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52 Common French Idioms

So you’re in a French bar.

You hear a fellow drinker talking about drinking like a hole and another is talking about having a fat morning.

You scratch your head and wonder why you’re lost even though you can translate the words.

Well, this is why you need to know your French idioms!

In this post, you’ll learn 52 French idioms you can sprinkle into your conversations and surprise native speakers.


52 Must-know French Idioms

1. Coûter les yeux de la tête

Literal meaning: To cost the eyes of the head

Coûter les yeux de la tête literally means that something costs the eyes of the head—it’s a price that’s unreasonable. The English equivalent is “to cost an arm and a leg.”

Here’s an example:

J’aurais aimé acheter un nouvel ordi mais ça coûte les yeux de la tête.
I would have liked to buy a new computer but it costs an arm and a leg.

2. Boire comme un trou

Literal meaning: Drink like a hole

When you say that someone drinks like a hole, it means that they never stop, even if they should.

“Astrid a remarqué que Charles a bu deux bouteilles de vin hier soir.”
“Astrid noticed that Charles drank two bottles of wine last night.”

Mon Dieu, il buvait comme un trou.”
“Oh my God, he was drinking like a hole.”

3. Ne rien savoir faire de ses dix doigts

Literal meaning: Not knowing how to do anything with your ten fingers

Ne rien savoir faire de ses dix doigts means that somebody is completely useless. 

Here’s an example:

Laisse tomber, il ne sait rien faire de ses dix doigts, celui-là.
Forget about it, that guy is completely useless.

4. Arriver comme un cheveu sur la soupe

Literal meaning: Arriving like a hair on the soup

Arriver comme un cheveu sur la soupe refers to entering a situation at the most awkward moment possible.

Here’s an example:

Julien et Arnaud se disputaient quand je suis arrivée – comme un cheveu sur la soupe.
Julien and Arnaud were in the middle of a fight when I got there – at the most awkward moment.

5. Mettre son grain de sel

Literal meaning: To put in one’s grain of salt

Mettre son grain de sel means to give someone an unsolicited and unnecessary opinion. So, your mom offering you advice and feedback on your love life (or lack thereof) would be a perfect time to use this.

Here’s an example:

Encore une fois, elle a mis son grain de sel.
Once again, she offered an unsolicited opinion.

6. Faire la grasse matinée

Literal meaning: To have a fat morning

Faire la grasse matinée means to sleep in.

J’ai trop bu hier soir, alors aujourd’hui, j’ai fait la grasse matinée.
I drank too much last night, so today I slept in.

7. C’est dommage

Literal meaning: That’s a shame

C’est dommage que tu ne sois pas au courant.
It’s too bad you’re not up to speed.

8. Coup de foudre

Literal meaning: A strike of lightning

Coup de foudre literally translates to a strike of lightning, but actually refers to love at first sight.

Quand je t’ai vu pour la première fois, c’était le coup de foudre.
The first time I saw you, I fell head over heels.

9. Appeler un chat un chat

Literal meaning: Call a cat a cat

Appeler un chat un chat is the equivalent of telling it like it is, or calling a spade a spade in English.

Attends, tu veux vraiment dire qu’il est stupide ?!
“Wait, do you actually think he’s stupid?!”

Écoute, il faut appeler un chat un chat.
“Listen, I’m just telling it like it is.”

10. Je dis ça, je dis rien

Literal meaning: I say that, I say nothing

This phrase’s English counterpart is “just saying.” You would use this expression when giving your opinion but wanting to soften the blow a bit, or not assume total responsibility for it.

Si on ne part pas maintenant, on n’arrivera pas au spectacle à l’heure. Enfin, je dis ça, je dis rien.
If we don’t leave now, we won’t get to the show on time. Just saying…

11. Poser un lapin à quelqu’un

Literal meaning: To put a rabbit on somebody

This French expression sounds as silly as its English equivalent—to stand somebody up or to not show up for something that you’ve planned.

Je l’ai attendue mais elle n’est jamais arrivée – elle m’a posé un lapin !
I waited for her but she never came – she stood me up!

12. Ça marche !

Literal meaning: That works

If you want to confirm that you’re on board for something, you can use this expression.

On se retrouve à midi pour déjeuner ?
“Let’s meet at noon for lunch?”

Oui, ça marche !”
“Yes, that works!”

13. Sauter du coq à l’âne

Literal meaning: To jump from the rooster to the donkey

Sauter du coq à l’âne means to jump from topic to topic in conversation.

Et, je saute du coq à l’âne mais…
And, this is completely unrelated but…

14. Être à l’ouest

Literal meaning: Being in the West

Être à l’ouest refers to being completely crazy or out of it.

Comme j’avais mal dormi, j’étais complètement à l’ouest toute la journée.
Since I had slept poorly, I was out of it for the whole day.

15. La moutarde me monte au nez

Literal meaning: The mustard is getting to my nose

La moutarde me monte au nez means that you’re getting angry.

Quand elle se fait taquiner, on peut voir que la moutarde lui monte au nez !
When she gets teased, you can see her getting angry!

16. Ramener sa fraise

Literal meaning: To bring its strawberry

Don’t let yourself be fooled by this “to bring its strawberry” idiom. This is the French version of “to stick your nose into something,” although it can also be used to invite someone to approach.

Mon frère ramène constamment sa fraise alors qu’on ne lui a rien demandé.
“My brother is constantly sticking his nose in even though no one asked him anything.”

Allez ! Ramène ta fraise !
“Come on! Join us!”

17. Prendre le melon

Literal meaning: Take the melon

This one means “to be big-headed.”

Depuis qu’il a obtenu sa promotion il a tellement pris le melon qu’il en est devenu insupportable.
Ever since he got promoted, he’s so big-headed that he’s become unbearable.

18. Lâcher la grappe

Literal meaning: Let go of the bunch

This is what someone might tell you if you won’t stop bothering them. “Let go of my bunches!” or less literally, “Leave me alone!”

Outside of this idiom, “grappe” can mean a bunch of fruit or a group of people.

“Madame, voulez-vous acheter un chapeau ?”
“Ma’am, do you want to buy a hat?”

Non, lâchez-moi la grappe !
“No, leave me alone!”

19. Compter pour des prunes

Literal meaning: Counting for plums

I don’t know if the French have a particular reason to dislike plums, but this idiom translates as “to count for nothing.”

Pourquoi vous ne voulez pas m’écouter ? Mon avis compte pour des prunes ?
Why don’t you listen to me? Does my opinion not count for anything?

20. Porter ses fruits

Literal meaning: To bring its fruits

This one even makes sense. Literally “to bring its fruits,” it is used when saying that something is becoming profitable, giving good results.

Après 6 mois de travail, l’entreprise a commencé à porter ses fruits.
After 6 months of work, the company has started to produce results.

21. Être rouge comme une tomate

Literal meaning: To be red like a tomato

Feeling ashamed? Then this is the idiom you are looking for! “To be red like a tomato.” Pretty self-explanatory.

La petite fille était rouge comme une tomate après être tombée dans la rue.
The little girl blushed after falling in the street.

22. Ne pas avoir un radis

Literal meaning: To not have a radish

Probably not something you’d like to say very often, this phrase means “to be dead broke.”

Après mes vacances en Australie, je n’ai plus un radis !
I’m dead broke after my holidays in Australia.

23. Se prendre le chou

Literal meaning: Take the cabbage

This idiom refers to getting worried about something or overly complicating things.

Ce n’est pas la peine de se prendre le chou pour un truc aussi bête !
It’s not worth it to get overly worried about such a silly thing!

24. Les carottes sont cuites

Literal meaning: The carrots are cooked

This is the kind of idiom you’ll use when there’s no hope left. When there’s nothing else you can do about a certain situation, when “the carrots are already cooked.”

Il n’y a plus rien à faire, les carottes sont cuites.
There’s nothing left to do, it’s over.

25. Mettre du beurre dans les épinards

Literal meaning: Put some butter on the spinach

It might not seem so, but “putting butter on the spinach” has quite a specific meaning. It’s frequently used to express the fact of needing to improve one’s financial situation or income.

Il va falloir mettre du beurre dans les épinards si on veut faire le tour du monde l’année prochaine.
We will have to improve our income if we want to travel the world next year.

26. Raconter des salades

Literal meaning: To tell salads

This phrase simply means to talk nonsense, or dire n’importe quoi  which is literally “say whatever.”

On en avait marre de lui car il n’arrêtait pas de raconter des salades.
We were fed up with him because he wouldn’t stop talking nonsense.

27. Avoir un pépin

Literal meaning: To have a pip

As weird as it may sound, it’s a straightforward idiom as well. It means to have a problem, something that is not going as expected, an issue, a glitch.

Hier j’ai eu un pépin et je n’ai pas pu démarrer la voiture.
There was an issue with my car yesterday which prevented me from starting it.

28. Avoir un pois chiche dans la tête

Literal meaning: To have a chickpea in the head

This is the French equivalent to “have a pea-brain.”

Ce gars-là ne comprend rien à ce qu’on lui dit, il a un pois chiche dans la tête.
That guy doesn’t understand anything we say to him, he’s got a pea-brain.

29. Avoir du blé

Literal meaning: To have wheat

This one literally means “to have wheat,” but actually is saying that you are very wealthy.

Il a tellement de blé qu’il a pu s’acheter une Mercedes.
He’s got so much money that he’s been able to buy a Mercedes.

30. Avoir les yeux plus gros que le ventre

Literal meaning: To have eyes bigger than your stomach

You’ve definitely heard this one before. This means “to have eyes bigger than your stomach,” which is a pretty common idiom in French and English.

Pourquoi nous avons commandé toute cette nourriture ?”
“Why did we order all this food?”

Parce qu’on a eu les yeux plus gros que le ventre, c’est pour ça !”
“It’s because we had eyes bigger than our stomachs, that’s why!”

31. Ne pas mettre tous ses œufs dans le même panier

Literal meaning: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

This is another idiom that will be very familiar. It means “don’t put all of your eggs in the same basket.”

J’ai un entretien d’embauche demain !”
“I have a job interview tomorrow!”

Ah ouais ? Très bien ! Mais ne mets pas tous tes œufs dans le même panier !
“Oh yeah? Great! But don’t put all your eggs in one basket!”

32. C’est du gâteau

Literal meaning: A piece of cake

This one is the same in English as it is in French: “a piece of cake!”

J’ai fini ma thèse ! C’était du gâteau !
I finished my thesis! It was a piece of cake!

33. Mieux vaut tard que jamais

Literal meaning: Better late than never

This is probably a favorite phrase of yours if you are a procrastinator. It means “better late than never.”

“J’ai un projet à rendre que je n’ai pas encore commencé !”
“I have a report due that I still haven’t started!”

“Mieux vaut tard que jamais !”
“Better late than never!”

34. Les actes valent mieux que les mots

Literal meaning: Actions are worth more than words

Most English speakers tend to say “actions speak louder than words.”

Oui, oui, je promets de tout faire tout seul à partir d’aujourd’hui.”
“Yes, yes, I promise to do everything on my own starting today.”

T’es sûr ? Les actes valent mieux que les mots !
“You sure? Actions speak louder than words!”

35. Plus facile à dire qu’à faire

Literal meaning: Easier said than done

This one means “easier said than done.”

Alors, tu m’avais dit que tu allais commencer le jardinage cette semaine, qu’est-ce qui s‘est passé ?”
“So, you told me you were going to begin the gardening this week, what happened?”

Ouais, je n’ai pas eu le temps, c’est plus facile à dire qu’à faire, mais je vais le faire, ne t’inquiète pas.”
“Yeah, I didn’t have the time, it’s easier said than done, but I’ll do it, don’t worry.”

36. Ce n’est pas ma tasse de thé

Literal meaning: It’s not my cup of tea

This idiom means “it’s not my cup of tea,” and you would use it just as you would in English.

Merci pour l’invitation, mais ce n’est pas ma tasse de thé.
Thank you for the invitation, but it’s not my cup of tea.

37. J’en ai jusque-là

Literal meaning: I have so far

This one is favored by anyone who’s stressed and it means “I’ve had it up to here.” This points out just how low your patience is.

J’en ai jusque-là ! Je ne supporte plus ton comportement !
I’ve had it up to here! I’m sick of your behavior!

38. L’avocat du diable

Literal meaning: Devil’s advocate

A “devil’s advocate” is one who purposely plays a counterargument just for the sake of analyzing all sides of a situation.

“Internet est une invention grandiose ! Où serions-nous sans ça ?”
“The Internet is a grandiose invention! Where would we be without it?”

Oui, mais ça doit cesser ! Toute l’énergie utilisée pour supporter Internet va détruire notre planète— je me fais juste l’avocat du diable !
“Yes, but it needs to stop! All the energy used for sustaining the Internet is going to destroy our planet—I’m just playing devil’s advocate!”

39. Me passer sur le corps

Literal meaning: Pass over my body

This translates to “over my dead body,” and it lets someone know it’s not happening.

Je vais dire autant de gros mots que je veux !
“I’m going to say as many bad words as I want!”

“Non, il faudra me passer sur le corps d’abord !”
“No, over my dead body!”

40. Cul sec

Literal meaning: Butt dry

Cul sec ! is a common French nightlife phrase to say, “bottoms up!” or “drink up!”, usually with the expectation of drinking the drink all in one shot.

Cul sec simply refers to—as the English equivalent does—what the bottom of a shot glass might look like (a bit on the dry side) after shooting it down your throat with squinted eyes.

“Santé !”

“Cul sec !”
(Bottoms up!)

41. Tête dans le cul

Literal meaning: Head in/up your butt

Tête dans le cul is an everyday French way to say, “still dreaming,” “still in bed” or “foggy” headed/minded.

It’s most notably said by parents to younger children whilst eating breakfast, unable to keep their eyes open.

Qu’est-ce que tu fais là ! T’as la tête dans le cul ?
(What are you doing! Are you fully awake?)

42. Ras le cul

Literal meaning: Overflowing butt / butt filled up

When you feel like “you’ve had it up to here” with learning French, or when you’re on your “last straw,” on “the verge” or on the “edge,” ras le cul is the perfect phrase to express those feelings:

Ras le cul de toutes ces règles de grammaire française !
(I’ve had it up to here with all these French grammar rules!)

A “softer” version that you could also use is ras le bol , which refers to an overflowing bowl rather than a butt.

43. Et mon cul, c’est du poulet ?

Literal meaning: And my butt, is it made of chicken?

Fun fact: roosters (the gallic rooster) are the country’s national symbol, which is why poulet (chicken) is so popular in French culture and expression.

This expression is a sarcastic one, and said in a tone that echoes “yeah, right!” or “in your dreams!”

Our English idiomatic equal would be, “I wasn’t born yesterday.”

“Oui, oui ! J’ai fait tous mes devoirs…”
(Yes, yes! I’ve done all my homework…)

“Et mon cul, c’est du poulet mon chéri ?”
(I wasn’t born yesterday, my dear.)

44. Avoir le cul bordé de nouilles

Literal meaning: To have a butt full of noodles

This is an every day saying for being “lucky” or “getting really lucky.”

The English idiom equivalent to avoir le cul bordé nouilles? would be something along the lines of “sitting pretty” or “luck of the draw.”

T’as obtenu une augmentation de salaire aujourd’hui ? T’as vraiment cul bordé de nouilles !
(You got a raise today? Lucky you!)

45. Dans le cul, Lulu

Literal meaning: In the butt, Lulu

Who is Lulu? Apparently, it’s attributed to every French person in existence. Or rather, a general population who’s blamed to be the source of “bad luck” for someone getting “screwed” or “finagled.”

It’s an everyday French way to say “you got ripped off.”

It might not sound too nice, but if you want to play the French part, try using the expression on yourself rather than others. It’ll definitely lighten up the mood, and you’ll come across as an advanced speaker.

J’ai fait tomber mes clefs dans le caniveau, dans le cul, Lulu !
(I dropped my keys in the gutter, dang!)

46. À se taper le cul par terre

Literal meaning: To bounce your butt on the floor

This is a funny, everyday French way to say something is “funny” or “excellent!”

C’est génial, c’est à se taper le cul par terre !
(It’s awesome, best thing since sliced bread!).

47. Coincé du cul

Literal meaning: Stuck of/in butt

Like their English counterparts, the French have a friendly way of saying someone is a “stuck-up snob” or “uptight.” Just reserve this one for close French friends or family!

Elle est coincée du cul ou quoi ?
(Is she a snob or what?)

48. Cul-cul

Literal meaning: Butt-butt

Cul-cul can also be spelled as cul cul, or cucul. It’s a French way to describe something that’s silly, corny or goofy. Imagine a silly comedy filled with clichés and a ridiculously happy ending…that’s the type of thing that you’ll want to call cul-cul. 

“Ce film est nul !”
(This movie is worthless.)

“C’est vrai qu’il est un peu cul-cul.”
(It’s true it’s a little silly.)

49. Cul terreux

Literal meaning: Butt dirt

A cul terreux is a “farmer,” “field worker” or someone who loves and lives off the land (agriculture).

Like our English equivalents, such as “sweat back” and “redneck,” this phrase holds negative connotations. But you never know when you might run into it.

Now you’ll know that you should be properly offended by the term, rather than nodding and smiling in agreement while assuming that you understand.

J’étais au marché, il y avait beaucoup de cul terreux.
(I went to the street market, and there were a lot of rednecks.).

50. Faux cul

Literal meaning: Fake butt

Faux cul is one of those self-evident French phrases, but it doesn’t refer to butt implants. Faux cul depicts someone fake or a hypocrite, and we know there’s a ton of those in all languages.

C’est un faux cul.
(He’s a hypocrite.)

Plus faux cul que ça et tu meurs!
(You can’t be any more fake than that!)

51. Péter plus haut que son cul

Literal meaning: To fart higher than your own butt

This phrase is used to point out people who are “arrogant” or “conceited.”

Péter plus haut que son cul would be the French way to say “don’t think your smell don’t stink” or “to be too big for one’s boots.”

If someone is acting aloof and shooting off rude insults about your language skills, kill them with this:

Arrête du péter plus haut que ton cul !
(Stop acting like your smell don’t stink!).

52. Avoir le cul entre deux chaises

Literal meaning: To have your butt between two chairs

This French phrase means to be “stuck in the middle.”

It refers to being caught in a dilemma or problem, or feeling caught—kind of like that feeling you get when you’re tongue-tied from switching back and forth between English and French. Avoir le cul entre deux chaises can be a physical feeling, but an emotional one as well.

À cause de ça, j’ai le cul entre deux chaises !
(Because of that, I’m stuck in the middle!).

Why Learn French Idioms?

You could go without learning French idioms, but who wants to sound like a middle school textbook when they make everyday conversation?

It’s hard to make a connection when you sound formal and awkward. Knowing common French idioms and expressions can help you connect on a deeper level with native French speakers and even sound more native yourself.

You can see how important idioms are to French with FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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Want to learn more French expressions to spice up your conversations? Check out this post, and this YouTube video:


After you get the hang of these idioms, you’ll be sounding like a local in no time!

Study them, but don’t forget the most important part: using them—in real conversations!

And one more thing...

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FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:


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