Excuse our perfect French!
Today we want to give you a quick class on French idioms, those special expressions or phrases that can be used to spice up your conversations and surprise your interlocutors when traveling to Paris!
This blog post will explore 30 French idioms for you to use during your next trip to France or that might just as well make you want to know more about French culture from home!
What Are French Idioms?
French idioms are a type of phrase or expression in the French language that uses personalization or a pictured representation of a situation.
Common French idioms do not always have literal translations in English, so they can be challenging to understand and use for French speakers to be.
These phrases have been passed down from generation to generation and are widely used in France.
If you want to learn some whether it is to impress your friends and family, being able to blend among locals in an upcoming trip or to learn the language of Love, we gathered below some of our favorite French idioms.
Food and Drink Related French Idioms
It’s no news. Frenchies are all about food. And when it comes to common French idioms, they make good use of ingredients, pastries, and drink terms!
Ça ne mange pas de pain
Translation: That doesn’t eat bread
What it means: It’s no problem
No doubt that if we talk about bread, this is a French expression!
Mettre de l’eau dans son vin
Literal translation: To add water to your wine
What it means: To smooth things over
Water in the wine is a French idiom that comes from when French people used to add water to their wine when it was too strong. Guess they wouldn’t let you do this nowadays!
Casser du sucre que le dos de quelqu’un
Literal translation: Break sugar on the back of someone
What it means: To backstab someone, to talk behind someone’s back
A little extra French idiom you can use is “sucrer quelqu’un” as for “to backstab someone”.
Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre
Literal translation: To want the butter and the money from the butter
What it means: To have advantages on both sides
French speakers use it as an everyday life expression when they want to say that someone can’t have all advantages, it needs to be a win-win. Let’s be reasonable!
Pour une bouchée de pain
Literal translation: For a mouthful of bread
What it means: It’s doesn’t cost anything, it’s very cheap
French speakers use this idiom when it comes to something extremely cheap, as bread is basic and inexpensive food. Those Frenchies involve bread anywhere!
Tomber dans les pommes
Translation: Fall into the apples
What it means: To faint
It actually comes from an old middle age phrase with the original French word “pâmes” instead of “pommes”, which itself comes from “Se pâmer”. And the English translation? To faint.
Cela se vend comme des petits pains
Literal translation: It sells like chocolatines
What it means: It is sold quickly, it is very popular
As pastries are very popular in France, the common ones Croissants and Chocolatines (also called Pains au Chocolat) are usually sold out before the end of the day. That’s from where it comes!
Mettre son grain de sel
Literal translation: Put its grain of salt
What it means: To chip in, to put one’s oar in
“Mettre son grain de sel” is one of the common French idioms related to food that native speakers use regularly in daily life.
Comme un cheveu sur la soupe
Literal translation: Like a hair in the soup
What it means: Out of place, wrong time
No one wants to find a hair on his plate, neither dealing with someone intruding!
S’occuper de ses oignons
Literal translation: To deal with your onions
What it means: Mind your own business, stay out of other people’s affairs
Ne pas être dans son assiette
Literal translation: Not being in its plate
What it means: To have a bad mood, not feel well, to be in a bad shape
The French expression “(Ne pas) être dans son assiette” is used to say somebody is or isn’t feeling well physically or morally.
Love Related French Idiom Expressions
Paris, France is one of the most romantic places to visit, so it’s obvious that it would reflect in French expressions. Here’s an overview of French love phrases you could say to your bien-aimé(e) or that will give you a bit of a romantic speech.
Avoir un coeur d’artichaut
Literal translation: To have the heart of an artichoke
What it means: To be a bit naive, to be romantic
There is no English equivalent expression for this one. French speakers use it when they want to say that someone is a dreamer and has a bit of tenderness like an artichoke heart.
Avoir un coup de foudre
Literal translation: To have a stroke of lightning
What it means: To fall in love at first sight
This deep French expression means that they are completely head over heels for someone, when they fall madly in love at first sight, not being able to resist that person.
Déclarer sa flamme à quelqu’un
Literal translation: Declare its flame to someone
What it means: To declare your love to someone, to tell someone you are in love with them
This french idiom is used when someone wants to say that they just fell for someone and dared to declare their feelings, to throw themselves at someone.
Avoir des papillons dans le ventre
Literal translation: To have butterflies in the stomach
What it means: Get nervous, be anxious
This figurative meaning is the same for the English expression here, but in France, it’s more commonly used when you want to say that you’re in love with someone and feel nervous around them.
Rouler une pelle à quelqu’un
Literal translation: Roll a shovel to someone
What it means: French kiss, French kissing
This French idiomatic expression is used when you French kiss someone for the first time with passion and love. It’s a figurative sense here!
Se prendre un rateau
Literal translation: To get a rake on your face
What it means: To get the brush-off, to get shot down
After lovely phrases that made us feel like we are part of a romantic French movie, the last one goes in the other direction!
Animal-related French Idiomatic Expressions
Let’s go to a less sexy part of the French language and discover some idioms based on animal characteristics.
Cela ne case pas trois pattes à un canard
Literal translation: This doesn’t break three thighs to a duck
What it means: It is not extraordinary, nothing fantastic about it
As a duck only has two thighs, French speakers use this French saying to state something is not extraordinary, nothing special about it.
Il fait un froid de canard
Literal translation: It’s a cold of duck
What it means: It’s very cold
We remain on the duck french words register here, but for a totally different meaning!
Quand les poules auront des dents
Translation: When chickens grow teeth
Meaning: That will happen never happen
This French idiom can look a bit odd, and that’s actually why it’s used! They would use it when they know full well that something won’t be possible. The English equivalent would be “When pigs fly”.
Avoir un chat dans la gorge
Literal translation: To have a cat in one’s throat
What it means: To have a frog in one’s throat
Same meaning as the English expression, but looks like to speak French properly, you will have to adapt and think of a cat here instead!
Avoir le cafard
Literal translation: To have the cockroach
What it means: To be homesick, to be sad
When French speakers feel a bit down and sad, they might say they have the cockroach.
Poser un lapin à quelqu’un
Literal translation: To put a rabbit on someone
What it means: To stand up to somebody, to give the cold shoulder
English speakers would use the expression “To give the cold shoulder” to translate this one. It simply means that you don’t come to an appointment and somewhat, forgot to mention it!
S’entendre comme chat et chien
Literal translation: To get along like cat and dog
What it means: To argue all the time
This French idiom is used for French people who don’t tend to agree on everything together. English speakers would use the expression “Like oil and water”. It expresses incompatibility between two people or here – two animals!
Extra Random French Idioms With Their Literal Translation or Literal Meaning in English
Être dans la lune
Literal translation: To be in the moon
What it means: To be spaced out, to be daydreaming
This French idiomatic expression can be used when someone is not present mentally or if you want to say they are absent-minded.
L’habit ne fait pas le moine
Literal translation: The clothing doesn’t make the monk
What it means: Don’t judge a book by its cover
The French idiomatic expression “L’habit ne fait pas le moine” translates as “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and they use it to show that you shouldn’t judge people by their appearance.
Avoir un poil dans la main
Literal translation: To have a hair in the hand
What it means: Idleness, laziness
French speakers use this phrase to describe someone idle or lazy. Us, I guess we would just sing it instead…
“Today I don’t feel like doing anythiiing!”
Avoir la gueule de bois
Literal translation: To have a wooden mouth
What it means: To be hungover
English speakers would use the French idiom to express that you are feeling rough after a party or night out, after drinking heavily.
Les doigts dans le nez
Literal translation: The fingers in the nose
What it means: Very easy, a piece of cake
This French idiom is used to express that something is as easy as putting their fingers up their noses!
Yep, we are all about French Chic here!
Faire la grasse matinée
Literal translation: To do the fat morning
What it means: To sleep in
When French speakers want to say they slept in, they will use this idiom “Faire la grasse matinée” which also translates as “to do the fat morning”. It simply means to sleep in.
That’s it, you know everything about the most popular French idioms and will be able to French-ify your conversations like a boss!
Make sure to also use them to impress Frenchies and to fit in with locals while traveling around France.
If you want to know more about French culture, make sure to check out our virtual tours in Paris as well to get to know the capital and to learn fun facts about the City of Lights!
Until next time!