How to Use the Expression 'Coup de Foudre'

The phrase more commonly refers to love at first sight

couple in love looking into each other's eyes
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The common French idiomatic expression le coup de foudre, pronounced coo d(eu) foodr(eu), is a common weather term for extreme mauvais temps ("bad weather"): a bolt or flash of lightning, or a thunderbolt. But, as you might expect—since French is the language of lovele coup de foudre also has a figurative meaning that is well known to French-speaking natives: "love at first sight," which delivers a kind of shock, too.

The figurative meaning is a bit more common in French.

Using le Coup de Foudre With Etre or Avoir

Using être or avoir with coup de foudre gives a nuanced meaning, as the examples below demonstrate:

1. être le coup de foudre > to be in love at first sight

   Quand je l'ai vu, ça a été le coup de foudre.
   When I saw it/him, it was love at first sight.

2. avoir le coup de foudre (pour) > to fall in love (with) at first sight

   J'ai eu le coup de foudre pour Thomas / pour Paris.
   I fell in love with Thomas / Paris at first sight.

More Expressions Using Coup

The word coup is one of the more versatile terms in the French language. It can mean mean "shock" or "blow," as well as:

  • Move (chess)
  • Punch (boxing)
  • Shot (archery)
  • Stroke (cricket, golf, tennis)
  • Throw (dice)
  • Trick, practical joke

Coup, then, does not always refer to falling in love, but it's a handy term to know, as these examples show:

  • Un coup à la porte > a knock on the door
  • Un coup bas > a low blow
  • Un coup de bélier > a waterhammer; violent shock
  • Un coup de boule (familiar) > a headbutt
  • Un coup de chance > a piece/stroke of luck
  • Un coup de cœur > an intense but fleeting interest/passion
  • Un coup de crayon > a pencil stroke
  • Un coup de destin > a blow dealt by fate

Indeed, English gets its term for the potentially violent overthrow of a government from the French phrase un coup d'Ét at, which translates as "an overthrow of the government." The phrase is nearly identical in English: "coup d'etat" or more commonly just "coup."

Fall in Love—But Not at First Sight

Of course, if you're not planning to discuss a violent overthrow of the government, a knock on the head, or even being struck—cupid-like—by an arrow or thunderbolt of passion, French offers other ways to express the action of falling in love. To say that someone is falling in love gradually, try one of the following expressions:

  •  Tomber amoureux (de), not "tomber en amour avec"  > fall in love with (gradually)
  •  Avoir un coup de cœur (pour) > have a crush on
  •  S'éprendre (de) > to enter into (as in a relationship)

You can also express that you have become infatuated with someone, as in:

  •  S'amouracher (de)  > to love (as an infatuation)
  • S'enticher (de) > to fall (in love)

In French, idiomatic phrases are often understood to mean something more specific than their literal meaning. For example, s'enticher means "to fall," but French-speaking romantics would instantly know you are talking not about physically stumbling but expressing yourself in the language of love.