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French and English Idiomatic Expressions


French Idiom of the Day


French idiom #1

Do you know how to translate this expression into French?

It is the pot calling the kettle black.


C'est l'hôpital qui se moque de la charité.

Word for word translation would be: "It is the hospital that is laughing at charity."

It is quite rare to find French idioms which will not confuse you when you try to translate them literally or interpret their meaning.

If you are interested in learning more about idioms, please follow our blog. Furthermore, our French teachers will be more than happy to include them in their one-to-one lessons. This adds to the highly entertaining French lessons we provide.

Let us prove to you that learning French can be fun!


French idiom #2

"J'ai du pain sur la planche aujourd'hui!"

(Literally translated as "I have bread on my board today".)

The equivalent in English is the following idiom:

I have a lot on my plate.

You can use this French expression when you have a large number of tasks to complete, either at work or in everyday life.


French Idiom #3

Je ne suis pas dans mon assiette...

This one is a funny expression ("I am not in my plate") which has a completely different equivalent in English: I am a little bit under the weather (in French: "je suis un peu sous le temps/la météo"). 

 However, if you are feeling really good, you can say: "J'ai la pêche" or "j'ai la patate", which is like "je suis en forme" (literally: "I have the peach/the potato")!


French Idiom #4

Today's French idiomatic expression is:

Un "tien" vaut mieux que deux "tu l'auras".

This idiomatic expression became famous through Jean de la Fontaine's fable "Le petit poisson et le pêcheur." 

Essentially, this means that it is better to keep what one has rather than to risk losing it by trying to get something better.

In English one would say: "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

Another French idiomatic expression with the same meaning is: "mieux vaut l'oeuf maintenant que la poule plus tard", which translates "it is better to have the egg now than the chick later".


French Idiom #5

"Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l'ours avant de l'avoir tué",

which translates into: "do not count your chicken before they've hatched".

This is a wise piece of advice meaning that you should not rely on something which has not yet happened.

Once again, we owe this idiomatic expression to Jean de la Fontaine who used it in one of his fables, "L'ours et les deux compagnons".


French Idiom #6

"Porter le chapeau" is a French idiomatic expression which literally means, "to wear the hat".

The meaning of this expression is to take the blame for something, to be a scapegoat ("un bouc-émissaire" in French).

It is the equivalent of the English expressions "to carry the can".

Alternatively, "to pin something on someone" translates as "faire porter le chapeau" ("to make someone wear the hat", literally).


French Idiom #7

Our seventh idiom is "C'est tiré par les cheveux", a French idiomatic expression which in English translates into "it is far-fetched".

Example: "Cette histoire est un peu tirée par les cheveux" means "this story is a bit far-fetched". 

This idiomatic expression is used when we describe ideas which do not appear to be logical or realistic. It translate word for word as "pulling someone by the hair", meaning forcing this person to move when not necessarily inclined to do so. By extension it applies to reasonings or ideas whose meaning would require a lot of investigation to be explained and comprehended.


French Idiom #8

"Il n'a pas sa langue dans sa poche" - We use this idiomatic expression when we are talking about someone who is outspoken, who always speaks their mind. 

This means literally: "He hasn't got his tongue in his pocket".

This French idiomatic expression is often used to describe a person who is very opinionated and speaks frankly. 


French Idiom of the day #9

"Cela m'a mis la puce à l'oreille".    

The translation of this French idiomatic expression is "it alerted me".

For example, we could say: "Son attitude m'a mis la puce à l'oreille", which translates as "his behaviour alerted me".

(Literally, this idiom translates as: "this put a flea in my ear"!


Today's French idiom #10

"C'est la goutte d'eau qui fait déborder le vase"... This idiomatic expression means "it is the last straw that broke the camel's back."

In French we use this idiom to indicate that you have had enough and the last event in a series of unpleasant events is the last one you can cope with. 


French Idiom #11

The French idiomatic expression of the week is "avoir une dent contre quelqu'un".

Although the literal translation of this French idiom into English is "to have a tooth against someone", it actually means "to hold a grudge agains someone". 

The French sentence, "il a une dent contre moi" translates into English as "he holds a grudge against me". 


French Idiom #12

Today's French idiomatic expression is: "Les chiens aboient, la caravane passe". It literarily translates as "the dogs are barking, the caravan passes by". 

The equivalent of this idiom in English is another idiomatic expression: "It's like water off a duck's back". 

We use this expression in French when we want to express indifference towards a particular behaviour or situation. 

Example: Vous pourrez leur dire ce que vous voulez, mais les chiens aboient, la caravane passe. 


French Idiom #13

"Ce n'est pas la mer à boire." What does this French idiomatic expression mean? 

We use it to mean that it is not too much to ask, "it is not the end of the world". 

You can ask someone a favour or a service and then use that expression. 

"-Apprends tes conjugaisons de français! Ce n'est pas la mer à boire!" ("-Learn your French conjugations! It's not that hard!")

This expression literally means: "it's not the sea to drink", meaning it is not as impossible as it would be to drink the whole sea.


French Idiom #14 

"Tu n'aurais pas les chevilles qui enflent?"

We ask someone if "their ankles are not swelling" when we find that they are showing off a little bit.

The French idiomatic expression "avoir les chevilles qui enflent" is used after someone has said how good or successful they are at something.

By extension, we also use "les chevilles vont bien?" instead of the full idiomatic expression, which means "are your ankles okay?".  


French Idiom #15 

Today's idiom is "être pris la main dans le sac". It literally translates as "to be caught with the hand in the bag". 

There are similar idiomatic expressions in English such as "to be caught red-handed" or "to be caught the hand in the biscuit tin (or box)".  


French Idiom #16

"Tomber dans les pommes". What does this French idiomatic expression mean? Literally, it translates as "to fall in the apples".

If you say "il est tombé dans les pommes", it is the equivalent of saying "il s'est évanoui" (he fainted). So when someone passes out, in French we say that "they fell in the apples".


French Idiom #17

What does the French idiomatic expression "se noyer dans un verre d'eau" mean?

When someone is unable to face a small problem or challenge, we say "il se noie dans un verre d'eau", which translates as "he is drowning in a glass of water".

The English equivalent is "to make a mountain out of a molehill". The meaning of these idiomatic expressions in French and English is also close to the French expression "en faire des montagnes" (to make or create mountains). 

French Idiom #18

It's time for another French idiomatic expression!

"Prends ton parapluie, il pleut des cordes!"

We use the expression "pleuvoir des cordes" when there is very heavy rain or what is sometimes called "showers". It literally means "it's raining ropes". The meaning of this French idiom is similar to the English expression "it's raining cats and dogs".


French Idiom #19

Some idiomatic expressions are similar in English and in French. This one is a perfect example. Have you ever wondered what the equivalent of "a needle in haystack" is in French? 

It is exactly the same: "une aiguille dans une botte de foin".

Example: C'est difficile, c'est comme chercher une aiguille dans une botte de foin! 


French Idiom #20

Here is another French idiomatic expression which translates into the same phrase in English:

"Ce n'est pas ma tasse de thé" - "it's not my cup of tea". 

Example: "je ne regarde pas trop de films d'action, ce n'est pas ma tasse de thé". ("I don't watch action films, it's not my cup of tea".)


French Idiom #21

Let's look at an idiomatic expression which means that we are "in good form". When you are full of energy, when you're feeling good, you can say "j'ai la patate!". It literally translates as "I have the potato".

This French idiomatic expression means the same as "j'ai la forme" or "je suis en forme". 


French Idiom #22

"Demain, je fais la grasse matinée!". What do we mean when we use that idiomatic expression? 

In French "doing the fat morning" means to sleep in until late in the morning or even noon. We sometimes shorten it and call it "la grasse mat'".  


French Idiom #23 

Today we are looking at another idiomatic expression that is similar in French and English.

When you want to tell someone that they have all your attention, that you are listening carefully, you can use the French idiom "tout ouïe", which translates as "all ears".


"Raconte-moi ton histoire, je suis tout ouïe!". ("Tell me your story, I'm all ears!") 

However, there is a slight difference between the French and the English idiomatic expressions, because the word "ouïe" does not mean ears but hearing (one of the five senses). 


French Idiom #24

"Arrête d'en faire tout un fromage!" French people say, when someone is making a mountain out of a molehill. 

This French idiomatic expression literally means "to make a cheese out of it".   

We can see that in this case, the French idiom is very different from the English one. 

However, we also use the similar idiomatic expression "en faire des montagnes", which translates as "to make mountains out of it".


French Idiom #25 

What does it mean when someone says: "je ne sais pas sur quel pied danser"?

French speakers use this French idiomatic expression to express that they do not know where they stand when interacting with someone or in a particular situation. 

It literally translates as "I don't know on which foot to dance".


French Idiom #26

"Mettre la main à la pâte" in French means "to lend a hand", "to collaborate with others to achieve a particular task or project" in English.

Example: "Nous avons tous mis la main à la pâte pour aider Guillaume" means "everyone took part in helping Guillaume".

Literally this translates as "to put your hands into the dough".


French Idiom #27

In French, when it is very cold, we say "il fait un froid de canard", which literally means in English  "a duck's cold". 

Example: "mets un manteau, il fait un froid de canard!" ("put on a coat, it is freezing!").


French Idiom #28

What does it mean when French people say: "ça coûte les yeux de la tête"?

This idiomatic expression is used when something is very expensive.

The literal translation is "it costs the eyes of the head", which is equivalent to the English idiom "it costs an arm and a leg".


 French Idiom #29

"Il faut appeler un chat un chat." 

This idiomatic expression has an exact equivalent in English, which is the the idiom "to call a spade a spade". 

In French, the literal translation is "to call a cat a cat". 


French Idiom #30

"On ne fait pas d'omelette sans casser des œufs" for once we have a perfect literal translation.

"You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs"


French Idiom #31

"Nous avons besoin de toi pour arrondir les angles". 

What does "arrondir les angles" mean in French? The expression literally means "to round up the angles". We use it when we need to smooth things over in a delicate situation such as a negotiation or a dispute. 


French Idiom #32

"Après la pluie, le beau temps". This expression, which translates literally as "after the rain, the beautiful weather" is the French equivalent to the English idiom "every cloud has a silver lining". We use it when one is in a bad situation but hopes for something good to come out of it. 


French Idiom #33 

What does it mean when a French person says: "les bras m'en tombent!"?

The literal translation is: "my arms are falling off". 

We use this idiom when we are flabbergasted. 


French Idiom #34

"Je ne vais pas attendre 107 ans!". This is a phrase that we use when we are talking about a long wait. (It translates as "I am not going to wait for 107 years!")

The equivalent in English is: "to wait for ages". This idiomatic expression comes from the building of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral which took a long time - 107 years!


French Idiom #35

"La roue tourne!" This idiomatic expression which literally means "the wheel spins" is used when we are confronted to a succession of positive and negative events. 

It can be used to reassure someone that things are going to get better, or to explain a series of events in someone's life. 


French Idiom #36 

"Etre bien dans sa peau" is an idiomatic expression we use to talk about someone who is comfortable in his/her own skin, who feels good about him/herself. It literally translates as "to be well in one's skin". 

On the contrary, when someone is anxious, nervous or has low self-confidence, we say: "il est mal dans sa peau" ("he is not well in his skin", literally). 


French Idiom #37

"Apprendre sur le tas" means "to learn on the job". 


"Il n'a pas fait d'études, il a appris sur le tas."


French Idiom #38

Today's idiom is "il y a anguille sous roche".

This idiomatic expression literally translates as "There is an eel under the rock". What do you think it means?

We use it when we think that something is not right, when we think that "there is something fishy going on". 


"- Que penses-tu de cette situation?

- A mon avis, il y a anguille sous roche. Sois prudent". 


 French Idiom #39

"Il faut mettre la main à la pâte!". 

We use this idiomatic expression when we need to make an effort or to get involved in a project. 

In English you would say "put the shoulder to the wheel", but in French we say "put the hand in the dough"!


French Idiom #40

Today we are looking at the French idiom "être dans de beaux draps". It literally translates as "to be in beautiful sheets". 

This idiomatic expression is used ironically when one is in a bad or difficult situation. 


Example: "Tu as fait une grosse erreur, tu es dans de beaux draps maintenant!". ("You made a big mistake, and now you are in a fine mess!") 


French Idiom #41 

"On va couper la poire en deux alors!" 

What do French people mean when they say that they are going to "cut the pear in half"?

We use that idiomatic expression as the equivalent to the English expression "to meet halfway" or "to share in equal proportion".


To pay a bill in a restaurant, people may choose to split the bill in half instead of paying only for what they ordered.

In this case we will say "coupons la poire en deux, c'est plus facile!". 


French Idiom #42 

"Etre dans la Lune" is quite a poetic expression meaning "to be distracted", or 'to be absent-minded". It literally means "to be in the Moon". 

When someone looks like they are daydreaming and not listening to you, you can say: "tu es dans la Lune?"


French Idiom #43

Let us look at an English idiom today and how to translate it in French. 

"There's not enough room to swing a cat". This expression translate as the French idiom " Il n'y a pas la place de se retourner" (literally: "there is not enough space to turn around")

You could also say "on est bien trop à l'étroit".


French Idiom #44

This time we are looking at a French idiomatic expression which translate exactly the same in English: "s'en laver les mains".

If you say "je m'en lave les mains", it means "I wash my hands of the whole thing".

So, for once, English and French have the same idiomatic expression!  


French Idiom #45

"Arrête d'en faire tout un fromage!" 

This French idiomatic expression is used when people are making a fuss about something which is not very important. 

The equivalent English expression is "stop making a meal out of it", but in French we say "stop making a cheese out of it!"


French Idiom #46

What does it mean when French speaking people say "elle a le coeur sur la main?". 

The literal translation of this idiomatic expression makes it quite easy to guess: "she has the heart on the hands". 

We use this idiom to describe somebody who is very generous, either with money and goods or time and attention, someone who is supporting others morally or financially. 


French Idiom #47

"Porter le chapeau", literally "to wear the hat" is an idiomatic expression used to mean that someone takes on responsibility for an error they did not make. 

It is also possible to "make someone wear the hat", in which case someone is considered guilty for something they did not do.

Example: "Ils lui ont fait porter le chapeau".  


French Idiom #48

"Je donne ma langue au chat".

"Donner sa langue au chat" (literally: "to give one's tongue to the cat") is an idiom we use when we do not know the answer to a question. After trying to guess, if we are unsuccessful and decide to give up, we say "je donne ma langue au chat". 


French Idiom #49

Speaking about cats, have you ever wondered what the French equivalent to the English idiomatic expression "to call a spade a spade" is? 

In French we say "to call a cat a cat": "appeler un chat un chat" is the French idiom we use.


Our French Idiom #50

If you hear a French speaking person say "je m'en mords les doigts", it means they have regret about something. 

This French idiomatic expression literally translates as "I am biting my fingers". 


Our French Idiom #50 A

"Alors ça, ce n'est pas de la tarte!". Another French idiom related to food... In English, it translates as "it's not a piece of cake" but the literal translation is "it's not pie".

We use that expression to suggest that something is difficult or complicated.  


French Idiom #51

What does it mean when a French person advises someone to put water in their wine?

The idiomatic expression "mettre de l'eau dans son vin" is used to mean "to tone it down", "to be more moderate or reasonable". 

Example: "Après notre conversation, il a mis de l'eau dans son vin." ("After our conversation, he became more reasonable.")


French Idiom #52 

Today we are looking at the idiomatic expression: "voir midi à sa porte".

It means that someone is seeing things their way and not taking into account other people's point of view. 


"Chacun voit midi à sa porte." 


French Idiom #53

Etre comme un poisson dans l'eau

"A la soirée, il était comme un poisson dans l'eau".

This French idiom literally translates as "to be like a fish in water" and means "to fit right in, to be comfortable".


French Idiom #54

Today we are looking at another French idiomatic expression with "les pieds": casser les pieds.

When somebody is annoying us, we say in French that "they are breaking our feet" - "il me casse les pieds!".


French Idiom #55 

"Sage comme une image". This idiom is usually used for children and translates in English as "good as gold". The literal translation is "as good as a picture".

We use it when someone has been well-behaved: "les enfants ont été sages comme une image aujourd'hui."


French idiom #56

In French we have an idiomatic expression which translates literally as "to break one's head".

Example: "Je me casse la tête". This means you are going to a lot of trouble or you are trying hard to achieve something. 


French idiom #57

"Avoir la main verte" - literally "to have a green hand" is a French idiomatic expression we use to describe someone who is good at gardening and taking care of plants and flowers.

Example: "Je lui ai demandé de s'occuper de mon jardin, car il a la main verte." (I asked him to take care of my garden, because he has a green thumb). In English, the thumb is green, in French it is the whole hand!


French Idiom #58

" se creuser la tête" which means either"to think very hard" or "to try and remember something"

The literal translation is closer to "to dig into one's head"

Example: "Je me creuse la tête mais je ne me souviens pas de son nom".


French Idiom #59

When you are angry with someone, you can use the French idiom "avoir une dent contre quelqu'un". This idiomatic expression translates literally as " to have a tooth against someone but its meaning is similar to the English expression 

"to bear a grudge against someone".


French Idiom #60

Manger son pain blanc le premier

"Manger son pain blanc" (literally: to eat one's white bread) is a French idiom used when one has decided to do what is easiest first, leaving aside the difficult part of a task or situation.

Example: Il a bien profité, il a mangé son pain blanc le premier et maintenant il doit travailler plus dur que les autres.


French Idiom #61

After "manger son pain blanc", let's have a look at the idiomatic expression "manger son pain noir". 

The English translation is close to "to be in a difficult situation". 

Example: "Avec ses problèmes au travail, il mange son pain noir". 


French Idiom #62

The idiomatic expression - avoir la moutarde qui monte au nez -  translates literally as  -to have the mustard going up your nose -.The English translation for this French idiom is "to lose one's temper".

Example: Il a eu la moutarde qui lui est montée au nez pendant notre dispute. (He lost his temper during our argument).


French Idiom #63

The next French idiomatic expression is "se mélanger les pinceaux".

Example: Pendant son discours sur le changement climatique, le Ministre de l'Environnement s'est mélangé les pinceaux. 

In English: During his speech on climate change, the Minister for the Environment got mixed up.

The literal translation for the above idiom is "to mix one's brushes".


French Idiom #64

"Mieux vaut tard que jamais" is commonly used in French to justify doing something late. In English it translates as "better late than never". This idiomatic expression can be used in the following context:

"J'ai finalement fini mon essai, j'ai un jour de retard, mais mieux vaut tard que jamais!"

("I have finally finished my essay, I am a day late, but better late than never!"


French Idiom #65

Let's look at the French idiom "il y a anguille sous roche". 

This expression translates literally as "there is an eel under the rock". We use it when we want to say that something is off, or a little fishy, or when someone seems to be hiding something. 


"J'ai l'impression qu'il ne me dit pas toute la vérité. Je crois qu'il y a anguille sous roche". ("I feel like he is not telling me the whole truth. I think he is hiding something.")


French Idiom #66

"Mettre son grain de sel"

This idiomatic expression is the French equivalent of "to stick one's nose in". We use it when someone decides to be involved in something but their involvement is not welcome.


"Evidemment, il a dû mettre son grain de sel!" (Of course, he had to stick his nose in!)


French Idiom #67

Poser un lapin à quelqu'un 

This idiomatic expression means "to stand someone up", but the literal translation is "to put a rabbit on someone". 


J'ai attendu pendant une heure et il m'a posé un lapin.

(I waited for one hour and he stood me up.)


French Idiom #68  

"Passer un mauvais quart d'heure"

This French idiom literally means "to have a bad quarter of an hour". We use this expression when someone is going a short and difficult unpleasant time.


Il lui a fait passer un mauvais quart d'heure. (He gave him a hard time.)


French Idiom #69

"Mordre la poussière":

Although it translates literally as "to bite the dust", this idiomatic expression does not mean "to be killed", or "to die".

The translation is "to fail", "to be unsuccessful". 

Example: Le politicien a mordu la poussière lors des dernières élections. 


French Idiom #69

"What does it mean when French people say that "their arms are falling off"?

"Les bras m'en tombent!"

We use this expression when we are very surprised, even stunned by some news.


French Idiom #70

"C'est bête comme chou!"

Literally: "It's a stupid as cabbage"

We use this informal idiomatic expression to describe something that is very easy. 


French Idiom #71

"Arriver comme un cheveux sur la soupe"

This French idiomatic expression literally translates as "to arrive like a hair in the soup". We use that expression when someone turns up unexpectedly.

Example: Il est arrivé à réunion comme un cheveux sur la soupe, personne ne l'y avait convié.

(He turned up to the meeting unexpectedly, nobody had invited him.)


French Idiom #72

Today we are looking at another French idiomatic expression: "avoir les jetons".

This idiom literally translates as "to have the chips"

We use it when we are in a very scary situation and feel frightened. It is to be used in an informal context.

This idiom translates in English as - to be scared  -   or   -to have the jitters -.

Example: "J'ai vraiment eu les jetons quand on a dormi dans ce chateau hanté"

(I was really scared when we slept in this haunted castle).


French Idiom #73

"en avoir ras le bol" 

You may have come across this idiom. 

"J'en ai ras le bol!"

It translates as "I am fed up" but literally means "My bowl is full".


French Idiom #74

"être dans le même bain"  the equivalent to the English idiom "to be in the same boat"

Example: Quand nous commençons le cours de français, tous les étudiants sont dans le même bain.

(When we start the French class, all the beginner students are on the same boat.")


French Idiom #75

"Couper les cheveux en quatre"

This French idiom is quite close to the equivalent: "to split hairs".

This also means to quibble.

Both have to do with cutting hair but the difference is the way you cut it!

The French idiom just translates as "to cut hair into four parts"


French Idiom #76

"Etre fleur bleue"

This French idiom means: "to be sentimental"


Elle est vraiment fleur bleue, elle adore les comédies romantiques!

(Translation: She is really romantic, she loves watching romantic comedies!)


French Idiom #77

"Prendre les vessies pour des lanternes"

This French idiomatic expressions has an equivalent in English: "to think the Moon is made of cheese"

The literal translation is, however: "to mistake bladders for lanterns". One reason for this idiom might be because in the past people used dried pork bladders when they could not afford proper lanterns.  


French Idiom #78

"Ça ne casse pas des briques!". This expression is used to express the poor quality of something. 

In English it translates as "It's nothing to write home about". 



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