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French grammar - Common French Idioms

Common French Idioms

A collection of common French idioms. Each example's note gives the literal translation.

Balayer devant sa porte.
Practice what you preach. *OR* Put our own house in order first.

Literally 'Sweep in front of one's door.'

Chercher midi à 14h.
Complicate the issue.

Literally 'To look for noon to 2 p.m.'

Avoir un compte à régler avec quelqu'un.
Have a bone to pick with someone.

Literally 'To have a score to settle with someone.'

Monter sur ses grands chevaux.
Get on one's high horse.

Literally 'Get on his big horse.'

Marcher sur des œufs.
Walk on eggshells.

Literally 'Walk on eggs.'

Trembler comme une feuille.
To shake like a leaf. *OR* To be quaking in one's shoes.

Literally 'Shake like a leaf.'

Être comme un poisson dans l'eau.
Like a duck to water.

Literally 'To be like a fish in water.'

Reculer pour mieux sauter.
To make a strategic withdrawal. *OR* To delay the inevitable.

Literally 'Back up to jump better.'

Être fait comme un rat.
Be trapped like a rat.

Literally 'To be done like a rat.'

Mieux vaut être seul que mal accompagné.
Better be alone than in bad company.

Literally 'Better alone than in a bad comapny.'

On n'est jamais mieux servi que par soi-même.
If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.

Literally 'You are never better served than by yourself.'

Chacun pour soi, et Dieu pour tous.
Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.

Literally 'Each for himself, and God for all.'

L'habit ne fait pas le moine.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

Literally 'The clothing doesn't make the monk.'

Être comme chien et chat.
Fight like cat and dog.

Literally 'To be like dog and cat.'

Qui vole un œuf vole un bœuf.
Once a thief, always a thief.

Literally 'Whoever steals an egg steals an ox.'

On ne mélange pas les torchons avec les serviettes.
Don't apples and oranges.

Literally 'Do not mix tea towels with towels.'

À quelque chose malheur est bon.
Every cloud has a silver lining.

Literally 'A misfortune is good for something.'

Être aux abonnés absents
To be absent

Literally 'To be absent subscribers.'

Harks back to the now-defunct French internet service

Se mettre le doigt dans l'œil.
Be entirely mistaken.

Literally 'To put one's finger in one's eye.'

C'est la fin des haricots !
Game over! *OR* The goose is cooked!

Literally 'It is the end of beans !'

Faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties.
Don't push it. *OR* To go too far.

Literally 'Shouldn't push even in the nettles.'

En faire tout un plat.
Make a big deal out of something.

Literally 'To do it all on a plate.'

Ne pas casser trois pattes à un canard.
Nothing to write home about. *OR* To make a big deal out of nothing.

Literally 'Don't break the three feet of a duck.'

Qui sème le vent récolte la tempête.
As you sow so shall you reap.

Literally 'Who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind.'

L'argent ne fait pas le bonheur, mais il y contribue.
Money can't buy happiness.

Literally 'Money does not buy happiness, but it contributes.'

Donner, c'est donner ; reprendre, c'est voler.
One can't take back what one has given.

Literally 'To give is to give

to take back is to steal.'

Tourner sept fois sa langue dans sa bouche avant de parler.
Think twice before you speak.

Literally 'Turn your tongue seven times in your mouth before speaking.'