I seem to be a bit confused about these two words as the definition i got for both was to listen.

It seems to me though that ausculter is more medical like a doctor listening to someone's chest: Le médecin l’a ausculté. I had assumed listened would just be like the heart beat or such, is that correct?

Then I ran into "écouter le coeur battre", isn't ausculter listening to the heart beat? or is that only when doctors or such do it and this is not a medical phrase? Or possibly I misunderstood the meaning of ausculter.



3 Answers 3


ausculter is écouter when it is done by doctors when they examine you. They can ausculter le cœur or ausculter le patient meaning they examine the patient (by listening to their organs).

  • Le docteur m' a écoutée : The doctor listened to me, to what I had to say
  • Le docteur m'a auscultée : The doctor examined me

You can't use ausculter with an infinitive as you can écouter. ausculter le cœur battre is not possible in French.

The medical use goes back to the early 19th century and to a famous French doctor, Laennec, who invented the stethoscope. The word quickly spread from French to other languages and started being used in this specific meaning by medical doctors.


listening in the sens of putting your head on someone chest is écouter- this apply if your child do so with no real objectives. If your doctor perform the same with the objectives of looking if everything is fine, the he/she will ausculte you. Ausculter has a medical connotation and it is about checking someone out. Hope this clarifies

  • 1
    As someone in the medical profession, I have to disagree with the phrasing "he/she will ausculter you". As I'm an ophthalmologist, I rarely use this term myself, but when my colleagues, internists, do use it, it's more about "ausculter an organ". Aug 9, 2019 at 5:16
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    @Con-gras-tue-les-chiens There might be a difference between the way the hommes de l'art use "ausculter" between themselves and the way it is used by patients or when doctors talk to patients.
    – user21018
    Aug 9, 2019 at 5:30
  • @petitrien Hi. I just commented above, but I have to disagree with the phrasing "Le docteur m'a auscultée" in your answer, too. At least in the medical field, the use of "ausculter" in the sense of "examiner un patient" is not considered correct, strictly speaking. As you have pointed out, it might be commonly used in everyday language, in layman’s terms, but the medical phrase is more about "ausculter an organ" when we use it. Aug 9, 2019 at 5:45
  • @Con-gras-tue-les-chiens It might be a cultural difference and words and actions don't really match from a country to another. I tend to support petitrien's comments.
    – None
    Aug 9, 2019 at 6:16
  • @Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Found this in Céline's "D'un château l'autre" : …là, allongé sur ce lit, à poil, il est comme il est, ancien athlète épuisé…les chevilles enflées…je l'ausculte…le cœur…le cœur ment jamais…il dit ce qu'il est à qui l'écoute…". Céline, M.D. and master of French prose, does write "je l'ai ausculté" meaning the patient but what immediately follows is "le cœur" so it's clear he's listening to an organ.
    – user21018
    Aug 9, 2019 at 6:23

The difference, as I see it , is that in the act termed "ausculter" you listen with a professionally trained ear, whereas when you are given to the action that is "écouter" in the general case you just take in the sounds as they come ; this is not an absolutely perfect criterion of differentiation of the terms, as when you listen for instance to music (écouter de la musique) you do do that in the context of a musically trained ear, but the outcome of this comparison to musical standards, even for a professional listener such as a music critic, is far from the very pragmatic act of the doctors.

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