French Phrases for Shock and Surprise: Essential Expressions to Learn

French Phrases for Shock and Surprise: Essential Expressions to Learn

Imagine strolling down the streets of Paris, only to witness a man on a unicycle juggling flaming torches. What would your reaction be? In your native language, you might exclaim, “Wow!” or “Oh my gosh!” But what about in French? Fear not, dear reader, because today we’re delving into the world of French expressions for shock and surprise. After all, even the most astonishing moments can be made more enjoyable with the right words.

Why Learn French Expressions of Shock and Surprise?

As you navigate the ups and downs of life, having the right expressions to convey shock or surprise can be invaluable. These phrases can help you react appropriately to unexpected events, connect more deeply with native speakers, and add an extra layer of authenticity to your language skills. So, let’s dive into the world of shocking French expressions!

Popular French Expressions for Shock and Surprise

Here are some popular French expressions for conveying shock and surprise, along with their translations and a bit of cultural context:

 1. Oh là là! (Oh dear!/Wow!)

This versatile expression can be used to express surprise, shock, or even admiration. Its meaning varies depending on the context and the tone in which it is said.


  • Oh là là, cette robe est magnifique! (Oh dear, this dress is beautiful!)

2. Sacré bleu! (Good heavens!/My goodness!)

Although somewhat dated and rarely used by younger generations, this classic French expression is still understood and can be used to express surprise or shock in a more playful or dramatic way.


  • Sacré bleu, il a terminé le marathon en moins de trois heures! (Good heavens, he finished the marathon in under three hours!)

3. Incroyable! (Incredible!/Unbelievable!)

Use this expression to convey astonishment or disbelief at something amazing or hard to believe. This phrase can be used in both positive and negative contexts.


  • Incroyable, ils ont construit ce bâtiment en seulement six mois! (Incredible, they built this building in just six months!)

4. Ça alors! (Well, I never!/My, my!)

A common and versatile expression, “Ça alors!” can be used to express a wide range of emotions, from surprise and shock to admiration and disbelief.


  • Ça alors, je ne pensais pas que tu serais là! (Well, I never, I didn’t think you’d be here!)

5. Mon Dieu! (My God!/Oh my God!)

Similar to its English counterpart, “Mon Dieu!” is a popular way to express shock, surprise, or even frustration in French. Be mindful of your audience when using this expression, as some may consider it blasphemous.


  • Mon Dieu, je viens de réaliser que j’ai oublié mon portefeuille à la maison! (My God, I just realized I left my wallet at home!)

6. C’est dingue! (That’s crazy!/That’s nuts!)

This colloquial expression is perfect for conveying shock or surprise in a more informal setting. Use it when you want to emphasize just how extraordinary or unbelievable a situation is.


  • C’est dingue, cette histoire de voyage dans le temps! (That’s crazy, this time travel story!)

7. Quelle surprise! (What a surprise!)

This straightforward expression is used to convey genuine surprise or to react sarcastically to an expected outcome.


  • Quelle surprise de te voir ici, je ne m’y attendais pas! (What a surprise to see you here, I wasn’t expecting it!)

8. Je n’en reviens pas! (I can’t believe it!/I’m flabbergasted!)

If you’re truly astonished or taken aback by something, this expression will help you convey the depth of your shock or disbelief.


  • Je n’en reviens pas que tu aies pu finir ce projet si rapidement! (I can’t believe you managed to finish this project so quickly!)

9. C’est incroyable mais vrai! (It’s incredible but true!)

Use this phrase to emphasize the unbelievable nature of a situation while confirming that it is, indeed, true.


  • C’est incroyable mais vrai, il a survécu à une chute de dix étages! (It’s incredible but true, he survived a fall from ten stories!)

10. Tu m’étonnes ! (No wonder!/You don’t say!)

This colloquial expression is used to react to something surprising, shocking, or impressive. It can also be used to agree with someone’s statement, especially if it’s something you already suspected or believed to be true.

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  • Thomas: Il a travaillé jour et nuit pour terminer ce projet à temps. (He worked day and night to finish this project on time.)
  • Marco: Tu m’étonnes, il est toujours si déterminé ! (No wonder, he’s always so determined!)

11. Ah, la vache! (it literally translates to “Ah , the cow!” / Oh damn!)

Use this expression to express shock, surprise and sometimes admiration.


  • Oh la vache ! Quel accident ! (Oh damn ! What an accident!)

12. Ça m’en bouche un coin ! (I’m speechless!)

Use this expression when you’re surprised and at a loss for words.


  • Tu as gagné le concours de chant ? Ça m’en bouche un coin ! (You won the singing contest? I’m speechless!)

13. C’est à tomber par terre ! (It’s enough to make you fall over!)

This phrase is used to convey that something is so surprising or impressive that it could make you fall over.


  • Cette nouvelle est à tomber par terre ! Je ne m’y attendais pas du tout. (This news is enough to make you fall over! I didn’t expect it at all.)

14. C’est renversant ! (It’s mind-blowing!)

Use this expression to emphasize how shocking or surprising something is.

Also Read: Mastering 30+ Essential Expressions with Avoir in French


  • L’invention de cette technologie est vraiment renversante ! (The invention of this technology is really mind-blowing!)

15. C’est stupéfiant ! (It’s astounding!)

This expression is used to convey that something is incredibly surprising or shocking.


  • C’est stupéfiant de voir à quel point la ville a changé en quelques années. (It’s astounding to see how much the city has changed in just a few years.)

16. Ça me laisse pantois(e) ! (I’m flabbergasted!)

Use this phrase when you’re so shocked or surprised that you’re momentarily at a loss for words.


  • Ça me laisse pantoise de voir combien d’énergie tu as après une longue journée. (I’m flabbergasted at how much energy you have after a long day.)

17. Ça fait un choc ! (It’s quite a shock!)

This expression is used to convey that something is truly shocking or surprising.


  • Apprendre cette nouvelle, ça fait un choc ! (Learning this news, it’s quite a shock!)

18. C’est à peine croyable ! (It’s barely believable!)

Use this expression to emphasize that something is so surprising that it’s hard to believe.

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  • C’est à peine croyable; nous avons gagné le championnat ! (It’s barely believable; we won the championship!)

19. C’est inouï ! (It’s unheard of!)

This expression conveys that something is so shocking or surprising that it’s almost beyond belief.


  • C’est inouï que tu aies pu terminer ce projet en si peu de temps. (It’s unheard of that you could finish this project in such a short time.)

20. C’est époustouflant ! (It’s breathtaking!)

Use this phrase to describe something that is extremely impressive, surprising, or shocking.


  • La vue depuis cette montagne est époustouflante ! (The view from this mountain is breathtaking!)

Expanding Your Vocabulary: Related French Expressions

Once you’ve mastered the basic expressions of shock and surprise, consider expanding your vocabulary with related expressions. These can help you convey a wider range of emotions and reactions:

  • Stupeur et tremblements (Stupefaction and trembling): Use this literary expression to describe an intense feeling of shock or fear.

Après avoir appris la nouvelle choquante, il est resté dans un état de stupeur et tremblements. (After learning the shocking news, he remained in a state of stupefaction and trembling.)

  • Bouche bée (Gaping-mouthed): This expression is used to describe someone who is so shocked or surprised that they’re speechless.

Quand j’ai vu le cadeau surprise, je suis resté bouche bée. (When I saw the surprise gift, I was left gaping-mouthed.)

  • Tomber des nues (To fall from the clouds): This idiom is used to describe someone who is completely taken aback or surprised by a situation.

Elle est tombée des nues quand elle a découvert qu’elle avait gagné à la loterie. (She fell from the clouds when she found out she had won the lottery.)

By incorporating these additional expressions into your language repertoire, you’ll be better equipped to handle a wide range of shocking or surprising situations in French.

Advanced French Expressions for Shock and Surprise

For those looking to deepen their understanding of French expressions for shock and surprise, here are some advanced phrases, along with their explanations and examples:

  • Les bras m’en tombent (My arms are falling off): This idiomatic expression is used to convey a sense of extreme shock or disbelief. It implies that the news or event is so surprising that one’s arms are literally falling off.

Tu as entendu que Paul et Marie se sont séparés ? Les bras m’en tombent ! (Did you hear that Paul and Marie broke up? My arms are falling off [I’m shocked]!)

  •  Être sidéré(e) (To be thunderstruck): This expression is used to describe being completely taken aback or shocked by something, to the point of being momentarily speechless or stunned.

J’étais sidéré quand j’ai appris qu’ils avaient gagné à la loterie. (I was thunderstruck when I learned they won the lottery.)

  • Reste baba (Be dumbfounded): This informal expression is used to convey the sense of being so shocked or amazed that one is left speechless or unable to react.

Quand elle a dévoilé sa nouvelle voiture de sport, tout le monde est resté baba. (When she unveiled her new sports car, everyone was dumbfounded.)

French Proverbs and Sayings Related to Shock and Surprise

To further enrich your understanding of the French language and culture, consider exploring some proverbs and sayings related to shock and surprise:

  •  Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué (Don’t sell the bear’s skin before killing it): This proverb is a reminder not to get ahead of oneself or assume something is a certainty until it’s actually happened.

Sarah était sûre qu’elle allait obtenir le poste et avait déjà prévu de fêter cela, mais elle a finalement été rejetée. Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué. (Sarah was sure she was going to get the job and had already planned a celebration, but she ended up being turned down. Don’t sell the bear’s skin before killing it.)

  •  Mieux vaut tard que jamais (Better late than never): This well-known saying encourages people to appreciate good things, even if they happen later than expected.

Jean a finalement terminé son projet après plusieurs mois de retard. Mieux vaut tard que jamais ! (Jean finally finished his project after several months of delay. Better late than never!)

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  •  Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid (Little by little, the bird makes its nest): This proverb encourages patience and persistence, reminding us that even small steps can lead to significant achievements over time.

Caroline apprend à jouer du piano depuis un an et elle progresse lentement. Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid. (Caroline has been learning to play the piano for a year and is making slow progress. Little by little, the bird makes its nest.)

A Simple Dialogue for Beginners: Using French Expressions of Shock and Surprise

In this dialogue, we’ll see two friends, Jean and Claire, reacting to a surprising piece of news. This conversation will demonstrate the use of some basic French expressions of shock and surprise in a natural context.

Jean: Salut Claire, comment ça va ? (Hi Claire, how are you?)
Claire: Ça va bien, merci. Et toi ? (I’m good, thanks. And you?)

Jean: Pas mal. Tu savais que notre ami Michel a déménagé à New York ? (Not bad. Did you know our friend Michel moved to New York?)
Claire: Quoi ?! Je n’en reviens pas ! (What?! I can’t believe it!)

Jean: Oui, c’est vrai. Il a trouvé un super travail là-bas. (Yes, it’s true. He found a great job there.)
Claire: Oh là là ! C’est incroyable ! (Oh dear! That’s incredible!)

Jean: En effet, c’est dingue, n’est-ce pas ? (Indeed, it’s crazy, isn’t it?)
Claire: Absolument. C’est une belle opportunité pour lui. (Absolutely. It’s a great opportunity for him.)

Jean: Oui, quelle surprise ! On devrait lui envoyer un message pour le féliciter. (Yes, what a surprise! We should send him a message to congratulate him.)
Claire: Bonne idée ! Je m’en occupe tout de suite. (Good idea! I’ll take care of it right away.)

In this simple dialogue, beginner learners can see how expressions like “Je n’en reviens pas!”, “Oh là là!”, “C’est incroyable!”, and “Quelle surprise!” are used in everyday conversation to convey shock and surprise.

Frequently Asked Questions about French Expressions of Shock and Surprise

Q: Are French expressions of shock and surprise used in formal situations?

Some expressions, like “Quelle surprise!” and “Je n’en reviens pas!” are suitable for formal situations. However, be cautious with slang or colloquial expressions, as they may be inappropriate in more formal settings.

Q: Can I use English expressions of shock or surprise when speaking French?

While some English expressions may be understood by French speakers, using French expressions will help you sound more authentic and better connect with native speakers. Make an effort to learn and use French expressions whenever possible.

Q: How can I improve my pronunciation of French expressions of shock and surprise?

To improve your pronunciation, practice regularly by listening to native speakers, watching French movies or TV shows, and engaging in conversations with French-speaking friends or language partners. You can also use language learning apps or websites that focus on pronunciation or work with a tutor or teacher who can provide personalized feedback.

Q: What do French people say when they’re shocked?

French people use various expressions when they’re shocked, such as “Oh là là!”, “Incroyable!”, “Mon Dieu!”, and “Ça alors!”.

Q: What do French people say when they are scared?

When French people are scared, they might say “J’ai peur” (I’m scared), “J’ai la trouille” (I’m frightened; informal), or “Je suis terrifié(e)” (I’m terrified).

Q: How do French express disbelief?

French people express disbelief with phrases like “Je n’en reviens pas!” (I can’t believe it!), “C’est incroyable!” (That’s incredible!), and “C’est dingue!” (That’s crazy!).

Q: What are some popular French sayings?

Popular French sayings include “Mieux vaut tard que jamais” (Better late than never), “Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid” (Little by little, the bird makes its nest), and “Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué” (Don’t sell the bear’s skin before killing it).

Q: What is the French idiom for anxiety?

There isn’t a direct idiom for anxiety in French, but you can use the phrase “avoir le trac” to describe stage fright or nerves before a performance. To express general anxiety or worry, you can say “avoir l’angoisse” or “être anxieux(se)”.

Q: What is terrify in French?

The verb “terrify” can be translated to French as “terrifier”. For example: “Ce film m’a terrifié” (This movie terrified me).

Conclusion: Shock and Awe in the French Language

Now that you’re equipped with a variety of French expressions for shock and surprise, you’re ready to tackle even the most astonishing moments with flair and authenticity. Remember to practice using these expressions in context, be mindful of cultural differences, and, most importantly, have fun expressing your shock and awe in the beautiful French language. Bonne chance! (Good luck!)

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