French Idioms: Essential for living Comme une Française!

Ever find yourself “down in the dumps”, or look outside your window to see it’s “raining cats and dogs”? So do the French, but they have their own wonderful ways of expressing different situations with idioms, proverbs and expressions. The French use these sayings quite often, and it’s important to be able to decipher and use them if you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb.

These expressions are fun but often are a bit tricky as they use images and turns of phrase that you may not be familiar with just yet. Take my quiz to test your knowledge of everyday idioms and learn some new ones along the way. C’est simple comme Bonjour !

Idiom 1 Etre à côté de ses pompesTo be next to your shoes

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To be “à coté des ses pompes” is an expression you can use when you’re feeling a bit lost or out of sorts. It is a more familiar expression, so use it with friends or family, but perhaps not with your boss!

Idiom 2 Ça roule ma pouleIt’s rolling, chick

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This is my favourite French expression! It’s a great expression to use with your friends when you’re deciding on what time to meet or which restaurant to eat in. It uses the nickname which is like saying “gal” or “chick” but it can be used for both men and women, as long as you have an informal and familiar relationship with them.

Idiom 3 Il pleut des cordesIt’s raining ropes

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French people love discussing the weather, especially when it’s bad! Using this expression when it’s raining really hard will show them that you know the nuances of weather, and will enjoy commiserating with you. This expression isn’t too familiar so it could be used with colleagues, friends or the person next to you in the metro.

Un peu plus? Learn more idioms!

Learning French idioms takes time, because there are so many! They are often whimsical and light-hearted which make them fun to use and it shows that you have a handle on the more subtle parts of the language. Your French friends will be so impressed to hear you use these expressions, but only if you know the right time and place to use them!

French people really love to use idioms The best way to sound French is to learn them

Taking the time to learn these clever and fun phrases is your key to sounding just like a French person! Keep them in your back pocket to use at the right moment with the right people and they’ll think you’re a bonafide Frenchie!

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Idiom 4 Poser un lapinTo put down a rabbit

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Ever waited for a friend to meet you in a café and they never showed up, or forgotten to cancel an appointment at the hair salon? This is to “poser un lapin”! This expression isn’t rude or mean-spirited, but best used among friends.

Idiom 5 Avoir le cafardTo have a cockroach

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If you’re feeling a bit blue or down in the dumps, use this expression to let your French friends know that you’re not feeling your best.



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Idiom 1

What do French people buy at “la boulangerie” ?

Careful, it’s coming right out of the oven !

Pour aller plus loin “Pain” is a masculine noun : “le pain”. And “La pain” would sound like “lapin”—rabbit !
“Baguette” is a feminine noun : “la baguette.” By the way, it’s also the word for a wand : “une baguette magique,” a magic wand.
And “les croissants”... is just the way it’s spelled. These baked goods are made with a special dough, and are part of what we called “les viennoiseries,” like le pain au chocolat. And they’re delicious !

Idiom 2

What’s the official name of our national anthem?

“Aux armes !” etc.

Pour aller plus loin This anthem was written during the Revolution, under another name. However, it was popularized by soldiers coming into Paris from the Southern city of Marseille (and not Lyon), and the colloquial name stuck.
By the way, “Aux armes, etc.” is a modern take on the anthem, by French singer Serge Gainsbourg. Its reggae style created a controversy when it came out in 1979.

Idiom 3

Which dish from Southern France is mostly made with vegetables?

For a Nice dinner with friends on a sunny day

Pour aller plus loin Popularised by the Pixar movie, the French “ratatouille” doesn’t really look like the dish prepared by the animated rat, but it’s close enough. “La bouillabaisse” is a famous dish with fish, from Marseille. And “l’aïoli” is actually a sauce made of garlic and olive oil.

Idiom 4

What’s the plural for “un vieux cheval” (an old horse) ?

The French language is complicated!

Pour aller plus loin French words ending in “-al” often have the plural “-aux,” pronounced like “-o” : un cheval, des chevaux.
“Vieux,” like all words that end with -x, -z or -s, doesn’t change in the plural form.

Idiom 5

Who wrote Les Misérables in 1862 ?

“J’ai rêvé un rêve de temps passés…”

Pour aller plus loin All three were great French authors from the XIXth century.
Victor Hugo also wrote Notre-Dame de Paris, with the story of the hunchback of Notre-Dame (and a massive body of other works) ; investigating human nature through history.
Émile Zola wrote the series of Les Rougon-Macquart, dealing with the materialism of French society and the hardships of the working class, depicting its present times.
Jules Verne was busy inventing the future : he created science-fiction with titles such as De la Terre à la Lune (“From Earth to the Moon”) or 20 000 lieues sous les mers (“20 000 leagues under the sea”).

Idiom 6

What is “un pet-de-nonne” ?

Literally : “a nun’s fart”

Pour aller plus loin A “nun’s puff” as it’s also called in English, is a light deep-fried beignet made with a special paste.

Idiom 7

What is the oldest bridge in Paris ?

Ideal to watch the sunset on the shimmering waters of the river Seine

Pour aller plus loin It’s a well-known fact in Paris that the oldest bridge is called “the new bridge.” It was built under King Henri the IVth, inaugurated in 1607. It was the first stone bridge to span the river Seine, and it still stands proudly in the center of the city.

Idiom 8

What is the traditional shape of a full “camembert”?

France is “the country of 300 cheeses”

Pour aller plus loin That’s one tasty looking camembert : Some French cheeses are square though, such as le maroilles, a very smelly cheese from Northern France. I haven’t heard of an eight-sided one yet, but with more than 400 French cheeses, I can’t say I’d be surprised if it exists!

Idiom 9

When did the Storming of the Bastille occur ?

A start for the Revolution on the 14th of July!

Pour aller plus loin That the “official” start of the Revolution. Though the First Republic was declared in 1792, the King was beheaded in 1793… and today’s holiday of “le 14 juillet” technically celebrates the first “Fête de la Fédération” of 1790.
La Révolution is a complicated and fascinating period of French history, and for many, the birth of France as a nation.

Idiom 10

Which French word means both an animal and an expression of joy?

Like “Yay !”—if “the yay” was an animal?

Pour aller plus loin “La chouette” and “le hibou” are two different French names for “the owl,” depending on the species. “Youpi !” and “Chouette !” are both expressions of joy for the spoken language. As in “Chouette ! J’ai eu 10/10 au questionnaire Comme Une Française !” – “Yay! I got 10/10 in the Comme Une Française quiz!”


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Not sure where you stand as a French speaker? Using expressions is an important part of blending in to French life, and they are fun to learn! Take our online quiz to see what expressions you already know, and learn about the ones you don’t know.

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