French Curseword of the Day: Putain!

putain – (poo-TUH)

The French use (and overuse) “putain” so it’s a great word to start sprinkling into your English.

What Does Putain Mean?

Putain literally refers to a prostitute, but the interjection, “putain!” is closer to a more profane version of “damn!” The French use this word so frequently, however, that even though they may use it in every other sentence, the average Parisian will not even notice it.

How To Use Putain

-At the beginning of a sentence:

“Putain, the traffic this morning has been awful…”

-As an adjective:

“This putain de voiture (poo-TUH duh vwa-TOUR – lit, “whore of a car”) kept honking at me…”

-As an interjection:

(upon seeing the “parking lot full sign”) “Ah, putain!”

Use Your Discretion

Putain is an incredibly common word and frequently finds its way into casual conversation despite its negative literal meaning. However, like most slang, use some discretion when speaking with:

-An Older French Person
-A French Business Colleague You’ve Just Met
-Someone of Distinguished Stature

Do you curse in French? Other languages that aren’t your native tongue? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. allison b-t says:

    thank you for this!! i have heard this expletive in many a french film and a) my american ears have always heard it as “pLu-ton” and b) i thought it was more on par with the ‘f’ word. i have learned something new today and am a better francophile for it. 😉

    • Emily Grossman says:

      Haha, you’re so welcome, Allison! I’m glad it was useful! It is definitely more on-par with the F-word in terms of English usage — in English you never say, “Prostitute!” as an undirected exclamatory remark, but you might say, “F*ck!” The literal meanings are different, but depending on the context, the intentions can be the same.

      Unlike Americans with the f-word though, many Parisians use “putain” in every other sentence… it’s kind of a curseword, but it’s almost just filler these days!

  2. When I was little from grades 1-8 I was in French immersion and we had one kid who was born in France. He went back every summer and we would be dying to know some curse words in French but he only taught us “merde.”
    As for my everyday curse words I tend to say “Shiza” a german curse word – I especially like to say Shiza Minnelli, a play on Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli. It’s my own serenity now lol.


    • Sumdude says:

      I am part german, 13, and have never, ever heard that word before. Does it mean shit? Because the it would be Scheiße, pronounced shai- (ai like shanghAI) ce (like CElebraty).

  3. cherry says:

    I had a bf who usually said o putain se bon while we had sex , so I asked him what it and he told me but I did believe till read this article. Thanks

    • Emily Grossman says:

      Haha, you’re welcome! You know, I’ve definitely said that same phrase, too, but usually with regard to an amazing glass of Bordeaux. “Damn, that’s good!” 😉

  4. Djidiouf says:

    “putain” can also be a synonym of “incredible”/”terrific”
    Ex: “he has brought his new car yesterday, it’s really a *putain* de car!”

    “Putain” is often associated to “de merde” like in “putain de merde” which can be a sign of:
    – astonishment
    – annoyance

    In fact, in all those uses, we, the frenchs, don’t ever think about the origin of the word (meanning “prostitute”). And if you name a prostitute a “putain”, it’s a bit old-fashioned, you must use “pute” instead.

  5. Lauren says:

    I’m cajun (from the French speaking region of Louisiana), so growing up my grandmother would call me or any pets “putain” whenever we’d get into any mischief. I always thought of it as an affectionate term, until I realized she was actually calling me a bitch. Now I’m insulted, though it’s definitely delayed, ha!

  6. Janice says:

    I swear in Japanese and Spanish. 😉
    Teme (b*st*rd) and kuso (damn) for Japanese, and joder (f*ck) for Spanish.

  7. Putain says:

    Ta gueule fils de pute. Tu vas manger la grosse bite.

    • Pierre says:

      @Putain: Je pense que tu as 10 a 12 ans, que tu n’as jamais vu de putain ailleurs que sur les sites porno que tu fréquentes assidument, et que tu aimes faire des appels anonymes aux amies de ta mère. Un jour, tu seras peut-être un homme, mais d’ici là, essaye de rester poli avec les grandes personnes s’il te plait. Merci.

  8. Zimbolaktus says:

    “Putain” is just as rude as “Fuck” so we could finally say : “draw” = “1-1″

  9. Chapina says:

    The Spanish version of this word (puta) has the same meaning and almost the same spelling.

  10. Mary says:

    I may have to bookmark this site because I’m reading a new book, the Alice Network, which mostly takes place in France in two timelines, 1915 and 1947. It is about women spies and some of their language is quite colorful. Already, I’ve picked up merde (which also can be used in ballet. Who knew?) and tais-toi. I’m about halfway through it and I really enjoy it so far. Thanks for your translation.


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