Learning a language goes beyond just vocabulary and grammar; it’s also about understanding idioms. Idioms are expressions that don’t always make sense when translated literally but are used frequently in everyday conversation.

Learn famous French idioms

Like any language, French is rich with idioms that can add color and authenticity to your speech. This blog will highlight some essential French idioms, their meanings, and examples of how to use them in context.

French idioms: Exploring importance and common expressions

Idioms are phrases where the words together have a meaning different from the dictionary definitions of the individual words. They are culturally specific and often reflect a community’s values, history, and common experiences.

You may encounter certain difficulties in learning French, but if you keep progressing at a gradual pace, you will eventually sound like a native speaker. Mastering French idioms can allow you to understand and communicate with native speakers.

Why learn French idioms?

  1. Sound more natural: Using idioms can help you sound more like a native speaker.
  2. Cultural insight: Idioms often provide insights into the culture and history of the language.
  3. Improved comprehension: Understanding idioms is crucial for listening comprehension and reading in a foreign language.

Common French idioms

Here are some essential French idioms, along with their meanings and usage:

French IdiomLiteral TranslationMeaningExample Sentence
Coûter les yeux de la têteTo cost the eyes in the headTo be very expensiveCette voiture coûte les yeux de la tête. (This car is very expensive.)
Donner sa langue au chatTo give one’s tongue to the catTo give up (on a riddle or question)Je ne sais pas la réponse, je donne ma langue au chat. (I don’t know the answer, I give up.)
Avoir le cœur sur la mainTo have the heart on the handTo be very generousElle a le cœur sur la main, elle aide tout le monde. (She is very generous, she helps everyone.)
Mettre les points sur les iTo put the dots on the i’sTo be very preciseIl faut mettre les points sur les i pour éviter des malentendus. (We need to be precise to avoid misunderstandings.)
Raconter des saladesTo tell saladsTo tell liesIl arrête jamais de raconter des salades. (He never stops telling lies.)
Avoir la friteTo have the fryTo be in great shape or good spiritsAujourd’hui, j’ai la frite! (Today, I’m in great shape!)
Prendre la moucheTo take the flyTo get angry suddenlyNe prends pas la mouche, ce n’est qu’une plaisanterie. (Don’t get angry, it’s just a joke.)
Être sur son trente-et-unTo be on one’s thirty-oneTo be dressed to the ninesPour la soirée, elle était sur son trente-et-un. (For the party, she was dressed to the nines.)
Chercher la petite bêteTo look for the little beastTo nitpickIl cherche toujours la petite bête dans tout ce que je fais. (He always nitpicks everything I do.)
Avoir un coup de foudreTo have a lightning strikeTo fall in love at first sightQuand ils se sont rencontrés, c’était un coup de foudre. (When they met, it was love at first sight.)

French idioms are exciting and tricky at the same time. You must practice them regularly to understand their meaning and contextual usage. Moreover, it is also essential to learn French grammar concepts such as French proverbs, verbs, pronouns, etc.

Practice famous idioms with friends

How to use French idioms in conversations

Using idioms appropriately can significantly enhance your fluency. Here are some tips:

Learn idioms contextually: Try to learn idioms in the context of sentences rather than in isolation.

Practice with native speakers: Engage in conversations with native French speakers and pay attention to how they use idioms.

Read and listen: Consume French media, such as books, movies, and podcasts, to hear idioms in use.

Use flashcards: Create flashcards with the idiom on one side and its meaning and example sentence on the other.

Read books on French idioms

Some more French idioms to enhance your vocabulary

Here are additional French idioms to add to your linguistic repertoire:

French IdiomLiteral TranslationMeaningExample Sentence
Mettre du beurre dans les épinardsTo put butter in the spinachTo improve living conditionsCe nouveau boulot va mettre du beurre dans les épinards. (This new job will improve our living conditions.)
Poser un lapinTo put down a rabbitTo stand someone upIl m’a posé un lapin hier soir. (He stood me up last night.)
Avoir d’autres chats à fouetterTo have other cats to whipTo have other things to doJe ne peux pas t’aider maintenant, j’ai d’autres chats à fouetter. (I can’t help you now, I have other things to do.)
Être dans les nuagesTo be in the cloudsTo be daydreamingElle est toujours dans les nuages pendant les cours. (She is always daydreaming during class.)
Faire la grasse matinéeTo do the fat morningTo sleep inJ’adore faire la grasse matinée le dimanche. (I love to sleep in on Sundays.)
Monter sur ses grands chevauxTo get on one’s high horsesTo get angry and defensiveIl monte sur ses grands chevaux dès qu’on le critique. (He gets angry and defensive as soon as he’s criticized.)
Avoir le cafardTo have the cockroachTo be feeling downJ’ai le cafard aujourd’hui, je ne sais pas pourquoi. (I’m feeling down today, I don’t know why.)
Couper les cheveux en quatreTo cut the hair in fourTo split hairsIl passe son temps à couper les cheveux en quatre. (He spends his time splitting hairs.)
Faire d’une pierre deux coupsTo make two hits with one stoneTo kill two birds with one stoneEn faisant mes courses en ligne, j’ai fait d’une pierre deux coups. (By doing my shopping online, I killed two birds with one stone.)
Prendre son courage à deux mainsTo take one’s courage in both handsTo muster up the courageElle a pris son courage à deux mains et a parlé au directeur. (She mustered up courage and spoke to the principal.)

Mastering a second language is a time-consuming experience. From learning basic greetings to acing several conversations, such as learning to order food in French, every new concept requires regular practice.

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Frequently asked questions

Are French idioms used in formal settings?

Yes, some idioms are used in formal settings, but knowing which ones are appropriate is essential. While many idioms are informal, others can be used in more formal contexts. Observing how native speakers use idioms in different situations can help you understand their appropriate use.

Can idioms be directly translated into another language?

Idioms often cannot be directly translated into another language because their meanings are not literal. Instead, they are culturally specific and may lose meaning or become confusing when translated word-for-word. It’s better to learn the idiomatic meanings and find equivalent expressions in your native language.

Are idioms the same in all French-speaking countries?

While many idioms are common across French-speaking countries, there are regional variations. For example, idioms in Quebecois French may differ from those in Metropolitan French. Knowing these differences helps communicate with French speakers from different regions.

Can I create my own idioms in French?

Creating your own idioms in French can be risky because idioms are deeply rooted in the cultural context and widely recognized by native speakers. Using non-standard idioms may confuse listeners. It’s better to learn and use established idioms that are commonly understood.


Mastering French idioms can significantly enhance your fluency and comprehension. These expressions help you sound more natural and provide cultural insights that enrich your language understanding. By learning and practicing these idioms, you’ll be well on your way to speaking French more authentically and confidently.

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