37 Common French Expressions You Should Try Using Now

37 Common French Expressions You Should Try Using Now

Aside from learning French vocabulary and grammar rules – like the different tenses – you need to learn common French expressions.

As a beginner French language learner, you will probably learn quickly that conversations between native speakers don’t necessarily follow the dialogue examples you see in your textbook.

French is a culture values art and culture and the good things in life – like family, friends, good food, and wine. 

There are many beautiful and even poetic French phrases and expressions that native speakers use in everyday life. While they might know instinctively what these expressions mean, a French language learner might be a little confused. 

To help you out in your French language learning journey, you need to go beyond vocabulary lists and the translations of common French phrases; you need to learn common French expressions as well. 

1. Tu Fais quoi?

Translation: You’re doing what?

Meaning: What are you doing?

If you translate this expression literally, it sounds kind of strange. In reality, however, it’s a casual and informal daily French expression. Basically the equivalent of asking “what’s up” in English. 

2. Ah, la vache!

Translation: Oh, my cow!

Meaning: I’m surprised!

This is a funny French expression that is used to express surprise or even excitement. It means the same as an English speaker saying “oh my god!”

3. Au petit bonheur la chance

Translation: To little happiness luck

Meaning: If we are lucky

This rather optimistic French phrase means something like keeping one’s “fingers crossed” in English. You are basically saying everything will be okay with a little luck.

4. Casser les oreilles

Translation: Break your ears

Meaning: Too loud

If something will “break your ears”, it simply means that things are too loud.

5. Il ne faut pas mettre tout dans le même sac!

Translation: You can’t put everything in the same bag!

Meaning: Don’t generalize

This rather long-expression is used when a French speaker is basically trying to say that you shouldn’t be so quick to judge. In this case, you shouldn’t generalize.

6. Mettre les points sur les I 

Translation: To put the dots on the “I”

Meaning: To explain clearly

This is slightly similar to the English expression to “cross the t’s and dot the i’s”. When a French speaker uses this expression they are implying that they have made sure that everything is clear and above board. They have made sure everything is in order and well understood.

7. J’en mettrais ma main au feu!

Translation: I’d put my hand in the fire!

Meaning: I am sure

This French expression is used when the speaker is emphatically trying to say that they are sure of their opinion or their answer. It’s the equivalent of an English speaker saying that they’d “bet their life” on something.

8. Devenir chêvre

Translation: To become a goat

Meaning: Angry

French speakers use this expression to say that someone, usually someone who is known for being calm, has had enough and is now very mad at someone or a situation.

9. Il (ne) faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties!

Translation: One should not push grandmother into the nettles.

Meaning: Do not exaggerate

This funny French expression translates to something that no loving grandchild or decent person should do. It’s not really just caution against elder abuse, however; rather it’s supposed to caution you about making exaggerated claims.

10. Il me court sur le haricot

Translation: He’s running on my bean

Meaning: He’s annoying me

This is a French expression of annoyance. The equivalent to an English speaker saying someone is getting on their “last nerve.”

11. Tu t’en sors?

Translation: You get out?

Meaning: You doing okay?

This common French expression is used when a French speaker wants to be sure that you are “handling” a situation. It’s a casual way of asking how you are managing or coping.

12. Je n’en crois pas mes yeux!

Translation: I can’t believe my eyes!

Meaning: Unbelievable

When someone uses this expression, they are saying that they were surprised or shocked by what they are seeing. 

13. Pédaler dans la semoule

Translation: To pedal in semolina

Meaning: To have difficulty

This is equivalent to saying that you are “going in circles” or “going nowhere” when trying to accomplish a task. 

14. On n’est pas sorti de l’auberge!

Translation: We’ve not left the hostel.

Meaning: It’s not over yet. 

This might sound like a funny French expression, but there’s an explanation for it. It’s actually a bit of a “mistranslation” as “auberge” does translate to the hostel, but “hostel” didn’t always just mean a budget-friendly place of lodging for young travelers, it used to be a slang term for “jail”.

So, when a French-speaking person says this, they are basically saying that something is not over. It pertains to troubles or problems not being totally resolved yet.

15. Arrête ton char!

Translation: Stop your chariot

Meaning: I don’t believe you

In French, this is a way of saying that you don’t believe what they are saying to you. It’s similar to the English expression, “I’m calling your bluff.”

16. L’habit ne fait pas le moine

Translation: The habit doesn’t make the monk

Meaning: Appearances can be deceiving

This is a French expression that is used to caution someone about making snap judgments, especially based just on appearances or first impressions.

17. Ça ne casse pas trois pattes à un canard

Translation: It does not break three legs to a duck

Meaning: It’s nothing special

This is an odd bit of translation. Just remember, it’s not really meant to say something about French ducks, rather it is an expression that French-speaking people use to say that something isn’t “special.”

18. Faire un froid de canard

Translation: Does a cold of duck

Meaning: It’s cold

Another duck-related French expression; this doesn’t make much literal sense either. A French speaker, however, will know that this phrase means that it is cold.

19. Faire l’andouille

Translation: To make the sausage

Meaning: That is ridiculous

When someone says this, they are implying that someone’s actions or reactions don’t make sense. They are being ridiculous.

20. Revenons à nos moutons

Translation: Let’s get back to our sheep

Meaning: Let’s get back on topic

This French expression is used when, during the course of a conversation, you have strayed from the original topic. If you use this during a business setting, you are trying to get people “back to the point”.

21. Mêle-toi de tes oignons!

Translation: Mind your onions!

Meaning: Don’t interfere

This is basically how the French say “mind your own business.” If someone tells you this, they are telling you not to interfere.

22. J’ai le cafard

Translation: I have the cockroach

Meaning: I’m sad

Depending on how you feel about cockroaches when you first hear this phrase it is either gross or scary and probably confusing. The meaning, however, has nothing to do with roaches, it’s just a French expression to express sadness or feeling “down” or “blue”.

23. Ça te changera les idées

Translation: It’ll take your mind off things 

Meaning: Cheer up or distract

If you hear this after saying “j’ai le cafard”, the French speaker is offering to brighten your mood by “taking your mind” off your problems.

24. Avoir un chat dans la gorge

Translation: To have a cat in the throat

Meaning: Lost your voice

If, after a hard night of partying, you wake out with your voice hoarse and your throat sore then the French will say that you have a “chat dans le gorge”. 

25. Il pleut des cordes

Translation: It’s raining ropes

Meaning: It’s raining a lot

Does this common French expression sound strange to you? Well, it’s no stranger than the English expression “raining cats and dogs.” It will never literally rain either “ropes” or “cats and dogs” but both these expressions are understood to mean that it is raining a lot.

26. Chercher la petite bête

Translation: Look for the little beast

Meaning: Determined to find fault

For French speakers, this expression means that someone is looking to find fault or a reason to complain about something. You are implying someone is being a bit irrational and has a tendency to whine about little things.  

27. En avoir ras le bol

Translation: To have a bowl full of it

Meaning: About to lose your temper

This is basically a French expression of exasperation. If your “bowl” is full, you have had enough and are ready to make your displeasure known.

28. C’est simple comme bonjour!

Translation: It’s as simple as hello

Meaning: It’s easy

This is a common French expression to express the idea that something is easy for everyone. It can also be used to say something is easy or “natural” for you.

29. Avoir le cul entre deux chaises

Translation: To have one’s ass between two chairs

Meaning: Undecided

This is the French equivalent to the English expression that you are “sitting on the fence”. In other words, you are undecided or trying to remain neutral.

30. Pisser dans un violon

Translation: To urinate in a violin

Meaning: To waste your effort

This is something you don’t want to do, literally or figuratively. This expression is used to tell someone that something is “futile” or not worth the time and effort.

31. Tomber dans les pommes

Translation: Fall in apples

Meaning: Lose consciousness

This is a cute sounding expression to describe a situation that is potentially scary and serious. If you “fall into apples” you have fainted or lost consciousness.

32. Chanter comme une casserole

Translation: Sing like a saucepan

Meaning: Can’t sing

This is a funny French expression that has nothing to do with cooking. Rather, it’s meant to describe someone who can’t sing. Sort of like the English expression “sing flat.”

33. À qui mieux mieux

Translation: To whom better better

Meaning: To outdo

Someone who does “better better” basically does “better” than anyone else at a particular task. They were the best.

34. Donner un coup de main

Translation: To give a knock of hand

Meaning: Help

This is a French expression used when someone is asking for help. It’s basically the equivalent of an English speaking person asking for a “helping hand”.

35. Être dans la galère

Translation: To be in the galley

Meaning: To get in trouble

When someone uses this expression they are referring to someone being in a messy or problematic situation. Similar to being in “de l’auberge” being in “la galère” means you are in the midst of troubles. 

36. Avaler des couleuvres

Translation: To swallow snakes

Meaning: To be gullible

This is not a flattering French expression to describe someone. It basically means the other person is easily fooled and maybe a little stupid.

37. Chacun voit midi à sa porte

Translation: Everyone sees noon at their door.

Meaning: Everyone has their own opinions.

This expression is used by French speakers to basically say that everyone will come to their own judgment of a situation based on their own experiences and knowledge. 

Conclusion

As with any other language, you know your French fluency is improving when you can understand and participate in conversations with native language speakers.

As we said in the beginning, native French speakers might not necessarily speak only in phrases that you will find in your French language phrasebook. The French language is full of unique expressions and turns of phrases that native speakers instinctively understand, but beginner learners might just not “get.”

Studying French slang and common French expressions are as important as memorizing vocabulary words to gaining fluency. You need to be able to use expressions such as the 37 we’ve enumerated here to effectively communicate with language speakers.

The best way to ensure that you learn common French expressions and how to use them is to work with an online native French language tutor. They can help explain when and where these expressions are appropriate and suggest more funny or interesting common French expressions for you to learn. 

What are some common French expressions?

Tu fais quoi? - What are you doing? Ah, la vache! - I'm surprised. Au petit bonheur la chance - If we're lucky Casser les oreilles - Too loud

What does "Mettre les points sur les I" mean?

It means "To explain clearly". This is slightly similar to the English expression to “cross the t’s and dot the i’s”. When a French speaker uses this expression they are implying that they have made sure that everything is clear and above board. They have made sure everything is in order and well understood.

What does "Tu t'en sors" mean?

It means "You're doing okay?". This common French expression is used when a French speaker wants to be sure that you are “handling” a situation. It’s a casual way of asking how you are managing or coping.

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