The different usages of “Putain”

Have you ever thought that a language could be summarized in a sentence, or even better, have you ever tried to summarize a language in a word? Take a minute and try to summarize your mother tongue in a sentence. Hard exercise, isn’t it? If you are not French, you are probably not the only one feeling this way.

So what’s so special about the French language? We have this magical word: putain. Literally meaning whore, this word is a masterpiece that can be used is tons of different ways and situations. It is probably the most comfortable piece of slang any French learner could use since it can fit 99% of the circumstances. Trust me, it is hard to go wrong with it.

1- Putain as of whore

This is straightforward, it is the rude version of the word prostitute.

Eg. Le bois de boulogne est plein de putains. The Boulogne forest is full of prostitues.
Je n’a jamais vu une fille pareille, quelle putain. I have never seen a girl like her, what a whore.


2- Putain as of “damn/fuck”

This is really where putain shines. It fits all kind of contexts. Unlike words like “merde” or “fait chier”, putain can be used for every emotion ranging from anger to joy. The important part though is the intonation with which you pronounce it. You wouldn’t want to say “this sucks” instead of “this is absolutely amazing”. The good news is that all it takes is a bit of practice, but nothing very demanding. Hang you with French people for a week, and you will master the word.

You are super angry, then say putain the same way you would curse when you check your pockets, and you realize someone you do not know borrowed your wallet for an unlimited time.

Eg. Putain j’y crois pas je me suis fait tirer mon porte-feuilles. Shit, I can’t believe it someone stole my wallet.
Putain je suis véner, ma voiture est tombée en panne. Fuck I am so angry, my car broke down.

Are you sad or exasperated? Lower your voice a bit, whisper the word sadly and say putain slightly slower and longer.

Eg. Putain j’ai les boules. Ugh I am so sad.
Oh putain pas encore… Oh no not again…

If you are happy, keep your voice a little higher and sound enthusiastic.
Eg. Putain, trop bien. Wow that so cool.
Putain j’y crois pas j’ai eu le bac!! I can’t believe it, I passed the French high school exam.

Are you getting the feeling behind putain? There are just too many situations for which putain can be used for me to describe. Adjust your voice and attitude to each context and putain will fit the context.


3- Putain as of “fucking + noun” – first usage

Putain can also be used to show your negative feelings towards an object or a person. It would be comparable to “damn/fucking + noun”.

Eg. Putain de gamins, ils m’empêchent de dormir. Damn kids, I can’t sleep because of them.
Mon putain de telephone charge pas. My fucking phone won’t charge.


4- Putain as of “insane”

The more I try to explain this word the more I think it is wonderful. The second usage of “putain + noun” is positive this time. Translated into English, it would be something like “amazing” or “insane”.

Eg. C’était un putain de concert. It was an insane concert. 
Cette putain de maison qu’elle a… That insane house she has…


5- Putain + adjective

Putain also works as an adjective amplifying another adjective. Whichever adjective you want to amplify you simply have to add putain before it. In English, it would translate as fucking + adjective.

Eg. C’est putain de cher, comment il a fait pour acheter ça?. It is fucking expensive, how could he buy that?

6- Three ruder combinations of putain

Putain can be used alone, and often is. However it can also be used with other words to make it sound stronger and ruder. Here are some of the combinations that you could encounter.

Putain de merde: merde means shit. This is a pretty straightforward combination that would be equivalent to “fucking hell”.
Putain de sa mere : If you add “de sa mère” you are basically calling someone’s mother a whore. Who’s mother? No specific person’s. However if you say “putain de ta mère” you are calling your listener’s mother a whore. Be careful when using that version, you could hear this in fights, but because this is very rude, I would avoid telling that to someone.

Putain de sa race : This is another funny french way of expressing your anger, you direct the putain to someone’s race. Yes, a person’s ethnicity. The most interesting part about this version, which is often used in the southern part of the country, is that it is not considered racist at all. Even when you insult someone by saying putain de ta race, it has nothing racist in it, but it is still considered extremely rude.

Putain de ses morts : The similar rules are applied here, except that instead of calling a mother or a race a whore, it is someone’s deceased. Please note that this expression is probably the worst and the rudest I have detailed in this article. Even I don’t like to use it when I am alone because it is too rough.

7- Final thoughts

Whether you use putain in a soft way or in a bit ruder way, it is a curse word and is rude. Depending on who you are with it will be considered acceptable, rude or chocking. A close friend will most likely not find it offensive, but if you are in a more formal context, this word is forbidden, no matter what. Remember that knowing this kind of vocabulary is part of your journey to learn French, but you have to be careful with it. Before trying to impress French people look at what they do and understand the feelings behind the words.

I hope this article was helpful and taught you something you did not know about this word. If you have any question or wish to complement the article, please feel free to comment below!

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