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French Expressions Using "Coup De"

written by: Jenn Mercer • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 9/4/2012

Understand how the French expression "coup de" is used throughout the French language, both directly and idiomatically. Study these phrases so that you can tell the difference between "coup de tonnerre," a thunderbolt, and "coup de foudre," not lightning, but love at first sight.

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    Knock; Blow; Strike

    The French word coup means “knock" or “blow." However it is used in French expressions much more often than this humble meaning would suggest. A few of these French expressions such as“coup d’état" and “coup de grâce" have even been adopted into English, but there are far more in use in French. Some expressions using "coup de" are simple to decipher, but others are more idiomatic. By mastering these "coup de" expressions, you can learn how to communicate in French on subjects from sports to weather.

    The simplest of these expressions are the most straightforward–“coup de coude," or elbow blow, means “nudge"and “coup de pinceau" means “ brush stroke." Nonetheless, some of the most interesting French idiomatic expressions use this phrase as well. One romantic example is “coup de foudre." This literally means “lightning strike," but it is best translated as “love at first sight." In a similar vein, “coup d’oeil" means “glimpse" or “view."

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    Military Terminology

    Coup de is also used with weaponry from swords to modern artillery. A “coup de pointe" is a rapier thrust while a “coup de poignard" is a stabbing. “Coup de feu" and “coup de fusil" are used interchangeably for “gun shot" and “pistol shot." This idea expands naturally to “coup de canon" or “cannon shot," which may lead to a “coup mortel" or “coup fatal"–mortal blow and death blow respectively. Even the aforementioned term “coup d’état" is the term for a military takeover.

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    The world of sports is less violent, but still it has its own share of expressions using “coup de." Many of these are from the world of soccer, such as “coup de pied" meaning “kick" and “coup de pied de but" or “goal kick." A similar term, “coup de pied tombé" refers to a “dropkick" which could be used in many sports. There is also the “coup de tête" for a “header" shot, as well as the “coup de pénalité" or “penalty shot." In addition, there are tennis terms such as “coup droit" or “forehand" and the universal “coup de sifflet final," meaning “final whistle."

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    Finally, if you cannot talk about anything else, you can at least talk about the weather. These terms range from the straightforward, “coup de froid" meaning a “cold snap" and “coup de vent" for a “gust of wind" to French idiomatic expressions such as “coup de soleil" for a “sunburn." Other useful terms include “coup de chaleur" for “heat stroke" and “coup de tonnerre" for a “thunderclap."

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    Learn More

    Terms using “coup de" have meanings from the easy to the obtuse; learning a few of these phrases can help you communicate expressivly on a range of subjects. Find out more by downloading a free list in Word format of the French Expressions using “coup de" used in this article, plus a few extras. You can also read more about French Idioms.

    Hopefully, this article has been a real “coup de main"or “helping hand" for your French language skills.