29 Most Common French Idioms You Can Use Daily

29 Most Common French Idioms You Can Use Daily

If you are learning French because you are looking to travel to an area where French is spoken daily, you need to learn French idioms to develop your fluency. 

It is important to learn French idioms is because it helps you sound more natural, more like a native. While there is nothing long with learning common French phrases from a textbook, when you are actually having a conversation with native French speakers, they might not follow the “script” you learned from the textbook.

French speakers will use slang words and expressions as well as idioms in their daily speech. These phrases might not necessarily match up with what you find in phrasebooks. 

Native speakers will use the French idioms we list in this post often at various points of the conversation as they understand the real meanings behind them. If you, a French language learner, don’t learn some common idioms you might find yourself unable to follow along.

1. Ça marche

Translation: That works

Meaning: Okay or I agree

The French expression is similar to “okay” in English. For example, if you agree or are okay with your friend’s plan to go hiking on the weekend, say “ca marche”. 

2. Mettre son grain de sel

Translation: Put in one’s grain of salt

Meaning: Give an opinion

You might hear this from a French speaker just before they give you some unsolicited advice.

3. Quand on parle du loup

Translation: One speaks about the wolf

Meaning: Arrive just as they were speaking about you

This is similar to the English idiom “speak of the devil”. If, as you join a group of French-speaking friends at the bar, you hear them say this in greeting then they were just speaking or thinking of you.

4. Coup de foudre

Translation: Bolt of lightning

Meaning: Love at first sight

This is a lovely French idiom about love that describes the sudden, shocking feeling of falling in love at first sight. 

5. Ne rien savoir faire de ses dix doigts

Translate: Not knowing how to do anything with one’s ten fingers

Meaning: Useless

This French idiom is a rather harsh way of saying that someone is not very good at something. The implication is that they are useless and of no help.

6. Aux calends grecques

Translation: First day of the Greek calendar

Meaning: An unlikely event

This French idiom is used similarly to the English phrase “when pigs fly”. If something is unlikely to happen, then a French speaker will say it will happen on “the first day of the Greek calendar”.

7. Ce n'est pas tes oignons

Meaning: These are not your onions

Meaning: This is not your concern

If you want to tell someone, in French, to “mind their own business” you can use this French idiom. Keep in mind, it is slightly rude and blunt, so be careful about who you use it on. 

8. Se creuser la tête / les méninges

Translation: To dig into your head/brain

Meaning: Think hard

You might hear this from a French speaker if you asked them a question that they need to think about. It’s also commonly used like the English idiom “racking your brains” which implies that you are trying to remember the answer to the question.

9. Il pleut des cordes

Translation: It’s raining some ropes

Meaning: It’s raining hard

This idiom is used by French speakers to describe a hard and maybe unexpected downpour. It’s similar to the English idiom, “raining cats and dogs”.

10. Avoir le cafard

Translation: To have the cockroach

Meaning: Feeling gloomy

This is another French idiom that describes someone’s mood. If you hear someone say this, it is similar to when an English speaker says that they are “feeling blue”. They are feeling gloomy and a little melancholy. 

11. Se vendre comme des petits pains

Translation: To be sold like small bread

Meaning: Sell out fast

A French speaker will use this phrase to describe a popular item that sells out fast. An item that is in demand, that everyone wants to own will “sell like small bread’.

12. Appeler un chat un chat

Translation: To call a cat a cat

Meaning: To speak the plain truth

A French speaker will use this to describe someone who is known for speaking the plain truth. They will tell you how things are, without any embellishments or disassembling. 

13. Fair la tête

Translation: To do the head

Meaning: Sulking

This French idiom is used to describe someone’s mood. This is used to say that someone is sulking or in a bad mood.

14. Tomber dan les pommes

Translation: Fall in the apples

Meaning: Fainted

A French speaker will use this idiom to say that someone has fainted or lost consciousness.

15. Revenons à nos moutons

Translation: To return to our sheep

Meaning: Return to the main topic

You might hear this idiom used when you are in a business meeting with French speakers. It’s the equivalent of the English phrase “return to the business at hand” or “get back on track”. The speaker is trying to get the meeting or the conversation back to the main, most important topic as you’ve all began to talk about other, less important, things.

16. Sauter du coq à l’âne

Translation; to jump from the rooster to the donkey

Meaning: Jump from topic to topic

If your boss needs to remind you to “revenons à nos moutons” during a meeting, it could be because this had been happening. You were all talking about too many different topics other than the main one.

17. Avoir un faim de loup

Translation: Hunger of a wolf

Meaning: I’m starving

If it’s nearing lunchtime, you might hear a French speaker use this idiom. They are saying that they are very hungry and you can expect them to suggest a nice place to go have lunch.

18. Boire comme un trou

Translation: Drink like a hole

Meaning: Drink a lot

When a French speaker uses this idiom to describe someone, they are saying that they like to drink. There is a slight air of judgment contained in this idiom, they might worry that someone drinks too much, but it stops just before actually calling someone a drunkard.

19. Une poule mouillée

Translation: A wet hen

Meaning: A coward

When a French speaker calls someone a “wet hen”, they are calling them cowardly or timid. It’s basically the same as an English speaker calling someone “chicken”.

20. Garder la tête froide

Translation: To keep the head cool

Meaning: Keep calm

This is similar to the idiom “keep a cool head” in English. When you hear this, someone is advising you to keep calm and keep your emotions – especially your anger – in check.

21. Vous perdez la boule

Meaning: to lose the bowl

Translation: Losing their cool

When a French speaker says this, they are saying that you are beyond “garder la tête froide”. You are no longer calm and rational but acting a little crazy and over-emotional. This can be used to remind French speakers to get themselves under control.

22. Être dans la lune

Translation: To be in the moon

Meaning: To daydream

This French idiom is used to describe someone who, in English, is prone to daydreaming. It can also be used to say that someone is not paying attention or is distracted. 

23. Arrêtez de raconter des salads

Translation: Stop telling salads

Meaning: Stop lying

This funny-sounding French idiom about food may sound harsh, but it’s usually said in a joking manner. While it is basically calling or describing someone as a liar, it’s usually said good-naturedly and without anger. Someone who tells “salads” is someone who exaggerates or tells tales because they are trying to be funny. There’s no malice to their lies. 

24. Il fait un froid de canard/de loup

Translation; it’s duck-cold/it’s wolf-cold

Meaning: Cold weather

If a French speaker uses this to describe the weather outside, you better make sure to grab a warm jacket or sweater before you leave the house. 

25. Coûter les yeux de la tête

Translation: Cost the eyes in your head

Meaning: Expensive

This French idiom is similar to the English idiom “costs an arm and a leg”. In both French and English, these idioms are used when a native speaker wants to warn you that a purchase is not worth it, that the seller is asking too much or that the price is unreasonable.

26. Faire la grasse matinée

Translation: To do a fat morning

Meaning; Stay in bed

When a French speaker tells you that they are going to take a “fat morning” or that they had one, they are saying that they took the chance to sleep in and stay in bed for most of the morning. 

27. Faire une nuit blanche

Translation: To do a white night

Meaning; Stay up late at night

This is the opposite of having a “fat morning” though it could contribute to why a French speaker needed a “fat morning”. If you stayed up late, you had a “white night”.

28. Vous arrives comme un cheveu sur la soupe

Translation: Arrive like hair in the soup

Meaning: Interrupt a moment

No one likes finding hair in their soup, or any other type of food, so that’s probably how this phrase came to be an idiom used to describe an unwelcome intrusion. If you came into a room at the wrong moment, walked into the middle of an argument, or maybe a romantic rendezvous, you are like “hair in the soup” in that situation.

29. La moutarde me/lui monte au nez

Translation: The mustard is getting to my nose

Meaning: I’m getting angry

If you are getting impatient or are on the verge of losing your temper, you can use this French idiom to describe how you are feeling. 

Conclusion

If you want to gain fluency in French and improve your ability to have daily conversations with native speakers, you need to understand and memorize lists of idioms such as this one and the others we have on this blog.

What are some useful French idioms to use daily?

Ca marche - That works. Mettre son grain de sel - Give an opinion. Coup de foudre - Love at first sight. Ce n'est pas tes oignons - This is not your concern. Avoir le cafard - Feeling gloomy.

What does this French idiom mean: Boire comme un trou?

When a French speaker uses this idiom to describe someone, they are saying that they like to drink. There is a slight air of judgment contained in this idiom, they might worry that someone drinks too much, but it stops just before actually calling someone a drunkard.

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