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The most common French translations for the English verb to groan are gémir and geindre, but this implies weak, rather high-pitched sounds.

Gronder is one as in le tonnerre gronde with the right pitch, but which is more a way of showing discontent than pain. So is grommeler. Râler is a noise from the lungs rather than from the belly, which seems to me to be where a groan originates.

Any idea?

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    "Grogner" maybe ? – Random Mar 18 '16 at 13:24
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    "to groan" can mean a couple different things depending on the context, but regardless of the case I've never thought of groaning to be "high-pitched." Providing some context might help you find the right word on this site. – cccg03 Mar 18 '16 at 15:10
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    Due to both their phonological and meaning proximity, I always thought groan originate from grogner, thanks for clearing that mistake! – jlliagre Mar 19 '16 at 8:36
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Groan can be used to express either grief or pain. When expressing pain, the French usually use gémir, when expressing grief the French usually use geindre. In neither case would we use gronder.

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Râler : faire entendre un râle en respirant :

Râlant, brisé, livide, et mort plus qu'à moitié - V.Hugo

Râle : bruit rauque de la respiration chez certains moribonds :

L'abominable râle, cette respiration mécanique [...] derniers souffles du corps - R.Rolland

La traduction donnée par le Collins français - anglais indique to groan (émettre un son), alors que dans l'autre sens, râler n'est pas mentionné !


Références issues du petit Robert.

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    Groan décrit le bruit fait par une personne qui souffre - c'est très loin du gargouillis ! En anglais le gargouis de l'estomac se rend par rumbling (et celui de l'eau par gurgling). – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Mar 18 '16 at 19:35
  • @Laure - J'ai pris en compte votre commentaire, et supprimé gargouiller – cl-r Mar 18 '16 at 20:53
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    Mais l'impayable Barbusse (pour la postérité) : Il faut se battre! gargouilla la voix rauque d'un corps. (au TLFi) – user3177 Mar 18 '16 at 21:12
  • @comethapaxd'ajax -- Beau doublet, malheureusement je ne connais pas de verbe pour rauque qui qualifie le timbre d'une voix. Les cordes vocales ne vibrent pas obligatoirement dans un râle, cela peu provenir de la gorge et non du larynx, ou des bronches. Après le commentaire de Laure et la traduction du Collins, qui correspond à la question posée, j'ai ajouté râler et enlevé gargouiller qui se passe en dessous du diaphragme... Je laisse aussi en commentaire borborygmes parmi les possibilités sonores du corps :) – cl-r Mar 18 '16 at 22:51
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Larousse and Collins both refer to gémir for groaning (of pain). Saying that gémir implies weak/high-pitch sounds is not entirely accurate:

Pousser un, des cri(s) étouffé(s) et plaintif(s) exprimant une douleur ou un malaise physique.

A gémissement could be faible (weak), long, aigu (high pitched), étouffé (muffled), profond (deep), sourd (dull), rauque (hoarse), douloureux (painful), or lamentable (plaintive) (TLFi). The grognement (grogner) is associated with the sound the pig, the wild boar, the bear, and by extension the dog, or even the hedgehog, make (Larousse, TLFi) i.e. growling. It can be used by analogy for a human being making dull, muffled, thudding, or generally inarticulate sounds : « Son mari grognait de douleur dans son sommeil. » (Zola). With gémir that reference to pain is also common whether that's redundant or not. See Books (ngram) for further contextual cues (including cri de mort, which I know from I know not where).

As another answer points out, groan doesn't originate from the belly, if but metaphorically speaking, but rather from Proto-Germanic *grain-, by imitation or related to grin, and with the Old Norse cognate grenja "to howl" (Etymonline). To groan is neither to growl nor to howl, but hurler in French most definitely has the high-pitch association (dog, wolf) and meaning (Pousser des cris aigus et prolongés, TLFi) compared to gémir. But because of polysemy and varied usage scenarios, personally I wouldn't restrict my choice of verb/noun (crier/gémir/hurler/grogner/cri/gémissement/hurlement/grognement) based on pitch perception but rather usage and context, such as manner, intensity and cause etc. Cri, plainte, pleur, râle, sanglot, soupir are mentioned in the TLFi entry for gémissement as being in the same sort of semantic field and can prove useful depending on context. When one wants to avoid using adverbs which may feel less casual in a verb construction, you can resort to using another verb to introduce the noun with the adjective instead, in particular pousser as in pousser un cri/un gémissement plaintif for instance, instead of gémir plaintivement. Finally, when one discusses anger rather than pain, there is tonner which is really used for some sort of angry rant yet carries that thunderous (i.e. tonnerre) sort of idea you refer to with gronder which cannot be used in this fashion with a person nowadays (could still be said of an animal though).


The Q&A shows a myriad of verbs and adjectives with seemingly endless possible combinations where one can fine tune the property of the sound such as its (low) pitch etc., which is really the opposite of what the question title implies. The gémissement is not restricted to a high-pitched sound, unlike with the base meaning for hurlement, or weak per se; it is not a mélopée. One can have a construction with [pousser + un cri/gémissement + adjective ex. sourd] instead of [verb + adverb] if one so requires. Gémir de douleur doesn't appear that far off the mark, bar a very specific context (which was not provided). Satisfaction is a matter of opinion but I would say I'm quite satisfied with the rich semantics and lexicon, and then some...

Il faut se battre! gargouilla la voix rauque d'un corps qui, depuis notre réveil, se prétrifiait dans la boue dévoratrice. Il le faut ! — Et le corps se retourna pesamment. [...]

[ H. Barbusse, Feu, in the TLFi at gargouiller, inspired from a prior edit to another answer ]

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