre cents coups.
This is my friend Michel, we had a wild youth together.

And, of course, the best French expression:

Le coup de foudre = “thunder’s blow,” which means love at first sight!

Which is a good segue to that next line!

Embarrassing mistake you should probably avoid: in common, everyday colloquial speech, un bon coup is “a good lay.”

Misconception you might have: the English word “a coup” (when a previous ruler is illegitimately replaced) comes from the French language, it’s true. But in current French, we would use the expression un coup d’État.

Don’t mistake it with une coupe, which can be a cup or more commonly, a haircut!

Hey, sympa ta coupe.
Hey, your haircut looks nice!

Un coup de feu is a gunshot. In a restaurant, it’s also a colloquial name for the period of intense activity in the kitchen when the customers start coming in.

Un coup de fusil is a shot from a rifle. Un coup de pistolet is a shot from a handgun.
Un coup de balai, however, is not a shot from a broom (“un balai”). Instead, it’s a sweep on your floor. It can also be used figuratively, for a clean-up campaign.

Il faut passer un coup de balai au Sénat, il y a de la poussière.
Someone should sweep up the Senate, it’s dusty.

Il faut passer un coup de balai au Sénat, tout le monde est corrompu.
We need to clean up the Senate, everyone there is corrupt.

More positive, un coup de cœur is a crush on something, that you love at first sight. For reasons, it’s mostly used for a house you immediately want to buy–but it can apply to other products as well.

Le groupe de reggae, c’était mon coup de cœur du festival!
The reggae band was my real favorite in the whole festival!

And finally, tenir le coup means to hold out, to endure, to cope.

Ça va, les examens finaux ? Tu tiens le coup ?
How are you, with the finals? Are you holding on?

Heureusement que j’ai des amis pour tenir le coup.
I’m happy to have friends, to cope.

3. French adverbs: D’un coup / Tout à coup / Du coup

D’un coup means “at once, in one sitting, in one gulp.”

Il a fini son verre d’un coup.
He finished his glass in one gulp.

It’s very close to tout à coup, “suddenly, without warning.”

Oh non, il pleut tout à coup !
Oh no, it’s raining suddenly!

Du coup means “thus, consequently.” Something like: “So…”

Du coup, on va pas à la plage ?
So, we’re not going to the beach?

Coup sur coup

These adverbs might seem tricky to understand, or to separate. However:
1 – Don’t worry, French people themselves often mistakenly use one for another.
2 – These adverbs, especially “du coup,” are used all the time.

Euh, du coup, on fait quoi ? J’ai faim, du coup. On mange, du coup ?
So, what do we do? Because now I’m hungry. So, shall we eat?

They’re really more like a punctuation, at this point. They’re very idiomatic. So try and use them! It’s the thought that count, really. Even if you make mistakes, with a well-placed “du coup” you’ll look like a true French person–and you won’t be seen as “just a tourist” anymore.

It can finally give you the confidence to start talking across the language and cultural barriers, from person to person!

Et toi ?

What other French word do you have trouble using?

Bonne journée,
Géraldine

Join the conversation!

  • Alors c’est ça le sens de l’expression éponyme du film Les quatre cents coups avec Jean Pierre Leaud . Je savais pas ,merci.

  • I would like to see an episode on ‘rien’ – I think this word is used alot and in different settings, like ‘rien à dire’, ‘rien à voir’, etc. There seems to be a unique emphasis on with these phrases. ‘Je ne dis pas’ vs. ‘rien à dire’.

  • Thanks again Geraldine. I now understand the meaning of the title of the Truffaut film Les 400 coups. And how about a coup d’oeil

  • Geraldine, this is a very helpful lesson. You always pack a lot of value into a very short session. The last bit about “du coup” is great, I’ve started recognising this fragment when overhearing people’s chatter. Like “quand meme”, it seems one of those little ‘fillers’ people use to make talk friendly. I hope you will keep up your lessons in English, though. Perhaps a three-to-one (E>F) ratio would be less likely to discourage beginners than a cliff-edge transition?

  • Au debut, quand je suis arrivée pour habiter en France, chez la coiffeuse, j’ai toujours damandé, un petit coup !!! Heureusement, quelqu’un m’ai corrigé !

  • I liked your all-in-French episode, and having the text below would be particularly helpful for that. However, I also understand that you are trying to cater for a whole range of ability levels, so maybe a regular (say monthly) French episode could work? More work for you, but a few exercises, or pieces of French text, at the end of some episodes that are in English might be helpful for more advanced people.

    Regarding words or phrases to include, I wonder if couplets of words that sound similar but mean different things might be helpful, such as cou and (a bit rude) cul, dessous and dessus, pull(over) and poulet. My daughter caused a friend’s child great amusement by telling him to put his chicken on!

  • was taking an online test in French using du and in the sentence-Julie veut du chocolat- and the correct answers were both-Julie veut du chocolat.” means:
    Julie wants some chocolate.
    and
    Julie wants chocolate.
    ????
    I don’t understand why it would mean both things and why use the word for some if you don’t really want to say it in the sentence. Does my question make sense?

  • Coup-coup Géraldine. 🙂
    I think a written lesson would be a better idea if the lesson was in french. And that would be a good idea.
    Yes, I know why it is in english, but I would like it better in french anyway. 😉

      • Moi aussi, je préférais que la leçon soit en français, avec la leçon écrite bien sûr!
        Merci Géraldine

        • As a native English speaker still learning the nuances, I thoroughly appreciate the lessons in English with explanations.
          Thanks so so so much Geraldine for always supplying us with the most useful lessons!!

  • I am completely confused about how to use the reflexive verb “s’agir” in different contexts. I would love an episode on this! Merci Géraldine!

  • was taking an online test in French using du and in the sentence-Julie veut du chocolat- and the correct answers were both-Julie veut du chocolat.” means:
    Julie wants some chocolate.
    and
    Julie wants chocolate.
    ????
    I don’t understand why it would mean both things and why use the word for some if you don’t really want to say it in the sentence. Does my question make sense?

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