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Is there a significant difference between frappe and coup, or are they close synonyms? Both seem to be translated as blow, strike or hit, but they are not listed as synonyms on Wiktionary (either on the French [frappe|coup] or English [frappe|coup] versions).

Google Translate says coup = stroke and frappe = hit, but I would consider (the relevant senses of) these two English words to be synonyms.

Are there particular contexts where one would be used rather than the other, apart from in set phrases like coup d'état and frappe aérienne?

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    First thing that comes to my mind is that frappe cannot be used to express a physical blow against somebody or something (but the verb frapper can) - it is, for instance, the action of typing on a keyboard. Coup is an actual blow where someone or something can get physically hurt. – None Jul 13 at 15:49
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    They're close, but not interchangeable. The usage coup and frappe has specialized in different fields and idioms. Political : coup d'état, coup de force. Military : coup de main, frappe aérienne, frappe nucléaire, force de frappe. Games (also figuratively) : coup d'essai, coup de chance, coup de poker, coup de bluff. Currency : frappe d'une monnaie. Anyway, coup has really a broader meaning than frappe. – XouDo Jul 13 at 16:38
  • If you use dictionary entries, you don't really need us. However, if you give contextual examples (sentences or utterances) you might. Please don't use Google translate as an authority because it isn't. Use a dictionary like Larousse Online français<>anglais after using a monolingual French dictionary like Larousse or the CNTRL's resources. – Lambie Jul 14 at 11:52
  • @XouDo And up to "boire un coup", or "take a drink" in English. Lots of meanings there. – Tortliena Jul 19 at 11:55
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Actually, I'd rather use "hit" and "blow" for "coup" and "strike" for "frappe". There are some differences between the two words which I'll try to detail them here, though note that I'm "only" a French native speaker, not a linguist nor a French teacher. There might be more nuances than what I'll be able to tell here.

"Coup" is a much broader term

There are a LOT more expressions around "coup" than "frappe". Here are a few examples :

  • Payer un coup à boire : Offer a drink (we do not strike the bottle, though we could hit rock bottom after a few ones :p).
  • Prendre le coup : Getting the hang of. Here, it means more about a "skill" you earn or have.
  • Donner un coup de pinceau : Make a brushstroke.
  • À coup sûr : Most likely.

And so on and so on. For "frappe", you will find a lot less deviation from its standard, attack-related usage.

"Coup" is slightly more about the effects of the action, while "frappe" is more about the act itself and the source

Focusing on the "something touch more or less violently another thing" term, you'll see more often that :

  • Que l'armée a fait une frappe d'artillerie exceptionnelle, qui s'est terminé en un coup au but : The militaries have made an incredible artillery strike, which has hit its target.
  • Que le guerrier s'est beaucoup entraîné sur ses frappes, mais qu'il a donné un coup mortel à son adversaire : The warrior trained a lot on his strikes, but he landed a lethal blow on his opponent.

The difference is light, but it is here. When you use the word "coup", you're ever so slightly more focusing on the target of the strike, the damage done. "un coup est précis" when the hit location is accurate, while "une frappe est précise" when the gesture is accurate, even though one usually implies the other.

While this is light and sometimes you could work with either word, it induces some situations where we would largely favor one over the other, and they cannot be exchanged that easily. Most notably, "quelqu'un ne subira pas une frappe, il subira plutôt un coup". It's also the reason (I think) that we are much more likely to talk about a "frappe aérienne" than a "coup aérien", as we focus more on the type of attack (air, artillery...) than the damage done. Actually, now that I think about it, it's even more evident when we talk about the expression "frapper un grand coup" (to strike or to land a big blow), where frappe/frapper is followed up by coup, as if to emphasize both the action and the effect.

"Frappe" has a direct verb counterpart, while "coup" has not1

You read it just before, I actually used the verb "frapper", which -as far as I use the word in day-to-day life- is more used than the word "frappe". Note however that the meaning of "frapper" is ever slightly so different than "frappe", as if you look at the definition of the verb, it means "donner un coup"!

On its side, coup needs to use the verb "donner" or "prendre" as in "donner un coup" or "prendre un coup" to keep the exact same meaning. We can't really use the verb "couper", as its translation is "to cut"2, so not really applicable to hitting something.

That's all I can reasonably tell, hope it will help you better understand some details regarding the two words :).


1 : As stated in comments, the verb "couper" is grammatically and etymologically just an extension of "coup". But the actual meaning of "couper" is much closer to the one of "trancher" as it tells something was cut apart. You can "couper avec des ciseaux" (cut with scissors), but you cannot really "couper avec un marteau" (cut with an hammer), while you'd be able to "donner un coup de marteau" (strike with an hammer).

2 : Excluding many expressions that are bound to this verb too (couper son vin avec de l'eau, couper court à la discussion...), but that's a topic for another discussion :).

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    You write: ""Frappe" has a direct verb counterpart, while "coup" has not." — Nope! The verb couper is derived from coup and means to separate by a blow. Couper : dérivé de coup avec le suffixe -er : proprement « séparer par un coup ». – None Jul 21 at 12:20
  • @None Etymologically speaking, surely as the 1st group verbs are often linked to nouns. And perhaps the closer you can get to this definition would be "donner un coup de couteau" or "donner un coup de ciseaux", now that I think about it. Still, I wouldn't use "donner des coups de couteau à des légumes" in place of "couper des légumes" to say I am cutting some veggies :). More to murder someone, actually. – Tortliena Jul 21 at 13:25
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    Make a brushstroke might be a better English translation for donner un coup de pinceau. – Peter Shor Jul 21 at 14:18
  • @PeterShor It was outside my "actively known" vocabulary, I'll edit it. Thanks :). – Tortliena Jul 21 at 14:30
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    "frapper un grand coup" (to strike or to land a big blow) This is an important example, thanks for mentioning it. – Eric Aya Jul 21 at 16:14

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