Merde – What it Means and How to Use It

What Merde Means and How to Use It

We go over a lot of different French vocabulary and expressions here on Frenchplanations, but one type of vocabulary that we have yet to go over is swear words. Swear words, whether one likes it or not, are a very common part of language and should at minimum be understood (even if one doesn’t want to use them).

With this article we are going to use the word without censoring anything so if this is something that you prefer to avoid then check out all the other French vocabulary that we have.


What does merde mean?

The most commonly-used equivalent to merde is “shit”. The great thing about it is that for the most part, it is used in the same way as its English counterpart.

The word “la merde”, other than referring to fecal matter, can be used to a troubling situation. Take a look at the examples below to hopefully get a grasp as to how to use merde in this context.

J’ai oublié mes clefs à la maison, quelle merde – I forgot my keys at home, dammit. 

En gros, je suis dans la merde – Basically, I’m screwed

Il a laissé sa mère dans la merde – He left his mother in a bad situation

Tu es dans la merde pour avoir dit ça – You’re in a shitty situation for having said that

Merde can also be used to describe an object. This usually comes in the form of de merde and means that whatever object you are talking about is of really low-quality. Simply put, it’s like the French equivalent to saying that something is “shitty”.

Quelle voiture de merde – What a shitty car

Il s’apprête à quitter cette fête de merde – He’s getting ready to leave this shitty party

Il a eu une semaine de merde – He had a shitty week

Elle a une vie de merde – She has a lousy life

In English, the word shit is sometimes used when you’re angry about something. An example of this would be “I forgot my wallet, shit!”. Well, in French merde can be used in the exact same way. The only thing to keep in mind here is that although both “shit” and merde are pretty strong, merde used in this context is a little less extreme. It’s not by any means considered polite, but it’s not as vulgar.

You’ll see in the examples below that merde doesn’t always line up exactly with how we use “shit” in English, but nevertheless you should be able to get the idea.

Donne-moi mon chapeau, merde ! – Give me my hat, dammit!

J’ai fait tomber mon portable, merde – I dropped my cell phone, shit.

The final definition of merde that we are going to go over has a bit of a double meaning. On one hand it can be thought of as the French equivalent to “go to hell” whereas on the other hand it can be a way to wish someone luck.

It’s not at all unlike how we say “break a leg” to someone, the reason being that it’s bad luck to wish someone good luck for a performance, exam, etc… When wishing someone luck you can also just say merde and forego the whole je te dis part.

Je te dis merde – Go to hell

Merde ! (pour ton examen) – Good luck! (on your exam)

Although it’s mostly a swear word merde is actually a commonly-used piece of vocabulary in the French language.

There are very few situations where you will absolutely have to use it, but it’s still good to know and understand it in case it comes up in conversation. If you’re interested in learning other valuable vocabulary head on over to the French vocabulary page.