In the Oscar nominated (and Golden Globe winning) French film, Anatomy of a Fall, one of the main themes is the ability to express oneself in different languages. The predominant languages of the film are French and English. The plot involves Sandra, a novelist, wife of Samuel and mother of Daniel, and the death of Samuel; was it an accident, a suicide, or murder?

My first language was French (Québécois), which contains a lot of borrowed (from English) words, so I'm fairly used to that. In spite of this, I was struck by a word used in the film by both a Judge (from whom I'd expect more formal French) and a witness (a boy of 13.)

The Judge is explaining to the boy, Daniel, why she has decided to exclude him from the courtroom the next day. She explains that the testimony to be given will be much more disturbing, and she wants to spare him the painful details of his parent's marital issues and the details regarding the manner of his father's death. He protests, saying that he can handle it without disrupting the proceedings. The Judge responds,

(Judge) On doit pouvoir tout aborder, sans avoir peur de te heurter.

(Daniel) J'ai deja été heurté.

the screenplay (page 89)

I've never heard "hurt" expressed this way, either in Canada or France, or in French language films. I've not seen it written, either. My experience has been with blesser, faire mal, douleur, etc.

Is this a common way to express being hurt?

I wish I could write this entire question in French, but I've only learned to speak it, not to write it. Apologies.

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    FWIW, the « présidente » isn't using very formal French with Daniel: « Déranger, c’est pas tellement le problème. Tu dois comprendre, y a deux aspects : y a le fait de te protéger, et puis est-ce qu’ [vs: et il y a également la question de si] on peut travailler librement. On doit pouvoir évoquer les faits dans toute leur crudité. C’est quand même une affaire violente, tu dois comprendre ça [vs: j'imagine que tu comprends cela] ? On doit pouvoir tout aborder, sans avoir peur de te heurter. »
    – Luke Sawczak
    Feb 7 at 20:01
  • @LukeSawczak - Thanks for pointing that out. I'm accustomed to dropped words in Québécois; I just would have expected the judge to use more formal French. Quand même is wrong? I didn't know that. Oh, and thanks for the edit. I looked for a screenplay, but only found one without some of the scenes. Feb 7 at 23:21
  • Quand même can definitely occur in different registers. What I learned is that in the sense "regardless" it's standard register, but in the sense "after all" as used here it's more colloquial. (Certainly not slang.) Probably something like Il ne faut pas oublier que c'est would be more formal. But I would certainly defer to a native's ears on that one :)
    – Luke Sawczak
    Feb 7 at 23:48
  • Quand même is not wrong, It is a familiar level of language, completely appropriate when addressing a 13 years old. The answer J'ai déjà été heurté is the least realistic part of the exchange as I cannot image someone coming with this sentence in an everyday discussion. Feb 8 at 8:41
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    @anongoodnurse heurter is not uncommon but slightly formal. It is not borrowed from English. Feb 15 at 7:56

2 Answers 2


Note: my answer is about French as spoken in France. Usage in Québec is often different and more influenced by English. That being said, Usito doesn't show any difference with my usage of the word.

The original meaning of “heurter” is to hit something, generally accidentally. This meaning is somewhat dated. The most common usage of this verb today is “se heurter à”, meaning to be confronted with something. Another meaning that is somewhat common is to cause mental anguish, close to “shock” in English: “Ces images peuvent heurter” = “these pictures may shock”. French also has “choquer”, with a slightly different meaning: “choquer” tends to imply moral outrage, whereas “heurter” doesn't.

sans avoir peur de te heurter.

This feels a bit weird to me for two reasons. One reason is the grammatical construction: “heurter” in this sense is usually not transitive. It can be transitive but it feels dated to me. Another reason is the context: the blunt discussion is likely to shock Daniel, and the judge is aware of that, so the judge shouldn't be afraid of shocking, he should be sorry that he may be shocking.

The English word “hurt” is etymologically related to the French word “heurter”, but it's a false friend: the meanings don't overlap much. “Heurter” only means causing pain in the mental sense, and it's closer to “shock” than “hurt”.

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    About "This meaning is somewhat dated.", you could still hear and use quite commonly something like: "La voiture a heurté un mur, un sanglier ou un piéton" (except that "renversé" might be more common for "piéton"). As you say, it's generally to describe an accident.
    – Bruno
    Feb 8 at 8:29
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    More than "dated", I would say that it's formal. I think most french people know the word and would understand it. And I don't think "sans avoir peur de te heurter" is weird. In a formal setting, a similar "sans vouloir vous heurter" is a perfectly fine sentence and is just very polite.
    – Jemox
    Feb 8 at 8:44
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    @anongoodnurse "week-end" is so ubiquitous in France that when someone says "fin de semaine" in France it most often refers to the end of the workweek, not the end of the week, so thursday/friday (or friday/saturday if you work on saturdays).
    – Stef
    Feb 8 at 13:01
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    Emphasizing on @Jemox's comment, "heurter les sentiments de quelqu'un" is, although quite formal/literary, perfectly valid French, and would easily be understood.
    – Right leg
    Feb 8 at 13:22
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    Je n'aurais pas pensé à un lien avec to hurt, mais je trouve la formulation étrange. Être heurté par une voiture, courant. Mais dans le LBU Grevisse ou Goosse emploie une phrase « Ce pléonasme ne semblait pas heurter les classiques ». Si c'est soutenu, dans mon sociolecte ce l'est au point d'être étrange, pour moi à tout le moins. Feb 9 at 3:18

“Heurter” is a very polite word. It is formal but not so much in the sense of words used in administration but rather in the sense of words used by people who would like to be extremely caring and polite. “Heurter vos sentiments” is about the most polite way of saying “annoying you”.

Besides the etymological link, it has little to do with “to hurt,” which I would rather translate as “blesser,” and this translation works both for physical injuries and in the metaphorical sense.

The other verbs you mention, “faire mal” and “(provoquer de la) douleur,” are related to pain, not to get hurt (one can experience pain without being hurt in any way, and inversely, one can be hurt without specifically experiencing pain).

As for the dialog, the first sentence, “sans avoir peur de te heurter,” is not very common in French, where “heurter” is rather applied to abstract notions such as feelings, pride, self-esteem, etc., rather than to persons per se.

It is used in the sense of “crashing into” though: “la voiture a heurté quelqu'un,” “l'homme a été heurté par la voiture”. And therefore, IMHO, in the answer there is a jeu de mots where instead of “mes sentiments ont été heurtés” Daniel replies “j'ai été heurté” as if he was hit by a car, therefore maximizing the (symbolic) damage.

  • Thanks for the answer. "Running roughshod over [one's] feelings" is also common in English; my question was is this common? I have/have had had relatives who only speak/spoke French to me, and have never heard this, hence my surprise. Feb 14 at 7:53

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