When we learn a language, we sometimes are taught from a resource that emphasizes grammar and more formal ways of speaking. While those are great and help you go from beginner to expert in the classroom, it may not help in everyday life. That is why idioms are so valuable to every language.
Just think, how often do you find yourself speaking to your friends or family in formal tones. Most likely, this isn’t how you talk. So, when learning a new language, be sure to pick up some useful idioms before traveling off to a country that speaks the language you currently study.
French is a language that is home to thousands of common idioms. These are a few that you should pop up in many everyday conversations as you learn how to speak French.
26 Common French Idioms to Sound Like a Real Native Speaker
The French word for hat also works when offering congratulations to someone. Use it to describe what’s on your head, or go outside the literal when offering a well done to your friends and family.
Example sentence: Je vous tire mon chapeau!
English translation: I have to say congratulations!
2. Au pif
English speakers may take an estimate or venture a guess when approximating a figure. In French, at the nose will do just the same. Another fun fact, the word pif would loosely equate to a nickname for the nose like schnoz in English.
Example sentence: Au pif je dirais 300.
English translation: I’d say 600 at a guess.
3. Coup de foudre
The direct translation relates to a bolt of lightning or a thunderbolt, but this common French idiom is best used to describe those whirlwind loves the French are known so well for.
Example sentence: C’était le coup de foudre.
English translation: She says it was love at first sight.
4. Avoir le cafard
In French, you have the cockroach when you are feeling down, homesick, or generally just melancholy. When your day lacks the quality it usually possesses, use this common French idiom to get the message across.
Example sentence: Comment peux-tu avoir le cafard?
English translation: How could you be homesick?
5. Dans son assiette, or Ne pas être dans son assiette
This is the phrase to use when you want to express that you aren’t feeling yourself today. French speakers may also use the common idiom Ne pas être dans son assiette when conveying this meaning as well. To say you have a bad cold, try J’ai un rhume carabiné.
Example sentence: Je suis vraiment navrée, mais Thierry ne se sent pas dans son assiette.
English translation: I’m terribly sorry, but Thierry’s feeling under the weather.
6. Avoir un faim de loup
This idiom closely mirrors a popular Duran Duran song, and it’s not Electric Barbarella. When you have the hunger of a wolf, you’re starving.
Example sentence: Le varappeur avait une faim de loup.
English translation: The Mountaineer was hungry as a wolf
7. Arrêtez de raconter des salades
This French idiom is commonly used by native speakers to discuss lying, liars, or other con artist type acts. In French, it’s called stop telling salads.
Example sentence: Ils n’arrêtent pas de raconter des salades à son sujet.
English translation: They don’t stop telling stories about this guy.
8. Du jour au lendemain
Life happens in an instant, and when it does, use this common idiom when conveying your feelings in French. While the translation closer reflects overnight, use this line when expressing the occasions that happen out of the blue.
Example sentence: Tu peux pas arrêter comme ça, du jour au lendemain.
English translation: You just can’t suddenly stop.
9. Fais gaffe!
This common French idiom is a 2-for-1. When you want to tell someone to be careful or watch out, fais gaffe works well. If you add une (fais une gaffe), now you are talking about making a mistake. Though, you will likely hear the first version more often.
Example sentence: Jo, fais gaffe!
English translation: Jo, look out!
10. Vous arrivez comme un cheveu sur la soupe
When you arrive like a hair in the soup, you’re appearing at just the wrong moment. When that happens, this common French idiom will do the trick when summarizing the scenario.
Example sentence: Mais je tombe comme un cheveu sur la soupe.
English translation: But I see I may have come at a bad time.
11. Quand on parle du loup
The French use this common idiom when one speaks about the wolf. In English, we’re often speaking of the devil when someone you were just talking about enters the room.
Example sentence: Quand on parle du loup.
English translation: Speak of the devil, the man himself.
12. Rien à cirer
When you just don’t care about a person, situation, or anything else in the world, this is the idiom many French speakers commonly use.
Example sentence: Rien à cirer, je me tire!
English translation: I don’t care, I’m leaving!
13. Tu m’étonnes
This idiom works well when either describing the feeling of being surprised or when asking someone to surprise you.
Example sentence: Tu m’étonnes, Marcel.
English translation: You surprise me, Marcel
14. Aux calendes grecques
While the literal translation first day of the Greek calendar, this common French idiom represents the unlikelihood of an event happening. In English, we often use when pigs fly. When using this idiom, French speakers often add renvoyer to change the meaning to an indefinite delay.
Example sentence: La question a été renvoyée aux calendes grecques.
English translation: The matter kept being put off.
15. Se creuser la tête
Whether you are racking your brain or thinking over a manner, this is the French idiom to use. It covers a wealth of similar phrases that represent a time when you are thinking things over.
Example sentence: Tu n’as pas à te creuser la tête.
English translation: You don’t have to think about it or anything
16. Il pleut des cordes!
In English, we say it’s raining cats and dogs. In French, this common idiom typically represents a heavy rain – often meaning it’s raining some ropes!
Example sentence: Mince, il pleut des cordes.
English translation: Man, it’s coming down.
17. J’ai la puce à l’oreille
Whether you are a detective or just a common French speaker with a hunch, this idiom does the trick when you suspect something is afoot or are suspicious of something.
Example sentence: Ce qui leur a mis la puce à l’oreille.
English translation: You made them suspicious in the process.
18. Appeler un chat un chat
If you or someone you know speaks their mind, use this idiom to describe them aptly. In English, it’s calling a spade a spade, but in French you’d be saying, to call a cat, a cat.
Example sentence: Il faut appeler un chat un chat.
English translation: It is necessary to call a cat a cat.
19. Revenons à nos moutons
The translation may be suggesting that we return to our sheep, but this common French idiom works best when asking the stay on topic. Use this one whenever a meeting goes off the rails, or if you have a friend that loves to veer off topic.
Example sentence: Pour le moment, revenons à nos moutons.
English translation: For now, let’s get back to the topic at hand.
20. Tenez-moi au courant
This is a great way to ask your friends or colleagues to keep me posted. It also works as a suitable replacement when asking someone to let me know.
Example sentence: Tenez-moi au courant, je suis inquiète.
English translation: Keep me posted, I’m worried.
21. Tu es une poule mouillée!
Know someone that lacks a, well, spine? This is the not so nice idiom a French speaker uses when calling someone a chicken – or in the case of the French, a wet hen.
Example sentence: Le dernier est une poule mouillée!
English translation: Last one in is a chicken!
22. La goutte d’eau qui fait déborder le vase
When you’ve hit your breaking point, over the edge, at the last straw, use this to express your emotions. In French, it’s the drop of water that makes the vase overflow.
Example sentence: C’est la goutte d’eau qui fait déborder le vase.
English translation: All right, that’s the last straw.
23. Je me fais un sang d’encre
When life has you worrying, or feeling like a nervous wreck, this common French idiom is the perfect way to sound like a native speaker while expressing your extreme emotional moment.
Example sentence: Je me fais un sang d’encre pour Arsene.
English translation: It’s just that I’m worried sick about Arsene.
24. Vous perdez la boule
Speaking of the last French idiom, this one can work to explain to a friend that their worrying has made them go crazy. In French, they call it losing the bowl.
Example sentence: Vous perdez la boule, Chloe.
English translation: You’re losing it, Chloe.
25. Devenir chèvre
In French, it becomes a goat, but when the situation is out of control, the kids are going bananas, or the office is going berserk this common French idiom does the trick. It also works to describe the emotions you may feel once the situation reaches this point.
Example sentence: Je vais devenir chèvre!
English translation: I am going insane!
26. L’habit ne fait pas le moine
This common idiom is used by French speakers that relate to a few English idioms. Think of this one as an excellent use for both you can’t judge a book by its cover and the suit doesn’t make the man.
Example sentence: L’habit ne fait pas le moine.
English translation: I guess the suit doesn’t make the man.
Hope you enjoyed these common French idioms. Now it’s time to start practicing them on your own! Or you can check out Rype’s free language lessons trial to practice with one of our handpicked French teachers.
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