In English, there are 2 separates words for these firearms but, in French, they are both called "fusil". The only distinctions I know are linked to the operating mode, which can help you guess if it's a rifle or a shotgun (fusil à verrou = bolt-action rifle ; fusil à pompe = pump-action shotgun).

However, in some cases, you can't guess if it's a rifle or a shotgun :

  • fusil semi-automatique
  • fusil à levier (often assumed to be a rifle but does not work with a Winchester 1887)
  • fusil de chasse

From what I know, you can only guess the type of weapon based on informations given about the "fusil".

  • I don't know a lot about firearms but I'm pretty sure you're right saying that in French we just differenciate by specifying the type of « fusil », assuming that both rifles and shotguns are members of this category.
    – Azaghal
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 14:48
  • Am I right to suppose that you are living in the United States or so? In Europe, guns are just not that much of a topic. Only a tiny group of specialists (hunters for example) would bother to differentiate various types... Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 15:10
  • According to Wikipedia, "fusil de chasse" is "shotgun".
    – N.I.
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 16:25
  • @Christian Geiselmann I'm French, I'm just interested in guns and military stuff.
    – Hawker65
    Commented Jun 30, 2018 at 13:35
  • @Najib Idrissi A lot of people assume it's a shotgun and call hunting rifles carabine, yet it's not technically valid.
    – Hawker65
    Commented Jun 30, 2018 at 13:37

2 Answers 2


From their definition, the only difference between a rifle and a shotgun is that the first one has a spiraled barrel and the second a smoothbore, the two being shoulder weapons. The proper translation in French should then be:

  • Rifle = carabine
  • Shotgun = fusil (de chasse)

To be honest, I doubt 0.1% of the population would be able to tell the actual difference between carabine and fusil (I did not know and I will forget very soon, to be honest).

Also, in the military, shoulder weapons are usually called "fusil": fusil d'assaut (assault rifle, generic term for war guns), fusil sniper (sniper gun), fusil (semi-)automatique (semi-automatic rifle/machine gun) (1)

Fusil is usually used in informal talks as carabine is often associated with "carabine à plomb" (pellet gun) nowadays. However, it is rather common to see the word carabine in news titles like "un homme tué par une carabine" (a man killed with a rifle/shotgun), but it can be either a rifle or a shotgun.

More on guns

You have not asked but I will answer anyway:

  • Arme à feu = firearm
  • Arme de poing ("fist weapon") = handgun, i.e. firearms which are not shoulder weapons
  • Chevrotine = buckshot

(1) For years, French military was equipped with semi-automatic rifles called FAMAS (Fusil d'Assaut de la Manufacture d'Armes de St-Etienne) which is being replaced with HK 416 F

  • Although carabine tends to be used for rifle, it is incorrect as a carabine is a particular sort of rifle. BTW, The FAMAS can fire full auto and in bursts of 3. Also, fusil semi-automatique can designate a semi-auto rifle or a semi-auto shotgun. A machinegun is mitrailleuse, not fusil (semi-)automatique
    – Hawker65
    Commented Jun 30, 2018 at 13:33
  • 3
    Le premier A de l'acronyme FAMAS ne signifie pas automatique mais d'assaut.
    – mouviciel
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 8:26
  • @mouviciel Oups, merci de l'avoir noté. Je l'ai corrigé dans ma réponse.
    – SteffX
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 10:01
  • Fusil d'assaut is assault rifle, not assault gun. Here is what an assault gun is.
    – Hawker65
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 9:23
  • Thank you @Hawker65, I edited my answer accordingly
    – SteffX
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 16:17

If one takes the definition that a rifle is a gun with a rifled barrel, and a shotgun is a smoothbore barrel, then one could say

  • Fusil à canon rayé

  • Fusil à canon lisse

However, as you already observed, this difference is not commonly used to categorize weapons. Instead, looking at a sample of French gun retailers online, the purpose is often used (fusil de chasse, fusil d'assaut, carabine de tir longue distance, etc.), the reloading mechanism (fusil à pompe, fusil semi-automatique), or even just the ammunition stock (carabine 22 long rifle).

  • Yes but, usually, both Fusil à canon rayé and Fusil à canon lisse designate shotguns. Carabine is used more often to describe rifles (sepecially hunting rifles), even if it is incorrect
    – Hawker65
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 9:12

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