I wanted to see how to say "to spit" in French, as in "She was so angry at me, that she spit in my face", or "She was so angry at me, that she spit at me".

First, I do some preliminary thinking about the sentences that I want to translate:

  • I want to translate "She spit in my face" and "She spit at me"
  • I ask myself: "is there an indirect object here in either of in my face or at me ?". I'm not sure. Sadly, I can't find an online English dictionary that tells me if the verb "to spit" takes an indirect object. (I also know that the most common prepositions that introduces an indirect object, in French, are "à" and "de"; I note that in English, "She spit to my face" sounds questionable, or "She spit to me" sounds wrong; I'm not 100% sure if this observation is helpful, though.)

Now, I check dictionaries to help me translate "She spit in my face" and "She spit at me".


WordReference has three entries that might be relevant.

cracher 3 definitions

  1. The first definition is intransitive.
    • This makes me wonder: "maybe in my face or at me aren't actual objects, but instead are adverbials. That is, maybe "spit in my face" is an intransitive verb ("spit") plus an adverbial ("in my face")? (And similarly, maybe "spit" is an intransitive verb in "spit at me"?)";
    • (that is, "She gave the book to me" uses an actual indirect object, which can be pronominalized with an indirect object pronoun; but maybe "in my face" or "at me" aren't using actual indirect objects?)
  2. The second definition is marked as transitive (with "vtr"), but it doesn't tell me what kind of objects it takes. The example sentence only has one object (a direct object). This makes me wonder if only a direct object is taken, and not an indirect object. I am not sure, though.
  3. The third entry seemed relevant because, on the right-hand column, it says "spit at [sth] vi + prep", which is close to "spit at [someone]" (ie, it is close to "spit at me", which is one of the things I'm trying to translate ). However, looking at the definition ("péjoratif rejeter" = "reject") and the example sentences, it seems that this definition is only for the figurative use of "spit at [sth]", and so is not relevant to the concrete meaning of "She spit at me".

So, I conclude that I still don't know if cracher can take an indirect object or not (and if it can, what prepositions must precede it); however the second entry seems to suggest that cracher can only take a direct object, and never an indirect object.

EXPLORING Le Trésor de la Langue Française DICTIONARY

This is the webpage for "cacher".

I notice that this dictionary at the very top says "verbe trans.":

TLFi cacher

which seems to be saying that all uses of "cracher" are transitive? (Does this contradict WordReference, which says that "cracher" can be intransitive?) However, "verbe trans." still doesn't tell me if the verb can take an indirect object, a direct object, or both.

I get too fatigued to try to read it all thouroughly, but am able to take a look at some example sentences (with the help of DeepL translator), and I notice that many of them take a direct object, but none of them take an indirect object:

  • Je fumais un cigare que je trouvais amer, et je le crachai dans l'eau
  • Je crachais du Virgile à tort et à travers

I conclude from these example sentences, that it seems that cracher cannot take an indirect object.


At this point, I seem to be concluding that cracher cannot take an indirect object, but I'm not sure.

I turn to DeepL for more investigations.

  • She was so angry at me, that she spit at me.
    Elle était tellement en colère contre moi, qu'elle m' a craché dessus.

  • She was so angry at me, that she spit in my face.
    Elle était tellement en colère contre moi, qu'elle m' a craché au visage.

And now I'm very confused. The two bolded m' pronouns certainly couldn't be direct objects (eg, me as a direct object makes no sense, eg: The thing being directly acted upon is the saliva that she is spitting out, not me!). The m' pronouns must be indirect objects, then!? But both WordReference and TLFi seemed to suggest that cracher could only take a direct object!

I am also not sure how to interpret au visage; my understanding of grammar seems to be lacking. Is au visage an adverbial, I guess?

I decide to do more experiments; I modify the sentences slightly:

  • She spit at David.
    Elle a craché sur David. (I was hoping that this would say "à David" or "de David", indicating that cracher takes an indirect object)

  • She spit in David's face.
    Elle a craché au visage de David.

Finally, I try one more experiment, trying to change "me" into either "le" or "lui":

  • She spit in his face.
    Elle lui a craché au visage.
  • She spit at him.
    Elle lui a craché dessus.

Now I note: lui is an indirect object pronoun! So it seems that cracher indeed can take an indirect object??!

(Note: you can safely skip reading this section)

Finally, I review some of the grammar knowledge I know, in an attempt to clarify my confusion. (Sadly, this review ends up not clarifying any of my confusion).

I want to review the contrast between indirect objects (which sometimes are introduced with à) with adverbials that also start with à:

  • I know that in "She gave the book to Marc." -> "Elle a donné le livre à Marc.", "à Marc" is the preposition à introducing the indirect object Marc.
  • in the following sentences (taken from a grammar textbook 1), the bolded are indirect objects (plus the preposition that precede them) :
    • "J'ai remercié Paul de son cadeau", "Marie-Cécile a vendu sa voiture à Loïc", "J'ai laissé mes lunettes sur mon bureau.". These indirect objects are, respectively, a Prepositional Object, a Dative Object, and a Locative Object. (and they are all pronominalized differently; in this case, with "en", "lui", and "y").
    • (And indeed, the textbook gives another sentences that uses both a Preposition Object and a Dative Object: "J'ai parlé de l'affaire à Max")
  • I know that some "à + NounPhrase" aren't indirect objects at all. For example: In "Les enfants jouent au tennis au parc", "au tennis" is indeed an indirect object, but "au parc" is not an indirect object (it is, I think, considered to be an adverbial?)


  1. Do the entries in WordReference indeed tell me that cacher can only take a direct object, and not an indirect object? Or, instead, does WordReference not actually give me this information?
  2. Is it true that the TLFi is saying that all uses of cracher are transitive, by putting "verbe. trans." at the very top? If so, isn't this contradicting WordReference, which has an entry marked "vi" ("verbe intransitif")?
  3. Does the TLFi webpage tell me if cracher can take indirect objects?
  4. Are the two m' (in the first two DeepL translations) indirect objects?
  5. Can "au visage" (in the second sentence translated by DeepL) be pronominalized? If so, how?
  6. Is "au visage" an indirect object, or is it instead an adverbial?
  7. If I undo the pronomializations of lui (in the last two DeepL translations), would the indirect objects be preceded with de or with à? Should a dictionary be able to answer this question for me?

footnote 1: Mosegaard Hansen, "The structure of modern standard French", page 21

  • For non-American readers, note that the past tense of "spit" in the US is "spit" but "spat" in most (all?) other anglophone countries. Aug 12 at 22:32
  • @HarryAudus haha, wow. I live in Ontario, Canada. when i read your comment, i thought to myself, "certainly, i use 'spat' instead of 'spit' in the past tense!", and then i look at my original post and i see that i wrote 'spit' for the past tense. there are things a person doesn't realize they do, and they don't realize that they don't realize that they do it until it's pointed out to them!
    – silph
    Aug 13 at 1:59

The TLFi lists the metaphorical and idiomatic expression cracher au visage. It closely matches the English spit on someone's face.

CRACHER, verbe transitif.
2. Emploi absolu. Rejeter des crachats. À chaque instant il se mouche bruyamment et crache dans son mouchoir (Renard, Journal,1907, p. 1105):
− Par métaphore ou au figuré.
a) Montrer son mépris pour quelqu'un ou pour quelque chose.
Fam. Cracher sur. Mépriser ou dédaigner. Le niais ! murmura Rocambole, peut-on cracher ainsi sur vingt millions ! (Ponson du Terr., Rocambole,t. 2, 1859, p. 51). Je crache sur ta loi. J'ai pour moi le droit (Camus, État de siège, 1948, p. 255). Ne pas cracher sur. Apprécier. Vous savez que je ne crache pas sur les filles; j'ai eu mes petites aventures, comme tout le monde (Bernanos, Soleil Satan, 1926, p. 63).
Cracher au visage, au nez, à la face de qqn. L'insulter :
3. Toujours bas, nous rampons sous les princes dans leur gloire, et nous leur crachons au visage lorsqu'ils sont tombés. Chateaubriand, Essai sur les Révolutions, t. 2, 1797, p. 144.

Me is an indirect object here (à moi) :

À qui a-t-elle craché au visage ? À moi.

Note that these expressions are idioms, so you can't generalize the way they are grammatically built.

For example, you won't really say il m'a craché au pied, that would be the litteral il m'a craché sur le pied and not any more a metaphor.

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