Idioms are the most interesting and humorous parts of every language. It is basically a figure of speech whose literal meaning is usually different from what is said. For example, ‘bite the bullet’ means to get over something, not to really go and bite the bullet.
Just like English, the French language is also full of interesting and funny idioms. Moreover, learning French idioms will make you see the language from a totally different perspective because it is full of humour and sarcasm.
However, like most other languages, it is hard to understand the meaning of French Idioms.
See, can you tell the meaning of “faire la grasse matinée (to do the fat morning)”? No, right?
So, are you interested and curious to learn more about the French idioms? As always, we have got you covered! In this post, we will share 20 popular and interesting French idioms and their translations and meaning. We will also give examples for you to understand the context of the idioms more clearly.
But before that, let’s see why should you even learn French Idioms? Keep Reading; it will get interesting!
Why Learn French Idioms?
French is one of the most accepted and widely spoken languages, and trust me, there are 70% chances you might have to speak it in your life. Now you must be thinking, how? Well, you can get a job in France, you can go there as a student in the exchange program.
At this point, you might take a course and learn the language, but still, you won’t know about the idioms, right? However, if you learn French Idioms, you will be able to speak the language more informally. Eventually, after being informal and casual, you will be able to make new friends and connect with people on a deeper level.
List of 20 French Idioms
As promised, here are some popular and interesting French Idioms with their English translation and explanation:
1. avoir le coup de foudre
(Strike of Lightning)
Have you ever heard that French is all about love? Yes, you heard that right; this idiom is proof of that! The literal meaning of this idiom is being struck by lightning. But the actual meaning hidden behind it is “love at first sight”. Sounds romantic, right? But it was not always like this. Decades ago, this idiom meant something very unpleasant. However, now it means love at the very first sight, like the strike of lightning.
2. raconter des salades
(To Tell Salads)
This French idiom is the English equivalent of “Spinning yarns”. This phrase refers to someone telling an extremely long story or simply exaggerating the story with unrealistic and unbelievable lies. However, it is not necessarily always lies; sometimes, this phrase can be referred to as just telling stories.
For example, “He didn’t know what to talk about, so he just started telling salads”.
3. Coûter les yeux de la tête
(To Cost an Arm and Leg)
Now, the literal meaning of this idiom is something that can cost you your eye. If we compare it to something equivalent to English, we can say, “To Cost an Arm and Leg”. Now obviously, we are not going to give our eyes, arms, or legs to anybody. This idiom just simply refers to something extremely and highly expensive.
4. Boire comme un trou
(Drink like a Hole)
The literal meaning of this idiom is Drink like a Hole. Still not understandable? It refers to someone who starts drinking and then doesn’t stop.
For example, you see someone drinking too much beer, and you say, “Oh my God, he is drinking like a hole!”. This idiom is kind of judgemental, so be careful while using it in conversations. Some people may find it harsh.
5. Arriver comme un cheveu sur la soupe
(Arrive like the Hair in a Soup)
Have you ever noticed a hair in your soup or food? How did it come there? Suddenly and out of nowhere, right? Well, that is precisely what this idiom means; when someone awkwardly enters a place unexpectedly and suddenly.
For example, “Me and my husband were fighting, and Kate arrived like the hair in a soup”.
6. Les carottes sont cuites
(The Carrots are Cooked)
As mentioned above, the literal definition of this idiom is “the carrots are cooked”, but in reality, this phrase is not related to carrots at all. The actual meaning of this idiom is that what is done is done, and now you can’t do anything about it.
Suppose, if you fail an exam, you can’t do anything about it because the carrots are cooked now.
7. Faire la grasse matinée
(To do the Fat Morning)
In this phrase, ‘fat morning’ refers to a long morning. In simple words, this idiom is for people who slept in late and had a very long morning.
For example, “Oh, it is almost noon. You did a fat morning today”.
This idiom is also kind of judge-y, so be careful while using it. There can be a dozen reasons for someone waking up late; they might be sick, have a little baby, etc. So be careful and don’t make someone awkward.
8. Tomber dans les pommes
(To fall in the Apples)
I love how dramatic and exaggerating French Idioms are, just like this one. The literal translation ‘to fall in the apples’ means just to faint. By faint, it can be fainted because of sickness, weakness, or anything.
For example, “Kate’s fever was so high that she fell into the apples after some time”.
9. L’habit ne fait pas le moine
(The dress doesn’t make the Monk)
The literal meaning of this phrase ‘the dress doesn’t make the monk’ is my favourite idiom, and trust me, it is too meaningful. It means never judging a book by its cover, just like someone can not become a monk by just wearing the costume.
For example, “A well-suited man stole money from my purse. The dress doesn’t make the monk”.
10. Faire un froid de canard
(A Duck is Cold)
Do you know the history of duck hunting? Basically, people hunted the ducks during the cold season in old times. Maybe this is why the French people came up with this Idiom. This phrase actually refers to a freezing cold season.
For example, “Bring all your jackets before coming to New York; the duck is cold!”
11. Avoir un oursin dans le portefeuille
(A Sea Urchin in the Wallet)
Do you ever feel excruciating pain in your heart when you need to take out money from your wallet and pay for something? Don’t worry. Almost all of us do, and this is what this Idiom means. Due to the sea urchins inside your wallet, it is hard to reach the money. In simple words, this idiom refers to someone who is a cheapskate.
For example, “He didn’t even give me a bar of chocolate when we first met. He is definitely a cheapskate!”
12. Donner sa langue au chat
(To give your Tongue to the Cat)
We were not bluffing when we said that French people were super dramatic. The literal meaning ‘to give your tongue to the cat’ does not mean you are actually going to give it to the animal. Instead, it refers to someone who does not know what to speak, can’t find words, or simply goes quiet.
For example, “The cat got my tongue when the professor saw me”.
13. Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter
(To have other cats to whip)
French people really love cats; that is why we have another idiom involving them. The literal meaning of this phrase refers to someone who is explaining that I have other important things to do.
For example, “I can’t deal with this gossip right now. I have other cats to whip”.
14. S’occuper de ses oignons
(Mind your own Onions)
Ever heard of the English phrase, ‘Mind your own business?’ The same is the meaning of this idiom, just in a little French way. This phrase or line is said to someone whose nose is always in other people’s businesses.
For example, “Why is she enquiring about my marriage life? She should mind her own onions”.
15. Avoir les yeux plus gros que le center
(Having Eyes Bigger than Belly)
Having eyes bigger than the belly is similar to the English phrase, ‘you should not bite more than you can chew’. However, this idiom is not only related to food. It refers to a lot of other things. In simpler words, this phrase is said to someone who is being greedy or impatient for something.
For example, “She lost all her money while gambling. She truly had eyes bigger than her belly”.
16. Se serrer la ceinture
(Tighten the Belt)
To tighten the belt does not mean to tighten your seat belt. In fact, it means tightening the belt around your belly. In simpler words, this idiom means to control your expenses and avoid spending money carelessly.
For example, “I am not getting my paycheque until next Monday. I really need to tighten the belt around my belly”.
17. Chercher midi à quatorze heures
(Search for noon at fourteen o’clock)
Yes, we know, searching for noon at fourteen o’clock is kind of impossible, and that is what this phrase means. This idiom means to make an easy thing more difficult, complicated, and complex.
Person 1: “Do you want me to drop you at Josh’s house, or you will ask him to pick you up?”
Person 2: “There is no need to search for noon at fourteen o’clock. It is right across the street; I can walk!”
18. Filer à l’anglaise
(To Leave like an Englishman)
French and English have always been in a teasing war, and this Idiom is proof of that. The actual meaning behind leaving like an Englishman is sneaking out or running away secretly.
For example, “He left like an Englishman during the engagement”.
Do you know what the most interesting thing is? English people use the idiom ‘to take a French Leave’ for the same reason.
19. Je dis ça, je dis rien
(I Say that, I Say Nothing)
I say that, I say Nothing, simply means “Just Saying”. Yes, French makes everything so complicated. This phrase is used when you want to say something but doesn’t want to offend anyone with your words. Also, this idiom is used when you are not ready to take responsibility for something you are going to say. Therefore, be careful when you are using this idiom; it has several meanings.
For example, “If she truly cared, she must have mended her ways. I say that, I say nothing”.
20. Être à l’ouest
(Being in the West)
Being in the west refers to someone entirely out of her mind and behaving abnormally. It also refers to someone acting crazy.
For example, “I don’t know what happened to her. She has been in the west since yesterday”.
Now that you have gone through the interesting French Idioms, you will know how interesting and humorous this language and French people are. They are obsessed with animals, food, and sarcasm. Learning these idioms is a great way to communicate with the French people more efficiently and in a tone, they would love.
So, what are you waiting for? Start practising these idioms we mentioned above. We are sure you will have a lot of fun! Happy Learning!