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20 colorful French idioms with examples and English meaning

Learn some common French idioms if you want to go beyond basic spoken French and be able to understand well Francophone people when they speak. Using idiomatic expressions also shows you have a good grasp of the language.

Today I will be sharing 20 colorful and funny idioms with their literal translation and actual meaning, followed by examples. After reading this, expressions like passer une nuit blanche, or voir la vie en rose will become very familiar to you.

And as usual, you will get to practice at the end with a quiz.

If you are a total beginner, start with the lesson on colors.

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Colorful French idioms
Colorful French idioms

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Idiom #1 Être blanc comme neige

  • Literally: to be white as snow

  • Meaning: to be innocent

  • Example: le réceptionniste fait semblant d'être blanc comme neige dans cette affaire. => the receptionist is pretending to be clean in this case.

Idiom #2 Passer une nuit blanche

  • Literally: to spend a white night

  • Meaning: to stay up all night

  • Example : Hier, ils ont passé une nuit blanche car leur fille était malade. => Yesterday, they stayed up all night because their daughter was sick.

Another equivalent expression: ne pas fermer l'œil de la nuit.

Idiom #3 Donner carte blanche à quelqu'un

  • Literally: To give a white/blank card to someone

  • Meaning: to give someone a free hand / full discretionary power

  • Example: mon père m'a donné carte blanche pour organiser ma fête d'anniversaire. => My father gave me a free hand to organize my birthday party.

Idiom #4 Être rouge de honte

  • Literally: to be red of shame

  • Meaning: to be ashamed

  • Example : Je suis arrivée en retard et dès que j'ai ouvert la porte tous les regards étaient braqués sur moi. J'étais rouge de honte. => I arrived late and as soon as I opened the door, all eyes were on me. I was ashamed.

Another equivalent expression: rougir.

Idiom #5 Être dans le rouge

  • Literally: to be in the red

  • Meaning: to have financial difficulties

  • Example: Notre société est dans le rouge depuis la perte de notre plus gros client. => Our company is having financial difficulties since the loss or our biggest customer.

Idiom #6 Avoir un rire jaune

  • Literally: to have a yellow laugh

  • Meaning: to have a forced laugh

  • Example: Quand j'ai annoncé ma promotion à mon collègue, il a eu un rire jaune. => When I announced my promotion to my colleague, he had a forced laugh.

Idiom #7 Avoir un bleu

  • Literally: to have a blue

  • Meaning: to have a bruise

  • Example : je suis tombée de mon vélo, et maintenant j'ai des bleus. => I fell of my bicycle and now I have bruises.

Idiom #8 Être un cordon bleu

  • Literally: to be a blue cord

  • Meaning: to be a good cook/great cook

  • Example: Ton repas est délicieux! Tu es vraiment un cordon bleu ! => Your food is delicious! You are really a good cook!

This expression is mostly used in the context of food. To learn more aboutFrench food vocabulary, click here.

Idiom #9 Avoir une peur bleue

  • Literally: to have a blue fear

  • Meaning: to be very scared

  • Example: J'ai une peur bleue des Crapauds. => I am very scared of tods.

Idiom #10 Avoir un œil au beurre noir

  • Literally: to have a black buttered eye

  • Meaning: ta have a black eye

  • Example : Mathieu est rentré avec un oeil au beurre noir. il a eu une altercation avec un homme. => Matthew came back home with a black eye. He had a fight with a man.

Idiom #11 Travailler au noir.

  • Literally: to work in the black

  • Meaning: to work illegally

  • Example: Tu risques l'expulsion si tu travailles au noir dans certains pays. => You might be deported if you work illegally in some countries.

Idiom #12 Voir tout en noir

  • Literally: to see everything in black

  • Meaning: to be negative, pessimistic

  • Example: Arrête de voir la vie en noir ! Prends les choses du bon côté.=> Stop being negative. Take things from the good side.

Idiom #13 La bête noire

  • Literally: the black beast

  • Meaning: the pet hate, pet peeve(US)

  • Example: Ma bête noire c'est la chimie. Je n'y comprends pas grand-chose. => My pet hate is chemistry. I don't understand it much.

Idiom #14 Donner le feu vert

  • Literally: to give the green light/fire

  • Meaning: to have the green light, to have the go-ahead

  • Example: Mon patron m'a donné le feu vert pour commencer mon projet. => My boss gave me the go-ahead for starting my project.

Idiom #15 Être vert de peur

  • Literally: to be green of fear

  • Meaning: to be very scared

  • Example: Ma sœur et moi étions vertes de peur quand nous étions bloquées dans l'ascenseur. => My sister and I were very scared when we were stuck in the lift.

Idiom #16 Un numéro vert

  • Literally: a green number

  • Meaning: a toll-free number

  • Example: Appelle ce numéro vert si tu es temoin d'une scène de violence. => Call this toll-free number if you witness a violence scene.

Idiom #17 Ça ne sent pas la rose

  • Literally: it doesn't smell the rose

  • Meaning: it doesn't smell good

  • Example: Que s'est-il passé ici? Ça ne sent pas la rose ! =>What happened here? It doesn't smell good!

French idioms with rose

Idiom #18 Un roman à l'eau de rose

  • Literally: A novel with rose water

  • Meaning: A romance novel

  • Example: J'adore les romans à l eau de rose car ça me fait beaucoup rêver. => I love romance novels because it makes me dream a lot.

Idiom #19 Voir la vie en rose

  • Literally: to see life in pink

  • Meaning: to think pink / to see everything through rose-colored glasses

  • Example: pour être heureux, il faut juste voir la vie en rose. =>To be happy, we must just think pink.

Idiom #20 Le téléphone rose

  • Literally: the pink phone

  • Meaning: adult call line

  • Example: Il n'y a pas de téléphone rose dans mon pays. => There is no adult call line in my country.

Quiz: How well do you know these colorful French idioms?

Now that you know the equivalent meanings of these common French idioms related to colors, it's time to put them to use through a practice quiz. Click on Start to check your knowledge! Happy learning!

If you are in the rush, Download the PDF below and take the test whenever you have time. Corrections are included.

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