French Idioms

Expressions idiomatiques

French people use a lot of them

When you chat to a French person or read a text in French, you’ll notice that some french expressions are difficult to translate into your own language: these are idioms. French has expressions involving animals (être doux comme un mouton – ‘to be as gentle as a sheep’, meaning to be calm or docile), parts of the body (casser les pieds à quelqu’un – ‘to break someone’s feet’, meaning to bore or annoy someone), food (raconter des salades – ‘to tell salads’, meaning to tell lies), different nationalities (être fort comme un Turc – ‘to be as strong as a Turk’, meaning to be very strong), colours (être dans le rouge – ‘to be in the red’, meaning, as in English, to be in debt), and more besides. By choosing to learn French in France, you will gain a better understanding of phrases like these.

You can often guess what they mean

Fortunately, there is logic behind the meaning of many of these expressions. Avoir une "faim de loup" (‘to be hungry as a wolf’), "avoir le cœur sur la main" (‘to have one’s heart on one’s hand), "être rapide comme l’éclair" (‘to be as fast as lightning’) and "avoir des idées noires" (‘to have dark thoughts’) are all quite readily understandable. A second category includes expressions which exist both in French and in your native language. The idea is often the same, although the words used might change slightly. When an Italian hears a French speaker reply “quand les poules auront des dents” (‘when hens have teeth’), he will no doubt make the connection with the Italian equivalent "quando gli asini voleranno" (‘when donkeys fly’ – much like the English ‘when pigs fly’, referring to something that will never happen). Likewise, if someone criticises you for being often dans la lune (literally ‘on the moon’), you’ll know they think you have your ‘head in the clouds’, to use the English equivalent.

Study French in France and learn how to use them to best effect

But it gets a bit more complicated with some expressions. For example, the expression être un cordon bleu has nothing to do with the breadcrumb-coated ham and cheese dish of the same name, but rather refers to a person who is particularly gifted at cooking (a meaning that has been imported into English). And do you know what the expression donner sa langue au chat (‘to give one’s tongue to the cat’) means? It’s what you say when you’ve had a few goes at guessing the answer to a question and finally ‘give up’. Odd, isn’t it? And not to be confused with the English expression ‘cat’s got your tongue’! To conclude, don’t be shy about asking for explanations of expressions like these to avoid any misunderstandings! In any case, if you opt for French lessons in France at the Centre International d’Antibes, our teachers will teach you to use these idioms in the right context, and you’ll no longer be in the dark about their meaning!

French courses in Antibes (French Riviera)

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