13 French Idioms to Learn and Master

13 French Idioms to Learn and Master

In your French language learning journey, there are a lot of things you'll hear in regards to what you should learn, what you must learn, and what you can wait to learn. Since French is a new language to you, there's a lot of content to go over and new words to memorize and use, plus the cultural aspect of language learning. It can all be overwhelming. While you may not be able to combine all these things into one for easier learning, French idioms are a great way to cover a number of these different aspects at once.

Language learning isn't always easy, but it can be fun and learning idioms is one great way to make your summer language learning adventure that much more successful and enjoyable. After all, if you enjoy learning French, you're much more likely to pick it up faster.

French food in a picnic.

Why Learn French Idioms?

French idioms are often overlooked or brushed aside. A lot of language teachers believe that they're something you can learn once you're fluent. Some may even seem to believe that once you "speak enough French", you'll just know what they mean. While they do have some reason in saying you should focus on other aspects of French, you should certainly not overlook or ignore French idioms.

As a French learner, idioms are your secret key into the French language and culture! Idioms can tell you a lot about the culture of a language's speakers and help you understand it better. When you learn the idioms of another language, it's like taking the shortcut up an otherwise long and winding path.

Additionally, you may already know some French idioms. Many of them may be direct translations of English idioms, making these idioms much easier to learn. Instead of trying to remember what the idiom means, you can focus on learning the different words. This makes understanding both the French language and French idioms much, much easier!

There are so many reasons for why a French learner should study idioms, but I won't bore you with all of them. Just know that learning these idioms is something you won't regret, especially when you're out with your French speaking friends and can fully understand what they're saying beyond just the spoken words.

People walking through France.

13 French Idioms to Learn

There are way more than 13 French idioms, so don't think this list is complete. It's nowhere near that! These are just some of the idioms I think are the easiest to learn, most fun, or most commonly used in everyday conversation.

We'll start out easy: French idioms that are either exact translations of or very similar to English idioms. Once you've gotten a taste for idioms in French, we'll move on to those that are more unique to the Francophone culture.

5 French Idioms With Nearly Exact English Equivalents

#1. Coûter un bras

If something coûte un bras, that means it costs a lot of money. In other words, it costs an arm and a leg. Coûter un bras. Cost a leg.

There's another idiom that's used to say the exact same thing, but it's less similar to the English idiom: Coûter les yeux de la tête. Cost the eyes of the head. It's similar enough to understand, but the metaphor is different. Either version of this French idiom is perfectly fine, though, and you'll get your point across both ways.

#2. Mettre son grain de sel

If you mets ton grain de sel, you're putting in your grain of salt. It's an exact translation! Another similar idiom in English would be to give your two cents, but the French don't have such an idiom, so you'll have to stick with giving your grain de sel.

#3. Appeler un chat un chat

If you appelle un chat un chat, you're just calling it as it is. The English idiom is to call a spade a spade. A slightly more common one is, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's probably a duck.

#4. Porter ses fruits

This idiom means to bear fruit or show results. One nuance to the French version of this idiom, however, is that in French, if something porte ses fruits, it's generally positive or showing good results.

#5. Être rouge comme une tomate

If someone is really sunburned or embarrassed, you would say they are rouge comme une tomate. They're red like a tomato, or tomato red. It's almost an exact translation of the English idiom and really just means that someone is turning red.

People chatting together at night.

8 French Idioms That Are Quite Different

#1. Ne pas avoir un radis

This French idiom is used to say you're completely broke. When you n'as pas un radis, you don't have a dime.

#2. Faire la grasse matinée

You've heard of mardi gras (Fat Tuesday), but this French idiom involves a fat morning (grasse matinée). If you fais la grasse matinée, it means you slept in.

#3. Coup de foudre

In English, when you fall in love, you may say it was love at first sight. To say the same in French, you would say either j'ai eu un coup de foudre (I fell in love at first sight) or c'était un coup de foudre (It was love at first sight).

#4. Poser un lapin à quelqu’un

If you pose un lapin à quelqu'un (give a rabbit to someone), then you stand someone up. If someone t'a posé un lapin, then someone stood YOU up.

#5. Sauter du coq à l’âne

The French language is a big fan of animal-related idioms, as you have probably started to see. In this one, you "jump from rooster to donkey". Or in other words, you jump from topic to topic. This can be used to say that someone else jumps from topic to topic, or you can use it to completely change the subject.

#6. Être à l’ouest

This translates to being in the west, but it doesn't have anything to do with where you're standing. Instead, it means that you're crazy or out of it.

#7. La moutarde me monte au nez

If mustard is getting in your nose, you're getting angry. Which, to be fair, many people would get angry if there really was mustard in their nose. Fortunately, this is just an idiom and not a real-life scenario.

#8. Ramener sa fraise

People who like to stick their nose into things in English bring their strawberry in French. However, ramener sa fraise can also be an invitation to join someone or a group. Context is important for this one, but I have no doubt you'll be able to figure out what someone means when they use it.

People chatting in a French cafe.

Practice the Idioms You’ve Learned

If you really liked the 13 French idioms listed above, check out this list for more idioms that you can learn. Don't feel as though you have to memorize and perfect them all at once, but consider adding one or two to your study list every so often.

Consistent practice is the best way to learn a language and French is no different. You don't have to limit yourself to only vocab lists or grammar lessons, and in fact, this can work against you. Keeping your study sessions interesting is one of the best ways to stay motivated when you're learning a new language.

French idioms are a fantastic way to study both the French language and culture, so take some time to add a few to your study list and be sure to practice, practice, practice if you want to remember them!