39 French Idioms to Jump From the Rooster to the Donkey

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!


1. Coûter les yeux de la tête

Coûter les yeux de la tête literally means that something costs the eyes in your 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

Boire comme un trou literally means to 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.”

Mon Dieu, il buvait comme un trou.

“Astrid noticed that Charles drank two bottles of wine last night.”

“Oh my God, he was drinking like a hole.”

3. Ne rien savoir faire de ses dix doigts

Ne rien savoir faire de ses dix doigts literally means not knowing how to do anything with one’s ten fingers. It 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

Arriver comme un cheveu sur la soupe literally means to arrive like the hair in a soup. It 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

Mettre son grain de sel literally means to put in one’s grain of salt – 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

Faire la grasse matinée literally means to have a fat morning, or 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

C’est dommage literally translates to “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

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

Appeler un chat un chat literally translates to calling a cat a cat. It’s 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 ?!

Écoute, il faut appeler un chat un chat.

“Wait, do you actually think he’s stupid?!”

“Listen, I’m just telling it like it is.”

10. Je dis ça, je dis rien

Je dis ça, je dis rien literally means “I say that, I say nothing.” Its 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

Poser un lapin à quelqu’un literally means ‘to put a rabbit on somebody’. The 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 !

Ça marche literally means “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 ?

Oui, ça marche !

“Let’s meet at noon for lunch?”

“Yes, that works!”

13. Sauter du coq à l’âne

Sauter du coq à l’âne literally means to jump from the rooster to the donkey – or 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

Être à l’ouest literally translates to ‘being in the West’. It 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

La moutarde me monte au nez literally translates to ‘the mustard is getting to my nose’ – it means that I’m 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

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. 

Allez ! Ramène ta fraise ! 

“My brother is constantly sticking his nose in even though no one asked him anything.”

“Come on! Join us!”

17. Prendre le 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

“Lâche-moi la grappe !” That’s 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 ?”

Non, lâchez-moi la grappe !

“Ma’am, do you want to buy a hat?”

“No, leave me alone!”

19. Compter pour des prunes

Literally, something like “to count for plums.” I don’t know if 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

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

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

Probably not something you’d like to say very often, “to be dead broke,” or literally “to not have a radish.”

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

This idiom refers to the fact of 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

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

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, one’s 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

Although it technically translates as “to tell salads” it 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

“To have a pip.” As weird as it may sound, it’s a straightforward idiom as well. It means to have a problem, something which 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

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

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

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 ?”

Parce qu’on a eu les yeux plus gros que le ventre, c’est pour ça !”

“Why did we order all this food?”

“It’s because we had eyes bigger than our stomachs, that’s why!”

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

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 !” 

Ah ouais ? Très bien ! Mais ne mets pas tous tes œufs dans le même panier ! 

“I have a job interview tomorrow!”

“Oh yeah? Great! But don’t put all your eggs in one basket!”

32. C’est du gâteau

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

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 !”

“Mieux vaut tard que jamais !”

“I have a report due that I still haven’t started!”

“Better late than never!”

34. Les actes valent mieux que les mots

This translates directly to “actions are worth more than words” but 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.” 

T’es sûr ? Les actes valent mieux que les mots !

“Yes, yes, I promise to do everything on my own starting today.”

“You sure? Actions speaker louder than words!”

35. Plus facile à dire qu’à faire

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 ?”

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.”

“So, you told me you were going to begin the gardening this week, what happened?”

“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

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

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

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 ?” 

Oui, mais ça doit cesser ! Toute l’énergie utilisée pour supporter Internet va détruire notre planète— je me fais juste l’avocat du diable !

“The Internet is a grandiose invention! Where would we be without it?”

“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

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 !

“Non, il faudra me passer sur le corps d’abord !”

“I’m going to say as many bad words as I want!”

“No, over my dead body!”

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, which uses native French videos to teach you the language. The interactive subtitles will help you identify those idioms and remember what they mean!

You can also add any words or phrases to your flashcards to practice later through personalized quizzes. If you’re on the iOS or Android app, you can also improve your pronunciation through speaking questions.

Want to learn more French expressions to spice up your conversations? Check out this post.

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

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