French Expressions Around Thumbs

Manger sur le pouce”, “se tourner les pouces”… Colloquial expressions like these are a great way to s (“don’t move an inch”)“Manger sur le pouce”, “se tourner les pouces… Using colloquial French expressions like these are a fun and easy way to sound more natural when you speak French.

Today, we’re going to focus on a few of them that all mention le pouce (= thumb)! Yes, we really do have a lot of weird French expressions 😉 .

Learning goals: This is what you’ll be able to do after watching this lesson

Beginner: Learn the 5 French expressions using “thumb”
Intermediate: Learn the synonyms as well
Advanced: Learn the examples and know how to use them in everyday French conversation

Bonjour c’est Géraldine, Bienvenue sur Comme une Française. C’est parti !

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1) Un coup de pouce

Un coup de pouce (= a thumb’s hit / a thumb’s push, literally)
It’s a small push in the right direction: de l’aide (= a little help).

Géraldine m’a donné un coup de pouce en français.
Géraldine gave me a little help in French.

2) Manger sur le pouce

Manger sur le pouce (= to eat on your thumb, literally) is an expression that I love.

It means “to eat quickly” or even “to eat while walking / while on the run”, for instance by taking a sandwich or some fast-food to go instead of sitting down with people to have a real French meal.

In French, you can also say manger rapidement or manger vite fait (= to eat quickly). Or you could precisely mention the meal: déjeuner sur le pouce (= to have lunch quickly), dîner sur le pouce

Je ne peux pas t’accompagner au restaurant car je suis pressée. Je vais déjeuner sur le pouce avant d’aller prendre mon avion pour Paris.
I can’t go to the restaurant with you, because I’m in a hurry. I’ll have a quick dinner before I take my flight to Paris.

Do you LOVE real life French expressions and want to use them in your own French conversations? In my program Everyday French Conversations, I walk you through everyday French in real-life situations to help you finally “get” the French you’ve always wanted to speak + understand. Click here to find out more about Everyday French Conversations.

3) Se tourner les pouces

Se tourner les pouces (= to turn your thumbs around, literally) means “to twiddle your thumbs” as a French expression for rester sans rien faire (= being idle).

You can’t really do anything else while you’re twiddling your thumbs, after all!

Tu pourrais m’aider à réviser ma conjugaison au lieu de te tourner les pouces.
You could help me practice my conjugation, instead of twiddling your thumbs.

4) Pouce!

Pouce ! (= Thumb!, literally) is a fun, short, childish French expression. It comes from children playing — when one of them needs a break, he or she yells “Pouce!” and the game is supposed to stop.

So in French, “Pouce !” means “Truce” or “Stop for a minute, I need to take a break from what’s going on / from the competition.”

Pouce ! J’ai un caillou dans ma chaussure.
Truce! I have a small rock in my shoe.

5) Le pouce

Finally, le pouce is also French for “an inch”. It’s une unité de mesure, a small unit for measurement that was used in the past. After the French Revolution, it was replaced by the metric system, including le centimètre (= the centimeter).

In French expressions, though, you can use un pouce or un centimètre interchangeably to mean “a very small amount.”

As in :
Ne pas bouger d’un pouce (“don’t move an inch”)
Ne pas avancer d’un pouce / d’un centimètre (= “not even get any further than a centimeter / an inch”)

Ce mois-ci, je n’ai pas avancé d’un pouce dans la lecture des Misérables de Victor Hugo.
This month, I didn’t advance even a page in reading Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

QUIZ – Your turn now: What is the French expression for ...?


  • Truce! 
  • Eat on the run
  • Give a little help







(Answers = Pouce ! / Manger sur le pouce / Un coup de pouce)

Et toi ?

Partage une expression en français avec laquelle tu as du mal.
Share a French expression you struggle with (in the comments).

In French, if your dare! For example, you can write: “J’ai toujours eu du mal à comprendre “au fur et à mesure”.

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Allez, salut 🙂

Join the conversation!

  • Hello,
    That was yet another very interesting lesson. Thank you! I’m a little confused on «Pouce!». Is it more like “Time out” than “truce”? Where I live, in California, if we want to stop a game temporarily, and come back to it, we say “time out!” and we might even make a “T” sign with our hands. I’ve only observed “Truce” being used in order to end something altogether– like when someone has had enough of an arm-wrestling match, a thumb war, tickling or some other competition or sufferance. Could Pouce be used for either situation? Thank you.

  • Bonsoir
    J’ai toujours eu du mal a comprendre la phrase ‘il est une vedette’; en anglais ca veut dire que quel qu’un vous avais rendu de l’aide, mais j’ai dis ça en français et j’ai senti que j’ai fait un mauvais pas?
    Vrai ou non ?

    • It tends not to work like that Susie, and although we all know what we mean if we say to someone in English “you’re a star”, it’s probably
      meaningless in another language. A German friend once described
      to me in English a very famous rock singer with a very famous rock
      band as being “a shirt”. I had no idea what he meant as he’d translated
      straight from German into English, but apparently it’s what they say to
      describe someone who’s thin ! Yeah .. guess who ?
      They were huge in the sixties, and are still huge today …………. bunch
      of old codgers 😀

        • Spot on Cindy ~ yes, the Rolling Stones.
          And I found your comment above very
          interesting, especially the bit about
          making a “T” sign with the hands to
          indicate “time out”. An American
          explained that to me once upon a time
          because, being a Brit, I didn’t understand
          what he meant. I think it’s what happens
          in American football when a break in the
          play is being called for. We don’t have
          this signal in any sport in the UK, but it’s
          always so interesting to learn of the
          customs and traditions of other countries.
          PS ~ I do like the Stones, and it’s astonishing
          that Mick Jagger can still perform on stage
          as he did when he was 21 years old. Even
          more astonishing is that Keith Richards is
          still standing up and breathing, never mind
          playing the guitar 😀 😀

          Have a great day Cindy 🙂

          • Thanks for sharing your story. I never knew that the British don’t use “time-out.” I agree that it’s really interesting to learn about others’ customs. 🙂

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