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17 useful French idioms for mastering the language of Molière

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

Is Speaking a language an art? I would be tempted to say yes! When you are learning a language, and as you gain more confidence you don’t want to keep speaking like a scholar. You would like to use more complex structures and that’s where you will need French idioms.

French idioms are expressions who have a meaning that goes beyond literal translation. They have figurative meaning and it can be sometimes difficult to find equivalent terms in other languages. French idiomatic expressions makes the language spoken more beautiful and it helps you stand out of the crowd when speaking French.

There are so many French idioms to fill a book; some about food, others about animals, colors, and so on. Today, I will be sharing with you a selection of 17 useful idioms that will enrich your vocabulary.

French idioms

1. L’habit ne fait pas le moine

  • Literally : clothing don’t make the monk

  • Meaning : do not judge things based on their appearance

  • Example : Ce monsieur m’a l’air sérieux mais comme l’habit ne fait pas le moine, soyons prudents. => This guy seems serious but since we shouldn’t judge based on appearances let’s be careful!

2. Monter sur ses grands chevaux

  • Literally : to climb on one’s big horses

  • Meaning : to get quickly angry, to get on one’s high horse

  • Example : Anicet monte toujours sur ses grands chevaux quand on lui fait un reproche. => Anicet gets quickly angry when he is criticised.


3. Avoir une taille de guêpe

  • Literally : to have a wasp waist

  • Meaning : to be very slim-waisted

  • Example : Pour être mannequin, il faut avoir une taille de guêpe =>To be a model, you must have a very slim waist.

4. Jeter l’éponge

  • Literally : to throw in the towel/sponge

  • Meaning : to give up or surrender

  • Example : Lucie voulait jeter l’éponge car ses affaires ne marchaient pas très bien. => Lucie wanted to give up as her business was not flourishing.

5. Être une poule mouillée

  • Literally : to be a wet hen

  • Meaning : to be coward

  • Example : Je croyais qu’Alain allait lui avouer sa flamme mais il n’a pas osé. Quelle poule mouillée ! => I thought Alain was going to confess his love to her but he didn’t dare. What a coward !

6. Poser un lapin à quelqu’un

  • Literally : to place a rabbit on someone

  • Meaning : not going to an appointment without warning the person who is waiting for you

  • Example : Martin devait rejoindre Alice et Colette au restaurant mais il leur a posé un lapin. => Martin was supposed to meet Alice and Colette at the restaurant but he didn’t show off.

7. Raconter des salades

  • Literally : to tell salads

  • Meaning : to tell stories or to lie

  • Example : Je me demande pourquoi cette fille raconte toujours des salades. => I wonder why this girl likes to tell stories.

8. Avoir les yeux plus gros que le ventre

  • Literally : to have the eyes bigger than the belly

  • Meaning : Wanting to eat more than you can

  • Example : Nicolas a commandé une grande pizza et ne pouvait pas la finir. Il a eu les yeux plus gros que le ventre. => Nicolas ordered a big size pizza and couldn’t finish it. He had the eyes bigger than the belly.

9. Tomber dans les pommes

  • Literally : to fall in the apples

  • Meaning : to faint, to pass out

  • Example : Mathieu est tombé dans les pommes quand on lui a annoncé le décès de sa mère. => Mathieu fainted when he was announced the death of his mother.

10. Avoir un poil dans la main

  • Literally : to have a hair in the hand

  • Meaning : to be very lazy

  • Example : Ce garcon a vraiment un poil dans la main. Il passe son temps à se plaindre quand on lui demande de faire quelque chose.=> This boy is really lazy, he keeps complaining when he is asked to do something.

11. Dormir à la belle étoile

  • Literally : To sleep at the beautiful star

  • Meaning : To sleep outside

  • Example : Quand je suis à la campagne, j'adore dormir à la belle étoile et profiter de l'air pur. =>When i am at the countryside, I like sleeping outside and enjoying fresh air)

12. Être au four et au moulin

  • Literally : to be in the oven and in the mill

  • Meaning : to be in two places at once or to do several things at the same time

  • Example : Mon chef est très exigeant. Figure-toi qu'il s'attend à ce que je sois au four et au moulin. => My boss is very demanding. Imagine that he is expecting me to do several things at the same time.

13. Avoir du pain sur la planche

  • Literally : to have bread on the board

  • Meaning : To have a lot to do

  • Example : Depuis que son collègue a démissionné, elle a du pain sur la planche. => Since her colleague left, she has a lot to do.

14. Avoir le vent en poupe

  • Literally : To have the wind in one's sails

  • Meaning : To be favored by circumstances, to be pushed to success

  • Example : Avec la crise du Covid-19, les vendeurs de masques ont le vent en poupe. => With the Covid-19 crisis, masks sellers are successful.

15. Chercher midi à quatorze heures

  • Literally : to look for noon at 2 pm

  • Meaning : to complicate things

  • Example : Je ne peux pas comprendre cet employé. Il va toujours chercher midi à quatorze heures. => I can't understand this employee. He is always complicating things.

16. Casser du sucre sur le dos de quelqu’un

  • Literally : to break sugar on someone’s back.

  • Meaning : to gossip about someone when he/she is not there

  • Example : je déteste casser du sucre sur le dos des autres. I hate gossiping about other people.

17. Il pleut des cordes

  • Literally : It's raining ropes

  • Meaning : It's raining cats and dogs, it's raining a lot

  • Example : Je ne peux plus sortir car il pleut des cordes. => I can't go out anymore as it's raining a lot


I hope you like these French idiomatic expressions and that you’ll start using them as soon as possible to impress your friends and relatives.

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2 commenti

Virginia Rossi
Virginia Rossi
09 apr 2021

Hi Chantal,

I really liked this post! I actually live in France and I hear these idioms very often. I would love to start using them in my spoken French! Thanks for this post, very useful. ☺

Mi piace
Chantal BRIBA
Chantal BRIBA
09 apr 2021
Risposta a

Bonjour Virginia, It’s my pleasure. I am glad to know it is being very useful. Wish you good luck in France!

Mi piace
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