French, like any other language has a rich collection of idioms, which are being added to each and every day. Nonetheless some have entered and remained in popular use for many many years. These often make little sense to non native speakers, but are key to being able to master the language. Here are a collection of 40 French idioms, grouped into 4 broad categories:
Idioms involving animals and nature:
- Avoir le cafard – Literally to have a cockroach, meaning to be depressed, to have the blues
- Entre chien et loup – Between dog and wolf, meaning twilight, or dusk
- Courir deux lièvres a la fois – To run two hares at the same time, meaning multi-tasking, to be involved in multiple efforts simultaneously
- Avoir mangé du lion – To have eaten a lion to be full of vim and vigor
- Il fait un temps de chien – Its raining cats and dogs
- Avoir un chat dans la gorge – Literally meaning to have a cat in one’s throat, this is used to describe a heavy cough, a sore throat
- Quand les poules auront des dents – When chickens have teeth, describing an impossibility, similar to the english expression “When pigs fly…”
- Sentir le sapin – To feel the fir tree. This denotes an ominous feeling as fir trees were used to make coffins. Similar to ” To have one foot in the grave”
- Chercher la petite bête – To search to the little beast, meaning to split hairs or nitpick
- Mettre la charrue avant les bœufs – to put the cart before the horse, or oxen in this case
Idioms involving food and eating:
- Mettre son grain de sel – equivalent to the english expression “to give one’s two cents” to offer an unsolicited and possibly unwelcome opinion
- Tondre des œufs – to shave the eggs, or to be a cheapskate
- Couper la poire en deux – To split the pear, meaning to meet in the middle, a compromise
- Tomber dans le pommes – To fall into the apples, to faint or fall unconscious
- Jeter de l’huile sur le feu – to add fuel to the fire, to make things worse
- Une bouchée de pain – A small amount of bread, meant to denote a low price as bread is cheap
- Il me court sur le haricot – Literally translated as he is running on my bean, meaning “he is getting on my nerves”
- Avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre – To have butter as well as the money for the butter, meaning to have your cake and eat it too, or cake with a cherry on top
- Cracher dans la soupe – to spit in the soup, to literally spoil something so it can only be enjoyed by the person doing the spitting
- Manger comme quatre – to eat like 4 meaning eating too much
Idioms involving the body:
- Les doigts dans le nez – Literally meaning fingers in nose, it is used to describe something that is easy to do, as in I can do that with my fingers in my nose.
- Avoir le moutard qui monte au nez – To have mustard rising in one’s nose, meaning to be angry or to lose one’s temper
- Avoir les chevilles qui enflent – meaning to have swollen ankles, equivalent to the english expression to be full of oneself
- Ta gueule – Shut up or shut your mouth in a derogatory or disrespectful manner
- Couper les cheveux en quatre – to cut a hair into four parts, ,equivalent to the english expression “to split hairs”
- Avoir un poil dans la main – to have hair on one’s hand, meaning to be lazy
- Avoir le bras long – Literally meaning to have a long arm, it means to have influence
- Se croire sorti de la cuisse de Jupiter – Translated as believing oneself to have sprung forth from Jupiter’s thigh, meaning to be full of one’s self, and arrogant.
- Casser les pieds a quelqu’un – To break someone’s feet, meaning to get one someone’s nerves or to bore someone.
- Tirer la diable par la queue – to pull the devil by the tail, or to be going through hard times, living hand to mouth.
Idioms involving everyday life:
- Tirer la couverture a soi – Literally to hog the blanket, but used to denote someone who is seizing the credit or limelight selfishly
- Passer au peigne fin – to go over it with a fine toothed comb, to be thorough
- Payer les pots cassés – To pay for broken pots meaning to suffer the consequences
- Passer un savon a quelqu’un – to pass the soap to someone, this means to reprimand
- Se mettre a table – to sit at the table, but used to mean to confess to the authorities, to come clean.
- Etre une vraie girouette – to be a weathervane, or to blow in the wind, changing directions ceaselessly.
- Péter un plomb – to blow a fuse, to lose one’s temper
- Reprendre se billes – to take back one’s marbles, meaning to refuse to honor a deal
- mettre des batons dans les roues de quelqu’un – To put a stick into someone’s wheel, meaning to interfere.
- Un coup d’épée dans l’eau – a strike with a sword into water, meaning a wasted effort.
We hope this collection of idioms proves useful to you and if you wish to find more resources to learn French with, please visit our website at Strommeninc.com