The verb faire literally means “to do.” It is one of the most important verbs you can learn in your study of the French language being that it is commonly used to talk about what one does and it appears in a range of idiomatic expressions. As a language teacher and student, I believe that part of mastering a language involves learning about the culture(s) associated with it. Therefore, I always try to learn from cultural media such as cinema, music, literature, as well as from other forms of art, and I encourage my students to do the same.
Therefore, in this article, I will highlight ten popular expressions and songs that feature the word faire. Learning to recognize and use these phrases will instantly make you sound more native-like, being that they are great additions to your repertoire of conversational, everyday language.
- To watch out, be careful.
While une gaffe refers to a blunder, faire gaffe means to watch out or be careful. A young rapper uses it as a warning in this video, singing Fais gaffe, tu pourrais t’prendre une balle de mili.
- Fais gaffe by Tirgo
- To worry.
S’en faire means to worry about something or someone. A very common usage of this expression is Ne t’en fais pas, which is a way to tell someone not to worry. In this cute pop ballad, Christophe, who starred in the musical Le Roi Soleil, uses the phrase Non, ne t’en fais pas ma belle to reassure the woman he loves that he has no intention of having une femme sur chaque quai on his travels around the world and that he will be faithful to her.
- Ne t’en fais pas: Christophe Maé
Faire un tabac
- To be a hit.
In this clever song, Anton Serra uses a double entendre to draw an analogy between the dangers of love and tobacco. Faire un tabac is used to talk about something that is a great success, a sensation. It originates from the expression un coup de tabac, part of the lexicon of the maritime world, which was used to describe unexpected storms that caused damage to a ship.
Thus, it is a particularly apt phrase to compare things that are both enticing and intoxicating. Serra writes that Chez les jeunes ça fait un tabac, ça fait / Chavirer les coeurs, gonfler les poumons, attendrir les abats in regards to love.
- Aimer tue: Anton Serra
Faire son cinéma
- To make a scene, to create drama.
Je t’en prie, arrête de faire ton cinéma / je veux juste que l’on redevienne comme avant sings Laura Chab’, a gifted young performer who auditioned for The Voice in 2013 at the age of 16. This expression is quite difficult to translate, as its meaning can change with the precise context, but often, as in this soulfully-rendered love song, it means to cause (unnecessary) drama. Here, the singer implores her lover, cesse de faire ton enfant, or to stop acting childishly, in the context of a failing relationship.
- Cesse de faire ton enfant: Laura Chab’
Faire la grasse matinée
- To sleep in.
Did you know that although Martinique and Guadeloupe are Caribbean islands, they are considered part of the French nation? These former colonies are overseas departments of France and are part of France outremer. Eric Virgal, from Martinique, is representative of a style of music from that island, the zouk, which blends the island’s Caribbean and European heritage. In this duet, he sings with Orlane, a French singer from Réunion Island (which is also a French department in the Indian Ocean). They sing in Creole, which is derived from French, among other languages. Faire la grasse matinée, which means “to sleep in,” is a well chosen title for this languid tune that evokes relaxed, sleepy mornings and the rhythm of the waves along the Martinican coastline.
- Grasse matinée: Eric Virgal & Orlane
- To get dark, to be nightfall.
Faire is used in many expressions that describe the weather: faire beau, faire froid, faire chaud…. Similarly, it’s used to talk about the time of day: faire jour or faire nuit, which usually refers to the amount of light left at a certain time. In this text, Grand Corps Malade makes multiple references to the absence of light as a metaphor for an intense sense of disorientation.
Grand Corps Malade, a former basketball player who became a slammeur following a serious diving accident, uses this expression figuratively to describe a darkness that permeates all of his existence. He writes that J’attends que le soleil se lève à nouveau dans mon espoir, making explicit the symbolism at play in his work. Many of his texts are rich in metaphor, allegory, and clever plays on colloquial language. Therefore, they are great ways to learn conversational French while noticing the nuances of language.
- Il a fait nuit toute la journée: Grand Corps Malade
Faire la belle
- To escape, get away.
As you probably know, belle means beautiful. Faire la belle, however, means “to escape.” In this song by Marseillais rap group Zbatata, the narrator laments a woman who is unfaithful to a man who is desperately in love with her, sneaking out and deceiving him. The opening lines of the song, pendant que tu l’aimes / Elle fait la belle / Elle te laisse, elle part avec un autre make explicit its subject matter. Be careful though; se faire belle on the other hand, means to doll yourself up or to make oneself appear beautiful.
- Elle fait la belle: Zbatata
Faire la sourde oreille
- To turn a deaf ear, to pretend not to hear what someone is saying.
When you ignore someone’s questions or don’t respond to concerns they are raising, it’s called faire la sourde oreille. In Larsen, French songwriter Zazie talks about all the things she pretends not to hear, because according to her, responding when someone speaks to her sur ce ton would be pointless. For example, she says Ça sonne / Téléphone, mais je fais la sourde oreille / Je ne réponds pas / Ça sert à quoi? The song can refer to communication difficulties in a personal relationship, but she also suggests it is a problem of the modern world: la radio, tous les journaux, c’est pareil. It’s when people do not really listen to or hear each other. A former fashion model, Zazie has some great songs for students of French thanks to her clever use of language, particularly double entendres.
- Larsen: Zazie
Faire des châteaux en Espagne
- To pursue something that will never come to be.
One of the prettiest expressions on the list, faire des châteaux en Espagne refers to the pursuit of something impossible. Variations include acheter, bâtir or construire instead of faire, to describe chasing an idea that will never come to fruition. In her song, Zazie reflexively uses this expression, when she paints a picture of an idealistic world where tout le monde s’aimerait. One repeated line in the chorus, j’achète un château en Espagne, reflects on the naïveté of the sentiments expressed earlier in the song.
- Rue de la paix: Zazie
Faire les quatre cents coups
- To raise hell, to sow one’s wild oats.
You may have heard of Les quatre cents coups (François Truffaut 1959): it is one of the most celebrated films of the French New Wave. The title comes from the expression faire les quatre cents coups, which signifies “to sow one’s wild oats,” particularly during youth, or “to raise hell,” behaving in a way considered wild by the norms of society. Léo Ferré, considered to be a classic French language singer and poet himself, popularized the works of other poets like Arthur Rimbaud by setting them to music. His songs were often political, and he believed that poetry belonged in the street, accessible to everyone, to be used as a weapon of the people. This can be gleaned from the following lyrics:
La poésie est dans la rue / S’il faut tirer par tous les bouts / Amis tirons les quat’ cents coups.
- Les Quat’Cents Coups: Léo Ferré