6 famous French phrases and what they mean

6 famous French phrases and what they mean

by Clara Avrillier

Updated April 18, 2023

Learning a language encompasses many different elements, from grammar and vocabulary to listening skills. But it’s not just about getting the basics right. Many students also want to learn a few common idioms and expressions so that they can sound as natural as possible in daily conversation.  There are countless famous French phrases that are used on a daily basis, and if you’re able to slip them into the conversation, you’ll fit right in! 

We’ve searched high and low to put together a list of six famous French phrases that will make you sound like a local. For each phrase, we’ve included the literal translation, the explanation of the phrase and an example in context.

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1. La nuit porte conseil

Literal translation: The night brings advice.

This famous French expression is the equivalent of the English idiom “sleep on it.” It’s a great piece of advice to offer a friend or family member when they’re struggling with a decision. Better to park it and come back to it with clarity the next day.


  • Je ne sais pas si je devrais accepter ce nouveau travail. (I don’t know if I should accept this new job.)
  • La nuit porte conseil. (Sleep on it.)

2. Après la pluie, le beau temps 

Literal translation: After the rain, good weather.

This is a very common French saying that’s used as a reminder that hard times will pass and better times are ahead. In English, we might say, “This too shall pass.” It provides comfort and reassurance to someone who is going through a difficult period. 

Example: If a friend has broken up with a partner, you can use this expression to comfort them.

3. Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid 

Literal translation: Little by little, the bird makes its nest.

We all know that slow and steady wins the race, and this popular French catchphrase means just that. It’s all about moving step by step in order to achieve the big goal. 

Example: For anyone preparing for a big language exam, the process can feel hard and tedious. But just remember, petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid

4. Qui court deux lièvres à la fois, n’en prend aucun

Literal translation: Who runs after two hares at the same time, catches none.

This French saying offers some real wisdom — it means that if you try to do two things at once, neither will actually get done. It’s better, therefore, to focus on one task and do it well. 

Example: Work can be stressful at times, so if your colleague is running about panicking and trying to do too many things at once, give them a friendly reminder of this French saying. 

5. S’occuper de ses oignons 

Literal translation: Look after your onions.

The French love their food, but that’s not what this odd phrase is actually about. It’s actually a hilarious, fun and distinctively French way to tell someone to mind their own business! 

Example: If someone eavesdrops on your conversation and starts to give you advice, tell them: occupez-vous de vos oignons (mind your own business)!

6. Vouloir, c’est pouvoir 

Literal translation: To want is to be able to. 

We all know how hard language learning can be, so some extra words of motivation can go a long way. This famous French phrase is the perfect solution. It’s the French equivalent of, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” 

Example: Your friend is looking for a new job but is getting a lot of negative responses, so they’re starting to doubt themselves. Tell them vouloir, c’est pouvoir as a way to encourage them to keep going. They’ll get there in the end! 

Last but not least 

There are hundreds more famous French phrases out there, but we hope that this initial set served you some food for thought. Even if you struggle with pronunciation or don’t always use the correct verb tense, sprinkling some French catchphrases into the conversation is bound to impress! 

Learn languages at your pace

Clara Avrillier

Clara Avrillier is a writer, linguist and content manager living in the South of France. She loves getting out in nature, doing sport, reading and playing music. She also works with many expats looking to move to France. Find out more on her website, ON IT Translations, or connect with her on Linkedin.

Clara Avrillier

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