Talking about the weather is a great conversation starter.
It’s an easy topic for small talk in any language.
And if you’re a learner, having the ability to strike up a conversation on a casual, universal subject is priceless.
Knowing how to talk about the weather can help you get practice, gain confidence and avoid awkward silences.
Like all languages, French has many expressions and sayings referring to weather.
These can be specific to types of weather, seasons (and holidays) and even the characteristics and particularities of certain months of the year.
Within this huge range of expressions lie great opportunities to impart wisdom, grumble good-naturedly and bond with your fellow humans, all while improving your French speaking skills.
So here you are: A well-rounded list of 20 French expressions about the weather that make perfect conversation starters.
20 French Weather Expressions for Making Small Talk Like a Native
1. Il fait un temps de chien
This is a common colloquial expression that literally means that the weather has gone to the dogs. It’s used to describe a day when it’s pouring rain or miserably cold. While in English, the “dog days” refers to the hottest days of the year, in this case, our canine friends are associated with cold and/or rain, or just generally horrible weather.
2. Il pleut des cordes
Literally “It’s raining ropes,” this way of describing a heavy downpour in French evokes the image of rain pouring from rooftops when it literally forms long “ropes” of raindrops stretching to the ground. The most common English equivalent is probably “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
3. Il pleut des hallebardes
This is another expression you’ll hear when it’s pouring rain outside. The literal meaning is “It’s raining halberds” (a halberd being an ax-like weapon that dates back to the 14th century). The English equivalent of this expression could be “It’s pouring buckets” or “It’s bucketing down” in UK English.
In any case, if you hear anyone mentioning 14th century axes falling from the sky, don’t leave home without an umbrella to shield yourself!
Also keep in mind that the s in des is silent, since hallebardes starts with an aspirated h. You can listen for its pronunciation, as well as other words with the aspirated h, on the FluentU platform.
4. Une pluie battante
Yet another rainy day expression, this one refers to “beating” rain that’s particularly violent and abundant. This type of rainfall is often described in English as “driving” or “pounding.”
Here’s an example of how this expression could be used in a weather report about a rainstorm:
Une pluie battante s’abat sur la ville, accompagnée d’un vent fort.
(Driving rain is pouring down on the city, accompanied by a strong wind.)
5. Trempé comme une soupe
The literal meaning of this expression is “soaked like a soup,” which is used to describe someone who was caught in a downpour and “soaked to the skin” or “soaked to the bone” (which also exists in French: Être trempée jusqu’aux os).
Interesting bit of trivia: This is an old French saying that dates back to when the word soupe was used to describe a piece of bread dipped in a broth (which itself eventually became known as soupe). Knowing this, the expression makes more sense!
Je suis trempé comme une soupe car j’ai oublié mon parapluie à la maison !
(I’m soaked to the skin because I forgot my umbrella at home!)
6. Il fait un froid de canard
Here’s another weather expression involving an animal, but instead of mentioning dogs to indicate how miserable it is, it mentions a duck to indicate how cold it is. If you hear anyone talking about a duck on a cold day, they’re most likely talking about the chilly weather. Why is a duck associated with the cold? One possible explanation is that duck hunting season is in winter.
7. Ça caille
This is another colloquial expression you’re likely to hear on a bitterly cold winter day. The verb cailler means to curdle, liked curdled milk. The idea is that it’s so cold you can’t move. If someone tells you “Ça caille,” you’d better bundle up against the cold before venturing outside! The closest English expression would be “It’s freezing.”
8. Il fait un soleil de plomb
But enough with this freezing cold! Let’s jump briefly to the other end of the spectrum and thaw out a bit. This French idiomatic expression refers to a sun “made of lead” and is used to describe a blistering hot day. The image this produces is one of a blazing sun, radiating a crushing heat, so hot that you feel like you have a leaden weight weighing you down!
9. Un été pourri
Literally “a rotten summer,” this is a colloquial expression for a summer plagued or “ruined” by generally bad weather and rain.
C’était un été pourri ! On n’a même pas pu aller à la plage !
(It was a horrible summer! We couldn’t even go to the beach!)
10. Il y a un brouillard à couper au couteau
“The fog is so thick you could cut it with a knife” is the translation of this expression, referring to very dense or thick fog. This isn’t the only way this imagery can be used to mean “thick,” either. Un accent à couper au couteau is an accent so thick it could be cut with a knife!
11. Il fait un temps de Toussaint
This saying refers to gloomy and cold weather, typical of the month of November. Toussaint is All Saints’ Day, a religious holiday that takes place on November 1st each year, a day when people remember the dead. This isn’t a joyous holiday, hence this expression that can be used to remark on gray, overcast and generally gloomy weather any time of year.
12. Le fond de l’air est frais
The literal meaning here is “The back of the air is cool,” hinting that cool air is hidden by warm temperatures and so the weather is actually colder than it seems. This expression is used, for example, on an early spring day when the weather seems to be warm but it’s actually still a bit cool. The closest English saying could be “There’s a chill in the air” or “There’s a nip in the air.”
13. Une hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps
This expression has an English equivalent—”One swallow does not a summer make”—and is a saying credited to the Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle. It alludes to the return of migrating swallows at the beginning of summer as a sign of the start of a new season, but in the French expression, the reference is to spring. The meaning of the saying goes beyond weather predictions and warns that we shouldn’t quickly jump to conclusions on the basis of one hint or sign.
14. Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison
The literal translation of this saying is “Christmas on the balcony, Easter at the embers,” and the idea behind it is that “a warm Christmas will mean a cold Easter.” It claims that if the weather at Christmas is so mild that you can spend it on your balcony, you’re likely to celebrate Easter next to a burning fire to keep warm.
15. Noël sous la neige
Literally “Christmas under the snow,” this is the French equivalent of a “white Christmas.” Who doesn’t dream of a white Christmas?
La neige est annoncée pour la veille de Noël. On aura un Noël sous la neige !
(Snow is forecast for Christmas Eve. We’ll have a white Christmas!)
16. Les saints de glace
The “Ice Saints” refers to a period of three days in the month of May when it’s believed that the weather can suddenly turn cold and there’s a risk of frost. The saints referred to are St. Mamertus, St. Pancras and St. Servatius, whose feast days are celebrated on May 11, 12 and 13 respectively. Farmers traditionally prayed to these three saints to spare their crops from the freezing overnight temperatures that are a risk in early spring.
This expression is still common in France and Belgium for referring to unexpected cold weather in the month of May.
Les jardiniers craignent l’approche des saints de glace.
(Gardeners fear the coming Ice Saints.)
17. En avril, ne te découvre pas d’un fil
The literal meaning of this common expression is “In April, do not remove even a thread (of clothing).” This is an allusion to the fact that April can still be very cold in northern climates and that warm clothing is still necessary. A similar expression in Northern England goes “Ne’er cast a clout till May be out.”
18. En mai, fais ce qu’il te plait
This expression often follows the previous one: While in April, you should take care to dress warmly, in the month of May you can “do as you wish.”
19. En juin, tu te vêtiras d’un rien
The general meaning here is “In June, you don’t have to wear much.” Don’t make the mistake of thinking this expression is actually suggesting you wear nothing, though!
The word rien is being used as a noun here, meaning “very little.” This expression follows the previous two and suggests that the month of June is so hot that little clothing is required!
20. Chaleur d’août, c’est du bien partout
This saying translates as “In the heat of August, everything’s fine.”
August being the height of summer, it’s all good.
And with these handy expressions for starting, adding to and understanding French conversations, you should be all good no matter what the weather’s like!
And one more thing...
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