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French and English Idiomatic Expressions


French Idiom of the Day


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.

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And what about this French idiom #2 ?

J'ai du pain sur la planche.

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


I have a lot on my plate.

You can use this French expression appropriately when you feel overwhelmed with the number of tasks you have 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 are 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

"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

"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. 


Today's French idiom #10

"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".


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. 


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. 

"-Peux-tu m'aider? Ce n'est pas la mer à boire!" ("-Can you help me? 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!



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