I want to know if "bêtise" and "sottise" can be used interchangeably. If not, how do they differ?

  • I am not really qualified to comment on the semantic nuances because I am not really sure! I do know that 'bêtise' is used in certain region French to signify a type of sweet or candy. J'adore les bêtises de Cambrai is an example of this. Jul 14, 2013 at 13:49
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    For cohesion, please have question titles and bodies in the same language. I think people usually understand answers should be in the same language as the question, but if they don't, don't be afraid to ask them to switch language. We're here to help you, not hinder your learning process.
    – Kareen
    Jul 14, 2013 at 14:06
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    They are not always interchangeable, but the nuance is subtle. Jul 14, 2013 at 14:11
  • Thank you for your help. I'll use just one language in the future. Hopefully, only French when I feel more confident in my abilities to speak it.
    – indoxica
    Jul 14, 2013 at 14:12
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    @indoxica When you feel comfortable asking questions in French, certainly give it a go! This is part of the learning process, and as the help page for asking on-topic questions suggests: "If you are learning French, we suggest that you learn by doing and ask in French..". I ask questions in French and I know that I make certain errors, but a moderator always comes by sooner or later and edits my post for grammar, spelling, and clarity - and this is great! Not only does this make it easier for the question to be answered, you also can see the edit and improve your writing skills! Jul 14, 2013 at 15:20

3 Answers 3


As long as I know the both can be used interchangeably.

The main difference is the meaning they could take which is very subtle and difficult to explain.

Case where "bêtise" is used

*A childlike misconduct

  • A childlike misconduct eg: Throwing tomato sauce on the floor
  • A non-crucial error oftenly eg: Use the wrong word in a sentence

"bêtise" is also a candy but... well nobody cares

Case where "sottise" is used

  • A stupid sentence eg: What is the color of the white horse?

After reflexion I would say that sottise is harder than bêtise which is more smooth.

"Tu dis des sottises" > "Tu dis des bêtises"

  • As Gilles commented above, they are not always interchangeable. Also I find your answer slightly hard to follow. What do you mean by sense? (J'ai l'impression que vous voulez dire 'meaning' en anglais. Je pense que le mot 'sense', comme vous l'avez dit, est un gallicisme.) Jul 14, 2013 at 15:25
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    Yes I was probably wrong "meaning" is more correct
    – torr
    Jul 14, 2013 at 16:07

Hugo uses the two terms bête and sot with an implied contrast in Les Misérables (P3B4Ch4):

La vanité a un envers et un endroit; l'endroit est bête, c'est le nègre avec ses verroteries; l'envers est sot, c'est le philosophe avec ses guenilles. Je pleure sur l'un et je ris de l'autre.

For context, the speaker, Grantaire, has just claimed that vanity is that with which nothingness (Zéro) dresses itself up in order to not walk about naked (a possible Emperor's New Clothes reference); and in that context, envers and endroit refer to the inside and outside of the clothing (not to a wrong and right side of vanity per se.)

I believe Hugo means bête and sot to be read as contrasting terms, particularly in light of the subsequent sentence, in which Grantaire says he weeps for the one and laughs at the other. I would read bête here as "primitive" or "atavistic" as against the perverse stupidity of the philosopher, all of whose learning and thought has only led him to flaunt his rags.

That said, this difference is clearly very specific to this usage and context.


The main difference is the adjective used to constitute the noun meaning that :

  • Bête => Bêtise
  • Sot => Sottise

You also have the following synonyms :

  • Idiot => Idiotie
  • Con => Connerie
  • Stupide => Stupidité (but this one rather refers to the concept of being idiot than the act itself)

So if you want differences betwwen "bêtise" and "sottise" (and "idiotie" & "connerie" too), you will have to look for nuances between the adjectives behind the names.

La principale différence se situe au niveau des adjectifs utilisés pour former le nom :

  • Bête => Bêtise
  • Sot => Sottise

On peut également citer les synonymes suivants :

  • Idiot => Idiotie
  • Con => Connerie
  • Stupide => Stupidité (mais ce mot désigne plus le concept d'être idiot que l'acte en lui-même)

Pour trouver les différences de sens entre "bêtise" et "sottise" (mais aussi "idiotie" et "connerie"), il faut donc regarder du côté des nuances de sens entre les adjectifs derrière les noms.

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    So remains the difficult task of finding a way to explain the difference between sot and bête :-) Jul 14, 2013 at 15:57
  • To add more information, sottiste comes from the noun "sot" wich comes from soptus in latin which means endormi (assleep). Bêtise comes from the latin word bestia which means bête in French (beast in English).
    – S12000
    Jul 15, 2013 at 11:51

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