'Du coup': the Ubiquitous French Adverb That Means Almost Nothing

'Du coup' may be an adverb, but it's used as a filler

Du coup la boule a fait tomber la quille
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The informal French adverb du coup, pronounced "due coo," is one of those little details of language that pop up everywhere, but leave people at a loss to explain. You'll rarely see it taught in any French class, but if you eavesdrop on a conversation in France, you might hear it in every other sentence. Some French in France disdain it as a blight on correct conversation.

So what is it? Du coup and its cousin alors du coup are filler expressions, a little akin to the California Valley girl innovation of dropping "like" into every other sentence for no reason.

What Does 'du Coup' Mean?

Du coup literally means "of the blow," but in use the meaning is akin to "sooo, like" or "you know." French speakers opt for du coup and alors du coup because these expressions are cool at the moment. Trends, of course, tend to be cyclical  and apparently it was part of the French working class lexicon before World War II as well, then disappeared, and for unknown reasons reappeared in the 2000s, spreading like a virus. 

There are people who trace the origin of du coup to tout d'un coup, which means “suddenly.” Official translations, such as the one in the Larousse Dictionnaire Bilingue, Français-Anglais, say it means “so, as a result, consequently." And most language teaching texts still say the expression du coup is synonymous in French with en conséquence, donc, dan ce cas, de ce fait and à la suite de quoi.

How is du Coup Used?

That may still be the case, depending on the place and the speaker.

But generally it's being used in France nowadays in a more vague way to fill a lull in a conversation. As French language blogger Marc Olivier remarked in 2015, "Chances are, if you take du coup out of an average conversation, you won't lose anything."

You might recognize longtime fillers in the French language as euh for "um," bon ben for "OK...well" and and bof for a show of indifference (usually said as you do the Gallic shrug).

Du coup appears to be joining them, albeit with a vestige of "consequently."

This discussion, however, could be moot if you can't pronounce du coup correctly. As Olivier points out: "Most anglophones have trouble with the u [y] and ou [u] in du coup—especially said in such close proximity. If you have to make a conscious effort to say something that functions as an unconscious tick, maybe [don't use it]. On the other hand, if you can say it three times fast with a great accent and effortless sloppiness, then go for it."

Examples of 'du Coup'

Notice that common everyday tenses are used with du coup; more formal tenses feel stilted and inappropriate with this casual expression. The following examples use du coup as though it still carries the full weight of "consequently" or "as a result." If you want to sound cool, use it in a casual conversation at the beginning of a clause or sentence.

  • Le gant a frappé la boule, du coup la boule a fait tomber la quille. > The glove hit the ball, and so the ball knocked over the pin.
  • Il est arrivé en retard hier. Du coup, il doit travailler jusqu'à 19h ce soir. > He arrived late yesterday. As a result, he has to work until 7 tonight.
  • J'ai oublié mon portefeuille et du coup j'ai emprunté 5 euros à Philippe. > I forgot my wallet, and as a result I borrowed 5 euros from Philippe.
  • Du coup tu pourras me ramener ? > So will you be able to take me home?
  • Alors du coup, Mimile est allé prendre un verre. > So Marie went to get a drink. 
  • Elle ne pouvait pas venir, du coup j'ai reporté le dîner. > She couldn't come so I put off the dinner.

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