A Spoonful of Advanced French Expressions for Your Vocabulary

Today, we’re going to look at phrases that use words you probably already know.

The phrases below are based around a few fairly common French words.

These are the kind of phrases that translation apps like Google Translate  may or may not get right, because they often use idiomatic language.

In other words, these aren’t the kind of phrases you can come up with yourself just by knowing all the words in them.


37 Advanced French Expressions to Spice Up Your Vocabulary

The expressions below are broken into categories that correspond to common, versatile French words. Taking a look at the different phrases that use a particular word should give you a broader understanding of its role in the language.

While it might be intimidating to see how many meanings these words can have, you can also rejoice in the fact that the phrases are “prepackaged” for immediate use, meaning that you don’t have to worry about building them up from scratch. Because phrases give you more sheer language to work with than words, you can use them to build sentences faster and more fluently.

Advanced phrases with the word prendre (“to take”)

Prendre conscience (to become aware/to realize)

Il faut prendre conscience que cela a dû être difficile pour elle de partir dans ces conditions.

(We need to realize that it must have been difficult for her to leave in those circumstances.)

Prendre une décision (to make a decision)

Il faut prendre une décision avant demain.

(We need to make a decision before tomorrow.)

Note that in English you “make” a decision, whereas here you “take” one.

Prendre parti pour (to take sides with)

Il a pris parti pour la meilleure équipe.

(He took sides with the best team.)

To remember this one, it might be helpful for English speakers to think of “taking someone’s part,” in an argument, for example. Just be aware that parti doesn’t actually translate to the English word “part” by itself. Confusingly, though, partie-with-an-can refer to a part or section of something, while parti can refer to a political party, but neither of them refers to the kind of party-with-a-y in English that often includes food, drinks and music.

Prendre rendez-vous (to make an appointment)

Avez-vous pris rendez-vous chez le médecin ?

(Did you make an appointment with the doctor?)

Another instance where you need to watch out for the “make”/”take” switch.

Prendre congé (to leave, to take off)

Le repas est terminé. Je vais prendre congé.

(The meal is over. I’m going to take off.)

The literal translation is a little easier here for English speakers, since you can think of “taking leave.” This expression often refers to taking time off work, or taking a “leave of absence.”

Advanced phrases with the word affaire (“thing, business, case, contract, problem…”)

Se tirer d’affaire (to get out safe and sound)

Il a eu un grave accident de voiture, mais il s’est tiré d’affaire.

(He had a serious car accident, but he came out safe and sound.)

Avoir l’affaire en main (to have something under control)

Ne vous inquiétez pas. J’ai l’affaire en main.

(Don’t worry. I have everything under control.)

This translates very well in a literal sense to the expression “to have something in hand” in English.

Être dans une affaire (to be involved in a case/situation)

Il prétend qu’il est innocent, mais il est dans l’affaire jusqu’au cou.

(He says he’s innocent, but he is fully implicated in this case.)

Une mauvaise affaire (a bad deal)

Acheter cette propriété a été une mauvaise affaire pour mon client.

(Buying this property was a bad deal for my client.)

Faire capoter l’affaire (to make a deal fail)

Il a fait capoter l’affaire à des fins malhonnêtes.

(He made the deal fail for dishonest purposes.)

Capoter literally means “to flip” or “to overturn,” but as you can see here, it’s used in a more figurative sense as well.

Advanced phrases with the word tête (“head”)

Se creuser la tête (to think hard)

Je me suis creusé la tête pour résoudre ce problème.

(I thought hard in order to solve this problem.)

Another expression you may be interested in learning along with this one is se casser la tête (to worry/stress).

Faire la tête (to have a pout/to sulk)

Je ne sais pas ce qu’il a, mais il fait la tête depuis ce matin.

(I don’t know what’s going on with him, but he’s been sulking since this morning.)

Perdre la tête (to lose one’s memory or one’s mind)

Mon Dieu, elle a perdu la tête.

(My God, she’s lost her mind.)

Ni queue ni tête (making no sense)

Cette histoire n’a ni queue, ni tête.

(This story makes no sense.)

This literally means “neither head nor tail,” which is equivalent to the English expression, of course.

Garder la tête froide (to remain calm)

Malgré le danger, il a gardé la tête froide durant cette expérience.

(Despite the danger, he remained calm throughout this experience.)

Another one that’s easy to remember as English has a literal equivalent: “to keep a cool head.”

En avoir par-dessus la tête (to be fed up)

J’en ai par-dessus la tête des tes histoires.

(I’m fed up with your problems.)

This is literally “to have it above the head,” which has some similarity to the English equivalent “to have it up to here.”

Une tête brûlée (a hothead)

Ces aventuriers sont des têtes brûlées. 

(Those adventurers are hotheads.)

Avoir une tête à claques (to be stupid or annoying)

Quelle tête à claques celle-là !

(How annoying she is!)

This is literally “to have a good head for slapping.”

Avoir la grosse tête (to be arrogant)

Le succès lui a donné la grosse tête.

(Success made him arrogant.)

Yet another with an easy English equivalent: “to have a big head.”

Advanced phrases with the word coup (see below)

The word coup in itself has many different meanings, such as:

  • blow
  • shot
  • shock
  • stroke
  • hit
  • bang
  • knock
  • thrust
  • cut
  • action
  • act

Not only do multiple expressions in French have coup in them, but you probably already know this word has been adopted into English, perhaps most notably in “coup d’état,” or simply “coup,” as well as “coup de grâce.” Amusingly, in English, people sometimes pronounce the “grâce” without the “c,” which makes it sound like gras (“fat” in French).

Once you have a general idea of coup and its versatility, the following expressions aren’t too tricky. In fact, you could probably figure out some of them on your own. If you’ve spent any serious amount of time learning French, you’ve probably managed to pick up a few coup phrases just from context while reading books or newspapers.

If you’re looking for more resources to listen to how natives use coup and other words, you can check out the Youtube channel Easy French, where they interview and talk to regular french speakers about different topics. 

You can also practice on the FluentU program, which lets you watch authentic French videos like movie clips and music videos. Each video has interactive captions and quizzes. For advanced expressions like these, FluentU’s contextual dictionary can also come in handy.

Avoir le coup de main (to be skillful)

Il a un sacré coup de main.

(He’s very skilled.)

Donner un coup de main (to give a helping hand)

Peux-tu me donner un coup de main ?

(Could you give me a hand?)

Jeter un coup d’œil (to take a look)

Peux-tu jeter un coup d’œil à mes devoirs ?

(Could you take a look at my homework?)

Avoir un coup d’avance (to be a step ahead)

Les champions auront toujours un coup d’avance sur les autres.

(Champions will always be a step ahead of the others.)

Donner un coup de poing (to hit somebody with your fist)

Il m’a donné un coup de poing dans la figure.

(He hit me in the face with his fist.)

Un coup de vent (a gust of wind)

Le journal a été emporté par un coup de vent.

(The newspaper was carried away with a gust of wind.)

Un coup de chapeau (a salute/recognition/reward)

Vous méritez un coup de chapeau pour ce merveilleux spectacle.

(You deserve a reward/salute for this wonderful show.)

Advanced phrases with the word jour (“day”)

Au petit jour (early in the morning)

La mer est toujours calme au petit jour.

(The sea is always calm early in the morning.)

Voir le jour (to be born)

Il a vu le jour pendant la guerre.

(He was born during the war.)

Mettre à jour (to update)

J’ai mis mon rapport à jour.

(I updated my report.)

Mettre au grand jour (to expose something completely)

Les journalistes ont mis la vérité au grand jour.

(The journalists have completely exposed the truth.)

Ses jours sont comptés (his/her/their [singular] days are numbered)

Sa santé s’est dégradée et ses jours sont comptés.

(His health declined and his days are numbered.)

De jour en jour (more and more/day after day)

La situation économique s’améliore de jour en jour.

(The economy is getting better day after day.)

Advanced miscellaneous French phrases

Aborder la question (to address the issue)

Il faudrait aborder la question le plus tôt possible.

(We need to address the issue as soon as possible.)

Incontestable que (without a doubt)

Il est incontestable que vous êtes le meilleur.

(Without a doubt, you’re the best.)

Jusqu’à preuve du contraire (until proven otherwise)

Elle n’a pas encore démissionné, donc jusqu’à preuve du contraire, elle fait toujours partie de cette entreprise.

(She has not resigned, so until proven otherwise, she’s still part of this company.)

À titre d’exemple (as an example/for example)

Je citerai l’histoire de Sophie à titre d’exemple.

(I’ll mention Sophie’s story as an example.)

Engager la conversation (to start a conversation/to start talking)

J’ai engagé la conversation pour casser le silence.

(I started talking to break the ice.)


Okay, your turn now!

Engage in conversation using these advanced French phrases to spice up your vocabulary.

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