10 French idioms to help you sound more fluent

by Cassie Wright
December 15, 2020
woman studying French idioms to help her sound more fluent

Despite the frustration, learning to use idioms correctly can be extremely entertaining. After all, when was the last time you got to talk about beans when you were disappointed or mention jam and pigs in the same sentence?

Once you learn these French idioms, you’ll be able to talk about all those things just like a native speaker. Let’s get started!

Popular French idioms

Raconter des salades

Unless you’re discussing lunch options, talking about salads sounds like nonsense. So, it’s fitting that the expression refers to telling lies or stories that aren’t exactly true.

Let’s say your friend likes to tell everyone about the time he met a celebrity, but his story always seems to change.

You might interrupt him next time by saying “Je pense que tu racontes des salades.

French friends speaking in idioms together

Il pleut des cordes

In English, we might say it’s raining cats and dogs. In French, it’s raining ropes or il pleut des cordes. They both mean it’s raining heavily, but I think the French expression makes more sense.

N’oublie pas ton parapluie – il pleut des cordes!

C’est la fin des haricots

At first, you might assume that this phrase simply means that there are no more beans, which could be a tragedy at dinner time. However, this French idiom is used to mean something is gone or lost and that there’s no hope of it coming back.

For instance, you might hear someone say “C’est la fin des haricots!” when their favourite sports team loses an important match.

French family watching the football

Ne pas être né de la dernière pluie

Rely on this phrase when someone tries to trick you, but you aren’t naïve enough to fall for it.

For example, if your friend tries to tell you the word ‘gullible’ isn’t in the dictionary, you can firmly inform them, “je ne suis pas né de la dernière pluie.”

A couper le souffle

Think of the most magnificent sight you’ve ever seen: a beautiful sunset, snow-covered mountains, a delicious dessert. You stare at it so intensely that you stop breathing for a moment.

In French, you might say, “j’ai le souffle coupé” because it cuts off (couper) your breath when you see it.

Avoir les yeux plus gros que le ventre

This idiom has an English equivalent: Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.

If you’ve ever been really hungry and ordered too much food at a restaurant, you’ll have no trouble understanding the true meaning of this expression.

For example, I once ordered a giant chocolate lava cake for dessert, but couldn’t finish it by myself. J’ai eu les yeux plus gros que le ventre.

Connaître comme sa poche

How well do you know the contents of your pocket?

Presumably, you know them pretty well.

Similarly, if you decide to show a skeptical friend around a city you’re familiar with, you can assure them: je connais la ville comme ma poche. In other words, you know where to find everything.

French friends smiling together and laughing

En vouloir à quelqu’un

You probably already know that the French verb vouloir means to want. However, when you use the phrase en vouloir à quelqu’un, it actually means you’re angry with someone.

Je lui en veux parce qu’il a oublié mon anniversaire (I’m angry with him because he forgot my birthday).

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Donner de la confiture aux cochons

You might be wondering: Why would anyone give jam to pigs?

That’s the idea behind this expression. You wouldn’t want to give something precious to those who have no appreciation for it.

If an avid coffee drinker wants a sip of your favourite loose-leaf tea, c’est vraiment donner de la confiture aux cochons!

Whether it’s a nosy neighbor or that annoying relative who keeps asking about your love life, sometimes it feels good to tell them to mind their own business.

In French, it’s even more satisfying to say: Occupe-toi de tes oignons! Literally, ‘Take care of your own onions’.

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