French idioms can be downright funny when translated literally. Of course, some lose their meaning in the process but still, you wonder how the French came up with such visual strangeness.
Like in any other country, idioms are popular and well known by locals, but they are not to be taken literally.
French idioms are no exception, and even though it makes little sense to non-french, they are still quite funny and worth learning if you’re trying to practice your french.
So let’s see a few french idioms up close.
REVENONS À NOS MOUTONS
Translation: Let’s get back to our sheep.
Meaning: Among other french idioms that relate to getting back on track, this one specifically means to go back to the business at hand or the original topic of discussion.
- French: On s’égare, revenons à nos moutons.
- English: We’re getting sidetracked. Let’s get back to the point.
AVOIR UN COUP DE FOUDRE
Translation: To have a bolt of lightning
Meaning: Many french idioms relate to love, but this one means to fall in love at first sight. Imagine being struck by a bolt of love 🙂
- French: Elle a eu un coup de foudre pour Bastien!
- English: She fell in love with Bastien at first sight!
- French: L’Islande était un si beau voyage, j’ai eu un coup de foudre pour les paysages.
- English: Iceland was such a beautiful trip. I immediately fell in love with the landscape.
Note: Coup de foudre can also be used literally as a sudden bolt of lightning during a thunderstorm.
ETRE DANS DE BEAUX DRAPS
Translation: To be in beautiful sheets.
Meaning: This french idiom means being in a mess or a bad situation, the complete opposite of being in beautiful sheets! In English, you’d say “to be up the creek without a paddle” or, “to be in a fine mess or in big trouble”.
- French: Je n’ai pas fini mon travail et mon patron ne sera pas content! Je me suis mise dans de beaux draps!
- English: I haven’t finished my work and my boss won’t be happy about it! I’ve gotten myself in a fine mess.
French: Pendant notre marche hier, nous sommes rentrés dans une zone interdite sans le savoir. On s’est mis dans des beaux draps!
- English: During our walk yesterday, we unknowingly trespassed. We got ourselves in big trouble!
IL PLEUT DES CORDES
Translation: It’s raining ropes.
Meaning: Can you imagine wet ropes falling on your head? That’s what this french idiom means literally. But it’s used to specify a rainstorm. The English equivalent is: It’s raining cats and dogs.
- French: Je dois sortir mais il pleut des cordes, je vais attendre que ça se calme.
- English: I have to go out but It’s raining cats and dogs, I’ll wait until it rains less.
CA ME GONFLE!
Translation: It’s making me swell.
Meaning: There are long lists of french idioms that relate to being fed up, having enough, going nuts over something. Most people use this particular idiom when they’re extremely annoyed or exasperated.
It also means that something wears you out, aggravates you or makes you angry. This expression applies to a particular situation, a discussion, or a task.
- French: Ça me gonfle qu’il soit toujours en retard!
- English: It annoys me that he’s always late!
French: Ça me gonfle! Le voisin passe l’aspirateur tous les dimanche matins très tôt.
- English: I’m fed up! The neighbor always vacuums early Sunday morning.
J’AI LA PÊCHE
Translation: I have a peach. Or I have the fish.
Meaning: French idioms about being happy or energetic are plentiful and used by locals often.
This particular idiom has nothing to do with peaches, so don’t imagine you need to go to the market or fish the catch of the day!
It means you feel good and that you have positive energy.
- French: Je me suis réveillée en pleine forme, j’ai la pêche!
- English: I woke up feeling great, and I’m full of energy!
- French: Un week-end de repos, ça me donne la pêche pour la semaine !
- English: A quiet weekend gives me lots of energy for the week!
CA ME SOULE
Translation: It makes me drunk.
Meaning: As mentioned above, there’s a long list of french idioms about being annoyed. And this one is no exception. It’s used when you’re fed up of something – or someone. In English, you’d say I’ve had enough.
French people use this idiom when they are unhappy or frustrated with a particular situation. It expresses annoyance and frustration.
But it’s not so nice to say unless you’re addressing people you know very well.
Maybe you could replace it with “Ça m’énerve.” Which means “it gets on my nerves.”
- French: Le bus est encore en retard, ça me soûle!
- English: The bus is late yet again. I’m fed up!
- French: Je dois toujours tout faire dans cette maison, ça me soûle!
- English: I always have to do everything around the house. I’m fed up!
QUAND LES POULES AURONT DES DENTS
Translation: When chickens will have teeth
Meaning: This french idiom is used to signify that something will never ever happen. In English, one might say, “when pigs fly.”
- French: Je sortirai avec toi quand les poules auront des dents.
- English: I’ll go on a date with you when pigs fly.
CHANTER COMME UNE CASSEROLE
Translation: To sing like a pot.
Meaning: This french idiom has nothing to do with pots and pans. It is used to designate a person that sings completely out of tune.
So cover up your ears!
- French: Elle est super gentille, mais elle chante comme une casserole.
- English: She’s a super nice person, but she sings way out of tune.
- Listen to Chloe who has a beautiful, sensitive voice! And doesn’t sing at all “comme une casserole”. 🙂
L’HABIT NE FAIT PAS LE MOINE
Translation: The habit doesn’t make the monk.
Meaning: Don’t base your opinion on appearances. The english equivalent: Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Examples: Just because a person wears certain clothing, that doesn’t mean they practice its meaning.
For example, you can’t assume that a person wearing a white coat is a doctor. Or if a person is carrying books, it doesn’t mean they’re studious.
OH! LA VACHE!
Translation: Oh the cow!
Meaning: This expression is usually used when one is surprised positively or negatively. The English equivalent of this french idiom is Oh my god.
- French: Oh la vache, elle a vraiment gagné au loto?
- English: Oh my god, did she really win the lottery?
- French: Oh la vache, il lui a vraiment dit ça?
- English: Holy cow, did he really say that to her?
Translation: To become a goat!
Meaning: This french idiom is used when something makes you crazy or drives you nuts.
- French: Je vais devenir chèvre avec les formulaires d’impôts.
- English: I’m going nuts over these tax forms.
- French: Je cherche mes clés partout, je vais devenir chèvre !
- English: I’m looking for my keys everywhere. It’s driving me nuts.
NOYER LE POISSON
Translation: Drown the fish
Meaning: Ths french idiom means to avoid the subject, to voluntarily talk about anything else to bury (or drown) the main point.
- French: A chaque fois que je lui parle de ce sujet, elle essaye de noyer le poisson.
- English: Each time I talk to her about it this subject, she clouds the issue.
PARLER A TORT ET À TRAVERS
Translation: To speak wrong and through.
Meaning: This french idiom is used when a person speaks nonsense. They make things up or speak of things with no insight or understanding.
- French: Cessez de parler à tort et à travers!
- English: Stop babbling nonsense!
- French: Au lieu de parler à tort et à travers, tu ferais mieux de te renseigner.
- English: Instead of speaking aimlessly, first, get more information.
PRACTICE FUNNY FRENCH IDIOMS
French idioms, when used properly will become a part of your everyday french conversations. Don’t worry if at first things get mixed up. It’s normal and it’s not a problem.
If you need a practice partner, go here.
In any case, go easy on your expectations. Remember, it takes time to learn a language. However, whichever way you decide to learn, practice at least 10 minutes per day on your own.
In the meantime, watch films, or videos and practice often to understand when to use the french idioms.