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French speakers love to use idioms to talk about love, life, and food – three very important aspects of their life and culture.
Idioms are interesting and creative phrases that French speakers use in daily conversation. Idioms are phrases where the meaning of the individual words doesn’t necessarily reflect the meaning of the entire phrase.
While French speakers may understand almost instinctively what an idiom really means, beginner French language learners may be a little confused. It is important, however, to learn French idioms to really understand French speakers.
Luckily, French idioms are often quite interesting and easy to learn. You just need to start learning a few phrases and adding more and more as you go along.
To start you off, here are the 38 most common French idioms to help you sound like a native.
Translation: Strike of lighting
Meaning: Love at first sight
This is one of those beautiful French idioms that talk about love. It refers to the stunning moment when you first catch sight of and fall in love with a special someone.
Translation: Have a artichoke’s heart
Meaning: Fall in and out of love easily
This French idiom might sound like it’s about food, but it’s actually about love. The idea here is, that an artichoke is a vegetable that you eat by detaching the leaves. If you have a heart like an artichoke, you can “detach” from love easily. So the implication is someone who has an artichoke heart falls in love easily and often – has as many loves as an artichoke has leaves.
Translation: To pinch on someone
Meaning: Have a crush
When you say this, you are saying that you have a crush or are attracted to someone.
Translation: To take a rake
Meaning: To be rejected
Sometimes French idioms about love are sweet, sometimes they hurt. This idiom refers to how love can hurt because if you use it, you are saying that you made your feelings or intentions known and were rejected
Translation: Put a rabbit on somebody
Meaning: Not show up
This funny French idiom describes a situation that can be annoying or heartbreaking. It means that you didn’t show up to meet someone when you said you would. It’s usually used when talking about getting “stood up” by someone you were interested in romantically.
Translation: Have a fat morning
Meaning: Sleep in.
This French idiom refers to one of life’s great simple pleasures, sleeping in and having a lazy morning.
Translation: Calling a cat a cat
Meaning: Bluntly telling the truth
Sometimes in life, we are called on to be brutally honest and just tell the truth, even if it’s unpleasant. This is the equivalent of saying “calling a spade a spade” in English. You shatter someone’s illusions because it’s necessary.
Translation: To be in the moon
This beautiful French idiom is used to describe someone who is daydreaming. It can also be used to describe being distracted for a moment.
Translation: After the rain, nice weather
Meaning: Better days will come
This is an inspiring and beautiful French idiom that basically encourages you to not be discouraged about bad things because things will get better.
Translation: We must eat to live and not live to eat
Meaning: Everything in moderation
This is a bit of advice on how to live a good life. It’s not only cautioning against eating too much but advising you to be mindful about not giving in to excess.
Translation: As you make your bed, you must lie
Meaning: Live with the consequences of your actions
This is basically a caution about how your past behavior or decisions will influence your present and your future. It is a reminder that your decisions brought you to where you are now and you have to live with that.
Translation: To be flat
If you hear this French idiom, someone is saying that they are lacking in energy or are simply exhausted.
Translation: To be good in one’s skin
This beautiful French idiom refers to someone who is confident in themselves and their abilities. They are not afraid of the opinions of others.
Translation: Drink like a hole
Meaning: Drinks a lot
When you hear this French idiom, someone is trying to imply that someone else is a big drinker. Not necessarily an unusual thing for a French speaker as they are a culture that savors a glass of wine or more with their meals.
Translation: Arrive like the hair in a soup
Meaning: Entered an awkward situation
Finding a hair in one’s soup can ruin your meal, just like entering an awkward situation can ruin your day. An example of this would be if someone entered a room when the occupants were in the middle of an argument.
Translation: Put in one’s grain of salt
Meaning: Give unsolicited advice
This French idiom about food refers to the idea that sometimes an extra “ingredient” is unnecessary. In this case, your extra “opinion” is not necessary to resolve a problem or end an argument.
Translation: The mustard is getting to my nose
Meaning: I’m getting angry
This is one of those French idioms about food, that isn’t really talking about food. When you say this, you are saying that you are getting angry at someone or a situation.
Translation: Eyes bigger than my stomach
Meaning: Have too much food
The translation of this French idiom to English is actually a common English idiom that is used in a restaurant or at the dining table. If you have eyes that are bigger than your stomach, in both French and English, you are saying that you have more food than you can finish.
Translation: It’s cake
Meaning: It’s easy
This is basically the French equivalent to the English idiom “piece of cake”. You are saying that a task is easy or will be easy.
Translation: To be sold like small bread
Meaning: To be in demand
This idiom means that something is in high demand or popular so they are easy to sell.
Translation: To make peanuts
Meaning: Earn very little
This is a French idiom that is used to describe a job that pays those that do it very little.
Translation: To have bread on the board
Meaning: To have a lot to do
The literal translation of this French idiom sounds like a good problem to have, but it actually means that you’re very busy and maybe a little harassed and stressed.
Translation: For a mouthful of bread
Another French idiom that makes a bread reference, is used to say that something didn’t cost much so it was “cheap”.
Translation: To tell salads
Meaning: To tell tales
If a French speaker says this, they are doubting your story or think that you are making it up or exaggerating.
Translation: It walks
Meaning: I agree
This short idiom basically is a casual way of saying that you agree to a plan. So it’s kind of like saying “okay” when someone suggests you meet for lunch at a specific café.
Translation: Costs the eyes in your head
Meaning: It’s expensive
This is the equivalent to the English idiom, “it costs an arm and a leg”.
Translation: Doesn’t know how to do anything with one’s ten fingers
This is a rather unflattering French idiom as it implies that someone is of no use.
Translation: To jump from the rooster to the donkey
Meaning: Jump from topic to topic
If you are a beginner language learner, you might have a hard time following a conversation if the speaker keeps changing the topic. You can say that they are doing this and ask that they slow down.
Translation: The devil’s lawyer
Meaning: Present a counter-argument
This is the French equivalent of “devil’s advocate”, so someone who presents a counter argument or gives a different opinion.
Translation: To be a blue flower
The idea here is that a blue flower is delicate looking and evokes a feeling of tenderness and sentiment. So, if you are a blue flower you are feeling a slightly melancholy feeling of nostalgia – sentimental.
Translation: To be in the West
Meaning: Spaced out
You can use this idiom to refer to someone who is a little bit “off” or “spaced out”.
Translation: To be a wet chicken
Meaning: To be a coward
This French idiom is basically the same as calling someone a “chicken” in English. You are saying that they are scared and cowardly.
Translation: To be canon
This is an informal way to say that someone is beautiful or “hot”. It can also be used if you want to say that something is “cool”.
Translate: To throw money out the windows
Meaning: To waste money
This French idiom is used to describe wasteful behavior. Specifically, it refers to someone who is being reckless and wasteful with money.
Translation: To have the IQ of an oyster
This is not a flattering thing to say about someone, you are basically saying their IQ is low so they are stupid.
Translation: To roll in gold
Meaning: To be rich
This French idiom refers to someone who has a lot of money or who is very rich.
Translation: To break sugar on someone’s back
Meaning: To gossip
This rather long French idiom basically means to talk behind someone’s back or talk about someone who’s not there. The shortest description of this is “to gossip”.
Translation: To turn to vinegar
Meaning: A situation is getting out of control
This is probably similar to the English idiom that things are going “sour”. French speakers say this when they are talking about a situation that is beginning to go badly.
Working with a good online tutor can help you learn how and when to use these idioms in daily speech.
They can also suggest some other French idioms that you should learn in order to better be able to communicate with native French speakers.
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