I need to translate test subject as in "a person that is being subject to a test or experiment" but I can't seem to find a proper French equivalent.

The only word that really comes to mind is cobaye, but it seems too colloquial for my needs.

What is the word or phrase that is usually used in scientific publications to talk about the test subject?

3 Answers 3


I'm not from the field, but I'd probably go for “sujets d'expérience”, preferably using one of “sujets d’une expérience” or “sujets de l'expérience” forms. Notice that just like the English term, it doesn't refer specifically to humans.

Of course it's hard to find scientific articles written in French, but there's a bunch of them (Google Scholar) that use this expression.

There are some cases where cobaye clearly don't fit, like the quite famous expérience de Milgram, where human aspects are studied. In Wikipedia's article they are referred to as “sujets [d’]expérience”, or simply by “sujets”.

L'université Yale à New Haven faisait paraître des annonces dans un journal local pour recruter les sujets d'une expérience sur l'apprentissage.

It's also the title that was chosen by a CNRS unit for a page where volunteers can enlist.

  • I have to mark this as the answer because of the references. Why didn't I think of searching in Google Scholar. Merci Stéphane
    – madd0
    Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 7:56

« sujet de test » is more neutral than « cobaye » which may have other connotations.

« sujet d'expérimentation », or even « candidat » are probably acceptable alternatives.

  • 2
    I'd probably try to formulate things so that "suject" without qualification is natural. Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 10:43
  • @Unfrancophone I second that, it's probably be the best choice whenever the context permits it. (Which, incidentally, is not always.) Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 20:52
  • “Sujet d'expérimentation” sounds a bit off to me, I'm more likely to understand it as “topic of the experimentation”. (And a quick google search seems to confirm that.) Commented Sep 24, 2012 at 13:53

Extrait parmi les acceptions du Petit Robert :

Essayeur - Personne chargée d'essayer des matériels, des produits : Essayeur de voiture (emploi le plus courant).

Cobaye - (familier, mais très correct) Servir de cobaye : être utilisé comme sujet d'expériences.

... selon que vous soyez le sujet qui agit ou qui subit.

Pour tester les médicaments on utilise des cobayes humains et non des testeurs, ce dernier mot renvoie à la notion de personne qui pratique des essais sur des objets ou des personnes.

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