Coup de grace

In English, a coup de grace is a strong finishing stroke or a decisive way of ending something. The loan phrase from French is useful in all sorts of contexts. For instance, it’s often used in reference to competitive sports to describe a move or a score that effectively ends the match, and it’s often used in reference to works of art, describing a novel touch that gives a work a strong finish.

Coup de grace is French for stroke of grace. In French and in its early English use, the phrase usually referred to a blow meant to quickly end the misery of one who is mortally wounded. In English, the phrase is still occasionally used this way, but it’s most often used figuratively.

The French phrase includes a circonflexe above the a in gracecoup de grâce—but English isn’t kind to these marks. In most of the examples we find in English sources, the circonflexe is omitted.

As an established loan phrase with at least two centuries in English, coup de grace can go unitalicized in normal use, but many publications still italicize it at least some of the time.


Recession has delivered the coup de grace to a quarter century of manufacturing decline. [Guardian]

Or were the dinosaurs already undergoing a long-term decline, and the asteroid was merely the coup de grâce? [New York Times]

The coup de grace was administered by Hanlon with nine minutes left to play when he clattered a drive off the underside of the crossbar. [Telegraph]

At meal’s end comes Casa Marcelo’s coup de grace: a cup cake-size tarta de Santiago that’s cooked only until the outside crust sets. [The Age]

A military assassin intercepted the convoy, spraying Diem’s body with bullets and stabbing his bleeding corpse in a coup de grâce. [Mother Jones]

1 thought on “Coup de grace”

  1. As this article deals with written English, there is no reason for any mention of the pervasive mis-pronunciation of  the word “grace.”  So I’ll do it here.

    This expression is very often pronounced “coo de grah,”  which, in French, would be “coup de gras.” That means stroke of fat. (As in “foie gras,” which means fat liver–geese are force fed so that their livers become enlarged).

    The right way to say this is “coo de grahss.” 

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