Have you ever read or heard a sentence you couldn’t understand despite knowing all the words?
A sentence whose meaning was as mysterious as the meaning of the French words on Forever 21 t-shirts?
You just discovered the wonderful world of French idioms.
These are expressions equivalent to “alright”, “to go the extra mile” or “to get laid”.
And you’ll never truly sound French if you don’t know their meaning.
- 1 Choose the kind of French expressions you’re interested in
- 2 French idioms about love and relationships
- 3 French idioms to express how you feel
- 3.1 Avoir le cafard
- 3.2 Avoir la pêche/banane/patate
- 3.3 Avoir/crever la dalle
- 3.4 Prendre la tête
- 3.5 En avoir marre
- 3.6 Avoir du pain sur la planche
- 3.7 Être canon
- 3.8 Être à l’ouest
- 3.9 Être rouge comme une tomate/ écrevisse/pivoine
- 3.10 Être crevé
- 3.11 Être mal en point
- 3.12 En avoir ras le bol
- 3.13 Avoir la flemme
- 3.14 Avoir une peur bleue de
- 3.15 Ne pas être dans son assiette
- 3.16 Avoir la moutarde qui monte au nez
- 3.17 Être au taquet
- 3.18 Avoir la gueule de bois
- 3.19 Avoir un chat dans la gorge
- 3.20 Être bien dans sa peau
- 3.21 Avoir un QI d’huître
- 3.22 Avoir un poil dans la main
- 4 French idioms about food and drinks
- 5 French idioms about the weather
- 6 French idioms to talk about money
- 7 French idioms to talk about actions
- 7.1 Casser les pieds à quelqu’un
- 7.2 Casser du sucre sur le dos de quelqu’un
- 7.3 Tourner au vinaigre
- 7.4 Faire la grasse matinée
- 7.5 Tomber dans le panneau
- 7.6 (Jeter) un coup d’oeil
- 7.7 Raconter des salades
- 7.8 Aller droit au but
- 7.9 Faire le pont
- 7.10 Faire gaffe
- 7.11 Faire la sourde oreille
- 7.12 Tourner la page
- 7.13 Faire l’andouille
- 7.14 S’occuper de ses oignons
- 7.15 En faire tout un fromage
- 7.16 Mettre du piment dans sa vie
- 7.17 Pleurer comme une madeleine
- 7.18 Ramener sa fraise
- 7.19 Changer de crèmerie
- 7.20 En avoir rien à cirer/foutre/faire
- 7.21 Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter
- 7.22 Faire la tête
- 7.23 Mettre son grain de sel
- 7.24 En prendre de la graine
- 7.25 Prendre ses cliques et ses claques
- 7.26 Prendre quelque chose au pied de la lettre
- 7.27 Partir en fumée
- 7.28 Prendre ses jambes à son cou
- 7.29 Prendre son courage à deux mains
- 7.30 Prendre quelqu’un la main dans le sac
- 7.31 N’y voir que du feu
- 7.32 Être en train de
- 7.33 Chercher la petite bête
- 7.34 Tomber dans les pommes
- 7.35 Être sur son 31
- 7.36 Ne pas être sorti de l’auberge
- 7.37 Donner sa langue au chat
- 7.38 Tenir au courant
- 8 Other French idioms
Choose the kind of French expressions you’re interested in
This article will help you discover 100 common French idioms.
That’s a lot and I know you don’t have time to discover all of them immediately.
So bookmark this article and select the category you’re the most interested in.
French idioms about love and relationships
Literally: to have a struck of lightning
Meaning: In the world of French idioms, love can be rather painful and love at first sight is called “un coup de foudre”. You can also say that you have a “coup de foudre” for an object,
Meaning it unexpectedly and suddenly seduced you.
English counterpart: to fall in love at first sight, to fall madly in love
When I saw him, it was love at first sight.
She immediately fell in love with this song when she heard it.
Literally: to get dumped
Meaning: This idiom has the same meaning as “to get dumped” in English.
English counterpart: to get dumped
You look sad, what’s going? My boyfriend dumped me.
“Se faire larguer” (to get dumped) is the passive form. But you can also say “larguer quelqu’un” (to dump someone).
Literally: to hit a rake
Meaning: You know that feeling when the person you’re interested in rejects you?
That’s what the French call “se prendre un râteau”.
English counterpart: to get knocked back
Nathan is sad because he got knocked back.
Literally: to put a rabbit to someone
Meaning: Ever had a date who didn’t show up? In French, you say the person “vous a posé un lapin”.
English counterpart; to stand somebody up
Didn’t you have a date tonight?
I did, she stood me up.
He is sad, because he stood him up.
Literally: to throw oneself in the air
Meaning: This is an informal way to say “to have sex”.
English counterpart: to get laid
The French like to get laid, that’s a well-known (fact).
French idioms to express how you feel
Literally: to have the cockroach
Meaning: When you have “le cafard”, it means you’re depressed, you are feeling down.
English counterpart: to feel blue, to feel down, to feel depressed
Je sais pas, j’ai le cafard.
What’s going on? You look sad.
I don’t know, I feel depressed.
He has been feeling down ever since he heard the news.
Literally: to have the peach/banana/potato/shape
Meaning: This is an idiom you can use to say someone is happy and full of energy.
Think about a smiley face in the shape of a banana.
English counterpart: to feel great, to feel happy, to be in high spirits
He feels (looks likes he feels) great today, it makes me happy.
Nothing better than vacations under the sun to feel great.
Literally: to have/die the slab
Meaning: Nowadays “la dalle” mostly means “the slab”, but it used to designate a part of the throat. It’s an idiom you can use to say you are starving.
English counterpart: to be starving, to feel hungry
I’m so hungry I could eat anything.
I have been starving for one week, I can’t take it anymore.
Note: “Crever la dalle” is even more casual than “avoir la dalle”.
Prendre la tête
Literally: to take the head
Meaning: when something or someone “prend la tête”, it means it’s irritating, it gives you a headache and you can’t wait to be done with it.
It’s often used in negative sentences to say you shouldn’t bother too much with something.
English counterpart: to bother someone, to give yourself a headache. to drive crazy
This report is giving me a headache, I can’t wait to be done with it.
His noisy neighbor bothers him.
Don’t let it drive you crazy, it’s just a game.
Literally: to have enough of it
Meaning: you use “en avoir marre” when you’ve had enough of something or someone.For example, you’ll often hear French people complain about trains being late and say “j’en ai marre”.
English counterpart: to be fed up with something or someone.
I am fed up with public transportation.
Damn it, I’m tired of this guy.
Literally: to have bread on the board
Meaning: When you have “bread on the board”, it means you have a lot to do.
English counterpart: to have a lot on your plate
I have a lot on my plate this week. What about meeting next week instead?
Literally: to be canon
Meaning: This is an informal way of saying that someone is beautiful (or hot) or that an object is cool.
English counterpart: to be hot, to fit the standard of beauty
Wow, this girl is so hot
Literally: to be in the West.
Meaning: This idiom actually has nothing to do with geography, you can use it to say someone is off,
English counterpart: to be spaced out, to not be with it.
Sorry, I forgot we were supposed to meet today, I’m not with it at all.
He was so spaced out he went to the wrong hotel room when he came back.
Literally: to be red like a tomato/crawfish/peony
Meaning: Tomatoes are red, so is the face of someone who is embarrassed or ashamed of something.
English counterpart: to be as red as a beetroot
He looked/became very embarrassed when he heard the news.
Sir, could you describe the face of the person who attacked you? Yes he was as red as a beetroot, a bit like a Martian actually.
Literally: to be flat, to be dead
Meaning: you are “crevé” when you don’t have energy anymore, you’re exhausted and just want to rest.
English counterpart: to be exhausted, to be extremely tired
He ran a marathon today, that’s why he’s exhausted.
T’as l’air crevé, qu’est-ce qui se passe ?
You look exhausted, what’s going on?
After such a day, you’re necessarily tired.
Literally: to be bad in point
Meaning: This French expression means someone or something is in a bad state. It can be a building that is destroyed, someone who is sick…
English counterpart: to be in a bad state
He has been in bad shape ever since his girlfriend dumped him.
He was too sick/ was feeling too bad to come
Literally: to have a bowl full of it
Meaning: When your bowl is full of something, it means you have too much of it (unless it’s a delicious cake of course).
This idiom means you are “sick of it”, you are fed up with something.
This has the same meaning as “en avoir marre”.
English counterpart: to be fed up with
I lost my keys again, I am sick of it!
The French are fed up with their president.
Literally: to have laziness
Meaning: “Avoir la flemme” simply means “to be lazy”.
English counterpart: to be lazy, can’t be bothered
I didn’t go there, I was lazy.
I should be studying for my exams, but I can’t be bothered.
Literally: to have a blue fear
Meaning: Une “peur bleue” is a fear closer to terror than to actual fear.
That’s the kind fear someone afraid of flying or afraid of spiders would experience.
English counterpart: to be terrified, to be scared to death of something
He is extremely afraid of spiders
Literally: Not to be in one’s plate
Meaning: When you aren’t in your plate, it means you’re not feeling very well, be it emotionally or physically.
English counterpart: to be/feel under the weather
The mailman didn’t seem to feel well yesterday.
I don’t feel well today, I don’t know why.
Literally: to have the mustard going up your nose
Meaning: Want to know where this idiom comes from?
Take a big spoon of strong mustard and swallow it,
English counterpart: to lose your temper
When I heard that, I got angry.
Seeing his ex is enough to make him lose his temper.
Literally: to be at a piece of wood
Meaning: The word “taquet” used to refer to a piece of wood put between a door and a wall to block it.
The expression “être au taquet” means that something is blocking you, but in a positive way, meaning that you could not be in a better situation.
English counterpart: to be going flat out, to be going full throttle, to be full on
Oui, je suis au taquet.
Are you ready for the race tomorrow? Yes, I am very motivated.
I’m worried, I feel like he isn’t really going flat out.
Literally: to have the wooden face
Meaning: Ever drank a little too much alcohol? Then you know what a wooden face feels like since “gueule de bois” is the translation of hangover.
The expression comes from the fact that your mouth is dry like wood when you have a hangover.
English counterpart: to have a hangover
I have a horrible hangover this morning.
After partying yesterday night, I woke up with a terrible hangover.
Literally: to have a cat in the throat
Meaning: You can use this idiom to express the feeling that you have something in your throat and therefore need to cough to clear it.
English counterpart: To have a frog in one’s throat.
I can’t talk today, I have a frog in the throat.
Literally: to be good in one’s kin
Meaning: If you feel good in your skin, it means you are comfortable with your body and who you are. You are not afraid of other people’s opinion.
English counterpart: to be comfortable in your own skin, to feel good about yourself
She is at ease with herself.
Many teenagers don’t feel comfortable with themselves.
Literally: to have the IQ of an oyster
Meaning: This is an informal way of saying someone is stupid.
English counterpart: to be stupid
It’s the second time I lose my keys this week, I am really stupid.
One needs to have the IQ of an oyster not to pass this exam.
Réussir un examen = to pass an exam.
Passer un examen = to take an exam.
Literally: to have a hair in the hand
Meaning: This idiom means a person is extremely lazy. So lazy in fact that he/she let a hair grow in her/his hand.
English counterpart :to be lazy
He is lazy, that’s why he doesn’t succeed.
Public servants are all lazy, that’s common knowledge!
French idioms about food and drinks
Literally: to eat on the thumb.
Meaning: If you spend time in France, you will notice that the French spend a lot of time eating and enjoying food. When you “eat on the thumb”, it means you actually eat quickly and don’t sit down to enjoy and share the moment with your family and friends.
English counterpart: to eat on the go, on the run.
If you want, we can eat on the go instead of going to the restaurant.
Did you eat well for lunch? Oh no, not really I ate on the go.
Literally: to drink like a hole.
Meaning: You can use this idiom to gently criticize someone who drinks lots of alcohol and never knows when to stop.
English counterpart: to drink like a fish, to drink heavily
It’s normal for you not to remember anything, you drank like a fish yesterday.
For some young people, drinking heavily is a game.
Literally: to drink a shock
Meaning: boire un coup is the expression you use when you want to ask a friend to have a drink with you.
You’ll also regularly hear “boire un verre” (literally: to drink a glass).
Both expressions are equivalent.
English counterpart: to have a drink
Let’s go have a drink to celebrate
What do we do tonight? We can have a drink if you want.
Literally: to have the eyes bigger than the belly
Meaning: You “have eyes bigger than your belly” when you want to eat more than you can.
English counterpart: to bite off more than you can chew.
When you walk in a bakery, it’s hard not to bite more than you can chew.
French idioms about the weather
Literally: a cold of duck
Meaning: In winter, when it’s very cold, ducks go away from lakes and are therefore exposed to hunters. So “un froid de canard” is an extremely cold and hostile weather.
English counterpart: to be bitterly cold, to be icy cold
It’s very cold here in winter.
Literally: to be raining ropes
Meaning: in English, you skip ropes, in French, they fall from the sky.
You can use this idiom to say it’s raining a lot.
You may also hear “tomber des cordes” (to fall ropes).
English counterpart: to be raining cats and dogs
Oh no, if it keeps raining so much, we will have to cancel the picnic.
According to the weather forecast, it will be raining cats and dogs for the whole week.
French idioms to talk about money
Literally: to throw the money through the windows
Meaning:: In the 16th century, it was common to give money to beggars by throwing it through the window.
While the French don’t do that anymore, the expression remained and means wasting money.
English counterpart: to carelessly spend money, to waste money, to splurge
Consumer society encourages us to splurge.
Stop spending so much money for nothing, you may need it later
Literally: for a mouthful of bread.
Meaning: A mouthful of bread doesn’t cost much in France. So when you compare something to a mouthful of bread, it means it doesn’t cost much.
English counterpart: for next to nothing.
Did this DVD cost you a lot? Oh no, I bought it for next to nothing.
Literally: to whiten money.
Meaning: Americans whiten their teeth, the French whiten money.
Usually, we consider that whitening something makes it cleaner, and that’s exactly why criminals like to whiten dirty money, to make it look like it has a legal origin.
English counterpart: to launder money
Drug dealers try to launder money.
Literally: to not go there with a dead hand
Meaning: You use this idiom to talk about someone who does something fully and doesn’t hold back. You could also use “ne pas y aller avec le dos de la cuillère” (lit: to not go with the back of the spoon).
English counterpart: to make no bones about it, to be heavy-handed, to not pull one’s punches
If you want to find a job, you need to be dynamic.
Literally: to cost the eyes of the head, to cost an arm.
Meaning: Our eyes, arms are very dear to us. Losing them would be quite a shame. So when you read that something costs an arm, it means it costs a fortune.
English counterpart: to cost an arm and a leg / to cost a fortune
I would like to buy this computer, but it costs a fortune.
Literally: to put a lot in one’s pockets
Meaning: In France, being rich is perceived rather negatively because people often consider that one can’t get rich without exploiting others. This idiom is often used to criticize someone who earns lots of money.
English counterpart: to line your pockets
Bosses earn lots of money, while employees earn very little.
Literally: to roll on gold.
Meaning: You ‘roll on gold” when you have so much money you don’t really know what to do with it.
English counterpart: to be rolling in money, to be rich.
She has been rich ever since she won the lottery.
Literally: to tighten one’s belt
Meaning: You use this idiom to say you have to restrict yourself and do without something you are used to.
English counterpart: to tighten one’s belt
People can’t spend lots of money because of the economic crisis.
French idioms to talk about actions
Literally: to break someone’s feet
Meaning: This violent idiom means that someone is annoying someone else.
English counterpart: to annoy, bother someone
Your brother annoys me with his questions.
Literally: to break sugar on someone’s back.
Meaning: In France, we often say that “Les absents ont toujours tort”, which means that people who aren’t there are always wrong.
This French idiom means you are gossiping about someone who isn’t there.
English counterpart: to talk about someone behind his/her back
Raphael, stop talking about your sister behind her back, it’s rude.
Poor him, everyone is talking behind his back.
Literally: to turn to vinegar
Meaning: When a situation “turns to vinegar”, it means it’s getting out of control.
English counterpart: to get out of control, to get nasty.
It will end badly if nobody intervenes.
In France, demonstrations often get out of control.
Literally: to do the fat morning
Meaning: This lovely French idiom means “to sleep in”.
English counterpart: to sleep in.
After drinking heavily, I decided to sleep in.
Sunday is the perfect day to sleep in after a hard week of work.
Literally: to fall into the sign.
Meaning: Back in the 15th century, a “panneau” was a net used to catch wild animals.
Nowadays “un panneau” means “a sign”, but this idiom means you fell into a trap without realizing it. And when you do, it’s too late.
English counterpart to fall into the trap.
Every year, lots of tourists fall into the trap and buy fake diamond rings.
One must be careful in order to avoid falling into the trap.
Literally: to throw a stroke of (the) eye.
Meaning: You use this idiom to say you are going to take a quick look at something. You can also use “un coup d’oeil” alone to say “a glance”.
English counterpart: to cast a glance, to take a look.
I will go take a look to see what’s not working (lit: going).
You can take a look later if you lack time.
Literally: to tell salads.
Meaning: In French, “raconter des salades” means you’re inventing a story hoping people will believe you.
English counterpart: to talk bullshit, to spin a yarn
The more you know, the harder it will be to lie to you
You shouldn’t trust him, he often talks bullshit.
Literally: to go straight to the goal.
Meaning: When you go straight to the goal, it means you are not wasting any time and go straight to the point.
English counterpart: to go straight to the point.
I like people who go straight to the point and don’t beat around the bush.
Literally: to make the bridge.
Meaning: If you don’t work on a Thursday, you may as well not work on Friday and just enjoy a 4 day weekend. That’s the meaning of “faire le pont”.
English counterpart: to take a long weekend.
Do you take a long weekend this week?
Yes, I go to Bordeaux this weekend.
Note: “Le weekend” is one of many English words used in French.
Literally: to make mistake.
Meaning: You use this idiom to warn someone about something and ask the person to be careful. You can also use “faire attention”.
English counterpart: to be careful, to watch out.
Watch your suitcase or you risk losing it!
Literally: to do the deaf ear
Meaning: This means you pretend not to hear when someone is talking to you.
English counterpart: to turn a deaf ear.
I called him, but he turned a deaf ear/ pretended he didn’t hear me.
Literally: to turn the page
Meaning: “to turn the page”, means you forget about the past and move on.
English counterpart: to make a fresh start, to put something behind you
He has been gone for five years, it’s time to move on.
Literally: to make the sausage
Meaning: “Une andouille” is a smoked sausage made of pork and that’s also how you call a person who does something ridiculous in French.
You may also hear “faire des conneries”.
English counterpart: to act silly
He doesn’t stop acting the fool.
Your brother is always acting the fool, it’s exhausting after a while.
Literally: to take care of one’s onions.
Meaning: When you ask someone to take care of his onions, you actually politely (or not depending on the tone) ask them to stop bothering you and to mind their own business.
English counterpart: to mind one’s own business.
Ce n’est pas ton problème, occupe-toi de tes oignons !
It’s not your problem, mind your own business!
What if you started minding your own business instead of bothering her?
Literally: to make a whole cheese out of it
Meaning: You make a whole cheese out of something when you make a fuss about something that actually isn’t that important.
English counterpart: to make a mountain out of a molehill/to make a fuss about something
I lost my sunglasses, I hope she won’t make a fuss about it.
Literally: to put spice in one’s life
Meaning: Are you bored? Then you should put spice in your life to try to make it more interesting and fun.
English counterpart: to spice up one’s life
I decided to spice up my life, I go to Africa tomorrow.
Literally: to cry like a Madeleine (Madeleine is a biblical character as well as the name of a cake).
Meaning: In the Bible, Marie Madeleine was a former prostitute who begged Jesus to forgive her.
In modern French, “pleurer comme une Madeleine” means “to cry a lot”, so much that it could be considered too much.
English counterpart: to cry like a baby, to cry your eyes out
She has been crying a lot for more than three hours, I wonder when she is going to stop.
Literally: to bring back one’s strawberry
Meaning: When you “bring back your strawberry”, it means you join a conversation without being invited to do so. You can also use this expression to ask someone to come.
English counterpart: to put one’s two cents in
Get your ass over here, we’re late!
He always joins us without being invited to do so, it’s irritating
Literally: to change for another dairy shop
Meaning: When you “change for another dairy shop”, it means you decide to abandon the shop or provider you usually use and go to another one instead.
English counterpart: to take one’s custom elsewhere
I was tired of this cheese maker, so I go to another one now.
Note: Young people tend to use “aller voir ailleurs” (to go see elsewhere) more.
Literally: to have nothing to polish/do about it.
Meaning: This is a colloquial (and rather rude) way of saying someone doesn’t care about something or someone. Nowadays “rien à foutre” and “rien à faire” are the most commonly used forms.
English counterpart: to not give a shit, to not give a damn
I don’t give a shit about what you think.
Literally: to have other cats to whip.
Meaning: You can say you have other cats to whip to explain that you have something better to do than what you are asked or expected to do.
English counterpart: to have better things to do, to have other fish to fry
The president has other things to do than to take care of your problems.
Literally: to make/do the head
Meaning: You “make the head” when you are not happy with something and decide to sulk as a result.
Note: don’t confuse this expression with “faire la fête” (to party).
English counterpart: to sulk
He is sulking because he didn’t get what he wanted
Literally: to put one’s grain of salt
Meaning: This expression comes from the latin “cum grano salis“. It’s used to complain about people who join a conversation or do something without being invited to do so.
English counterpart; to put two cents in.
He always has to put his two cents in our conversations, it irritates me!
I like your parents, but I am tired of the fact they always put their two cents.
Literally: to take the seed from it
Meaning: Seeds are what allow plants to grow, so when you take the seed from someone, you steal their recipe for success and follow their example.
English counterpart: to take the page from someone’s book, to follow an example
Your brother has good results at school, I hope you will follow his example
Literally: to take your legs and your shoes
Note: “clique” isn’t used anymore, and “claque” now means “slap”.
Meaning: Nowadays “prendre une claque” means “to get slapped”. But this idiom actually means that someone leaves suddenly and unexpectedly.
English counterpart: to pack up and go, to leave suddenly
Pack up and go, I don’t want to see you anymore
As soon as they saw the policemen, the street peddlers ran away.
Literally: to take something to the letter’s foot
Meaning: This idiom means you follow instructions without questioning them, and without doing anything more or less than what you are asked to do.
English counterpart: to the letter
She took your instructions Literally and went on vacation.
Literally: to go up in smoke
Meaning: When something goes up in smoke, it disappears, and that’s exactly what this idiom means.
English counterpart: to go up in smoke, to disappear
My dreams went up in smoke when you left.
Literally: to take one’s legs to one’s neck
Meaning: No, this idiom has nothing to do with stretching. It actually means someone is running for his life and leaving as quickly as possible.
English counterpart: to run for one’s life
When he saw the dog, he started running for his life.
Often, criminals run away long before the police arrive.
Literally: to take one’s courage with two hands
Meaning: Some people “prennent leurs jambes à leur cou” (run away), while other prefer to be brave and take their courage with two hands.
This idiom means someone has decided to face a risk or overcome a fear.
English counterpart: to summon the courage to do something, to gather one’s courage
She gathered her courage and asked for a raise.
Come on, gather your courage, and tell him the news.
Literally: to catch someone with the hand in the bag
Meaning: Imagine you’re in the subway and see a pickpocket taking a phone out of a bag.
You can say you took him the hand in the bag. That is, you caught him red-handed.
English counterpart: to be caught red-handed
We caught him red-handed as he was about to leave
Unfortunately, few pickpockets are caught red-handed.
Literally: to only see fire in it.
Meaning: This idiom means that you don’t notice something obvious.
English counterpart: to be clueless, to fail to notice something
I replaced his wine by grape juice and he didn’t notice anything.
Literally: to be in action of
Meaning: This isn’t technically an idiom, but I decided to include it because it confuses many French learners.
“Train” means “a train”, but it also means “action” in old French. So “en train de” is actually the equivalent of “be + ing”.
You simply add the infinitive of the verb after “en train de” to construct it.
I am eating
What are you doing?
Literally: to look for the little beast
Meaning: We all know someone who always finds something to complain about and pays attention to the most insignificant details.
In French, we say that this person “cherche la petite bête”
English counterpart: to nitpick
He is always nitpicking, it’s irritating.
You will never be happy if you always nitpick.
Literally: to fall in the apples
Meaning: This expression means someone fainted.
It first appeared in 1889 but its origin remains uncertain. it most likely comes from a letter George Sand, a famous French writer sent to Madame Dupin, and in which she used “être dans les pommes cuites” to express her exhaustion.
English counterpart: To faint
In summer, lots of passengers faint in the Parisian subway, because of the heat.
Literally: to be on one’s 31
Meaning: Like often, the origin of this expression is unknown. However, it may come from the word “trentain” which used to refer to a luxurious tissue.
To be on your 31 therefore means that you are wearing your most beautiful clothes, that you are elegant.“Se mettre sur son 31′′ is also used sometimes.
English counterpart: to be all dressed up
Wow, you are all dressed up today!
She always dresses up before going out.
Literally: to not be out of the inn
Meaning: When you are not out of the inn, it means you are facing lots of problems and won’t solve them anytime soon.
English counterpart: to be well and truly in it, to not be out of the woods
Good luck! You’re well and truly in it!
He is not out of the woods yet, he still has a lot to do.
Literally: to give one’s tongue to the cat
Meaning: This expression is used to say you don’t know about something and are unable to give an answer.
But you wouldn’t use this idiom to say “I don’t know”, the meaning is closer to “I have taken the time to think about it, and frankly I don’t know the answer to your question, so I give up”.
So what’s the answer? I have no idea, I give my tongue to the cat.
The candidates all gave their tongue to the cat/ admitted they didn’t know the answer and gave up.
You will never guess who I saw in the street today! Le facteur ? The mailman?
Non, quelqu’un que tu connais !
No, someone you know!
Alors là, je donne ma langue au chat.
Well, I have no idea.
Literally: to hold to the current
Meaning: you generally use this expression to say you keep yourself or someone else up to date.
For example, if you plan to meet someone during the week, but don’t know when exactly, you may say “je te tiens au courant”.
English counterpart: to keep up to date, to keep posted
Where do we meet tomorrow? I don’t know. I’ll keep you posted.
I like to keep up on news
Other French idioms
Literally: a stroke of hand
Meaning: Un “coup de main” is the action of helping someone. most of the time just to be nice.
English counterpart: a helping hand
I wouldn’t say no to a helping hand.
Could you help me, please?
Literally: on a stroke of head
Meaning: when you do something “sur un coup de tête”, you do it impulsively, without planning it.
English counterpart: on an impulse, on a whim
I left for Australia on an impulse.
You can’t move to a new place on a whim, it’s an important decision.
Literally: fingers in the nose
Meaning:. No wonder the French are considered dirty people with expressions like that!.
When you can do something “les doigts dans le nez”, it means it’s easy to do.
English counterpart: hands down, with one hand tied behind your back
It’s so easy I could do it with my eyes closed.
They won hands down.
Literally: something wrong
Meaning: “Clocher” is a French verb meaning “to be wrong” as well as the French word for “bell”.
You can use this French idiom when something is wrong
English counterpart: To not add up, not be right
He still hasn’t arrived, there is something wrong.
I don’t trust him, something isn’t right.
Literally: oh the cow
Meaning: “ah la vache” can be used in many situations. The same way you would use “oh my god” in English.
To make it easier to remember, think about the English expression “holy cow”
English counterpart: Oh my god, holy cow
Oh my god, he really did it!
Literally: it works/walks
Meaning: this is an informal expression the French use all the time to say they agree. Note: “ça marche” can also be used literally to say something is working.
English counterpart: Alright, ok,
Let’s meet at 10 AM in front of Exit 2 of the subway station Etoile tomorrow? Alright!
Tuesday is fine for me/us
Literally: all spat
Meaning: this idiom means that two objects or person look alike.
English counterpart: spitting image
Your son is the spitting image of you !
Literally: it’s the end of the beans
Meaning; Before, beans were the last food remaining when everything else was gone. So when it was the “end of the beans”, there was nothing left at all.
English counterpart: there is nothing left/it’s the end
Oh no, Facebook doesn’t work anymore. It’s the end of the world.
Literally: to not be pie
Meaning: When something “isn’t pie”, it means it’s difficult. This French expression is the opposite of “to be a piece of cake”.
English counterpart: It’s not easy, it’s hard work
This work is difficult.
It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.
Literally: to make a tobacco.
Meaning: When something “makes a tobacco”, it means it’s extremely successful.
English counterpart: to be a hit.
This book was a hit.
Literally: to smell of fir tree
Meaning: Ah pine trees, Christmas, happiness…and hum coffins. Pine tree wood was traditionally used to build them, so when something “smells of fir tree”, it means it already has one foot in the grave.
English counterpart: to have one foot in the grave.
Barely started, this project already has one foot in the grave.
What’s your favorite French idiom? Answer in the comments below!
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