10 French idioms that will impress the socks off native speakers

2nd June 2018

Have you ever spoken to a non-native speaker of your language and been blown away by how well they spoke it? Aside from good pronunciation, there's one thing that always makes my jaw drop when I hear foreign people speak English: Using idioms well. Most language learners steer clear of them because they're tricky to learn, and you can get your meaning across just fine without them. But native speakers use them all day long. I've already used 6 in this blog post (including the title). That's why it sounds so very impressive when language learners get them right. If you want to sound more native when you speak French, try sprinkling in a few well-placed idioms. To help you get started, Professeur Thomas from Fast French Learning has put together a list of 10 common French idioms that you can start using straight away. Keep reading to learn:
  • 10 common and useful French idioms that will help you sound more French.
  • Where they come from.
  • Practical examples so you can see how to use them in conversation.
Over to you Thomas.  

10 French Idioms that will impress the socks off French speakers

Hi everyone, here are 10 common French Idioms explained, with examples. 

I wrote the example sentences in French and the literal translations in English, which sometimes sound a bit odd - maybe it will be funny for you English speakers to read them haha ;) Importantly, with these examples, I hope to show you how we use French idioms in real life, so you can feel comfortable using them yourself. 

French idiom #1 - A point nommé

Meaning = at the right moment, at the expected time, at the desired moment, at the right time The History Originally the expression A point nommé meant exactly at the designated place, so it had a spatial sense. Over time (I do not know why and how) this expression has moved from a spatial sense to a temporal sense, now it means at the right time. Here are some examples of phrases with the expression A point nommé. Examples : -Nous sommes arrivées sur les lieux de l’accident à point nommé. We arrived at the scene of the accident at the right time. -Les secours sont arrivés à point nommé. The rescue arrived at the right moment. -Nous avions besoin de vous, vous êtes venus à point nommé. We needed you, you came at the right time. -Elles sont intervenus auprès des enfants à point nommé. They spoke to the children at the right time. -Tu es venu à la maison à point nommé. You came home at the right time.


French idiom #2 - Sage comme une image

Meaning = Quiet, very wise. The History The children represented on pictures, whatever they are supposed to do, are completely motionless and silent. If it was not the case, it would be a movie. It is the opposite of the children around you in real life, they play a lot, make noise, are dynamic, alive, sometimes do silly things. We view the children we see on the images as having ideal child behavior. It's a bit like the English "good as gold". Here are some examples of phrases with the expression Sage comme une image. Examples : -Elle a été sage comme une image aujourd’hui. She was good as gold today. -Tes enfants sont sages comme des images. Your children are good as gold. -Ils sont sages comme des images quand ils jouent aux jeux de société. → They're good as gold when they play board games.  -A l’adolescence j’étais sage comme une image. → When I was a teenager I was good as gold.  -Hier, tu as été sage comme une image. Yesterday, you were good as gold.


French idiom #3 - Au ras des pâquerettes

Meaning = No interest, low level. The History In the beginning, the expression Au ras des pâquerettes meant physically very low, the daisy being a small flower. Then comes the figurative sense. The French language tends to use the metaphors of height to speak of things of quality. Thus, an important and good thing will be high as opposed to something mediocre that will be low. Something or someone who would be standing or passing over a field at daisy height would move very close to the ground, which means far from anything of quality, so something of low quality, without interest. Here are some examples of phrases with the expressions Au ras des pâquerettes. Examples : -L’avion est passé au ras des pâquerettes = l’avion est passé proche du sol/proche des maisons. The plane passed close to the daisies (close to the ground / houses). -Le parapentiste est passé au ras des pâquerettes. The paraglider passed at the height the daisies (close to the ground). -Il a un humour au ras des pâquerettes. His humour is close to the daisies (in poor taste).  -Nous avons eu des idées au ras des pâquerettes. We had ideas close to the daisies (Our ideas weren't up to par). -Son discours est au ras des pâquerettes. His speech was close to the daisies (His speech wasn't up to par).   

French idiom #4 - Du même tonneau

Meaning = Of the same kind, comparable The History We take two glasses of wine from the same cask, a specialist drinks them, and he does not recognize any difference between the two. It is said that these two glasses of wine are du même tonneau. Here are some examples of phrases with the expressions Du même tonneau. Examples : -Aujourd’hui, beaucoup de films sont du même tonneau. Today, many movies are from the same cask  (from the same mould).  -Les discours de ces deux hommes politiques sont du même tonneau. The speeches of these two politicians are from the same cask (from the same mould).  -Le temps entre hier et aujourd’hui est du même tonneau. The times between yesterday and today is the same (the past is much the same as the present).  -Les examens sont du même tonneau que ceux de l’année dernière. The exams are from the same cask as those of last year (The exams are pretty much the same as last year).  -Les décorations chez elles et chez moi sont du même tonneau. The decorations at her place and at my place are from the same cask (pretty much the same). 


French idiom #5 - Être mal en point

Meaning = Being in a bad state The History The word point means a state, something that can change. On a map or a curve, the point materializes a position, this position can change. A state also marks a position but on a scale of values. Thus, when I do not progress, I remain at the same point in my progression. I am mal en point = I am in a bad state. Here are some examples of phrases with the expressions Être mal en point. Examples : -Hier soir, après la soirée, il était malade, il était mal en point. Last night, after the evening, he was ill, he was in bad shape. -Ma voiture est mal en point. My car is in bad shape. -Après mon accident, ma jambe est mal en point. After my accident, my leg is in bad shape. -Le bateau de mon père est vieux, il est mal en point. My father's boat is old, it is in bad shape. -Après notre journée en bateau, nous avions le mal de mer, nous étions mal en point. After our day on the boat, we were seasick, we were in bad shape.

French idiom #6 - Croire dur comme fer

Meaning = Believe very firmly The History In the figurative sense, fer takes the meaning of "very robust", "unshakable". It is this figurative sense that we find in the expression Croire dur comme fer = an unshakeable belief. This figurative meaning comes from the hardness of the tempered iron (fer) that was used to make knives or armor. Here are some examples of expressions with Croire dur comme fer. Examples : -J’y crois dur comme fer. I firmly believe it.  -Il est convaincu de ce qu’il dit, il y croit dur comme fer.  He's sure about what he says, he firmly believes in it.  -Nous allons réussir notre projet, nous y croyons dur comme fer. We will succeed in this project, we firmly believe in it.  -Elles réussiront, elles y croient dur comme fer. They will succeed, they firmly believe in it.  -Vous croyez dur comme fer ce que l’on vous raconte. You firmly believe what people tell you. 

French idiom #7 - Etre connu comme le loup blanc

Meaning = To be very known The History Not so long ago, the wolf was a very dreaded animal. The population was afraid of him because of the threat he was supposed to represent for animals and children. For some, he was even the incarnation of the devil. In Europe, he usually had dark fur. When an ordinary wolf roamed around a village, its inhabitants were quickly informed. So we can easily imagine that, if a white wolf (albino or with very light fur) showed itself, the information circulated very quickly due to its rarity. Here are some examples of phrases with the expression Etre connu comme le loup blanc. Examples : -Maintenant qu’il s’est montré sur scène, il est connu comme le loup blanc. Now that he has appeared on stage, he is known as the white wolf  (well-known). -Dans sa ville, elle est connue comme le loup blanc car elle a gagné la compétition. In her city, she is known as the white wolf (she's well-known) because she won the competition. -Tout le village me connait, je suis connu comme le loup blanc. The whole village knows me, I am known as the white wolf (I'm well known). -Depuis qu’on est passé à la télévision, on est connu comme le loup blanc. Since we've been on television, we're known as the white wolf (we're well known).  -Elles ont reçu le prix nobel de la paix, maintenant elles sont connues comme le loup blanc. They were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, now they are known as the White Wolf (now they're well known).

French idiom #8 - Quand le vin est tiré il faut le boire

Meaning = We must go after a project we have committed to. The History In tirer le vin the verb tirer means "to get out of a container". So you take the wine out of a barrel, for example. And when the wine is in the glass, we drink it. Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire = when a project has been started, it must continue. Here are some examples of phrases with the expressions Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire. Examples : - Nous avons commencé à construire cette maison, nous irons jusqu’au bout, quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire We started building this house, we'll follow through, when the wine is poured, we must drink it (we must finish what we started) -Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire, j’irai au bout de mes rêves. When the wine is poured, it must be drunk, I will go through with my dreams = I must finish what I've started, I'll follow my dreams -Nous avons arrêté à mi-chemin, hey non, quand le vin est tiré il faut le boire, continuons. We stopped half way, hey no, when the wine is poured we have to drink it (we must finish what we've started). -J’ai commencé à lire ce livre, quand le vin est tiré il faut le boire, je le lirai jusqu’à la fin. I started reading this book, when the wine is poured you have to drink it (I must finish what I started) -Ne vous arrêtez pas en chemin, quand le vin est tiré il faut le boireDo not stop on the way, when the wine is poured you have to drink it (you must finish what you started). 

French idiom #9 - Couper la poire en deux

Meaning = Share / evenly distribute something The History Sadly, the origins of this expression are unknown! Here are some examples of phrases with the expression Couper la poire en deux. Examples : -Tu veux partir au bord de la mer et moi à la montagne, coupons la poire en deux, partons une semaine au bord de la mer et une semaine à la montagne. You want to go to the seaside and I want to go to the mountain, let's cut the pear in half (meet each other half way) and spend a week at the seaside and a week in the mountains. -J’avais envie de lire toute l’après-midi et aussi d’écoute de la musique, j’ai coupé la poire en deux, j’ai lu une partie de l’après-midi et j’ai écouté de la musique l’autre partie. I wanted to read all afternoon and also listen to music, I cut the pear in half (did half-and-half), I read part of the afternoon and listened to the other party's music. -Les enfants veulent aller à la plage et moi je veux aller faire les courses, j’ai coupé la poire en deux, on a fait les deux choses aujourd’hui. The children want to go to the beach and I want to go shopping, I cut the pear in half (I met them half way) we did both things today. -On peut couper la poire en deux, je l’achète pour moitié prix. → We can cut the pear in half (split the difference), I'll buy it for half the price. -Coupons la poire en deux, je m’occupe des enfants aujourd’hui, tu t’en occupes demain. Let's cut the pear in half (meet each other half way), I'm taking care of the children today, you're taking care of them tomorrow.

French idiom #10 - Etre/Rester de marbre

Meaning = Be impassive, do not show your feelings. Do not react to important information or provocations. The History Generally reserved for luxury art and interior decorations, marble statues are perfectly immobile, with a realistic and pale face, without emotion. Here are some examples of phrases with the expressions Etre / rester de marbre. Examples : -Je suis resté de marbre devant la violence de ce film. I stayed like marble (remained unmoved) by the violence of this film. -Nous étions de marbre quand nous avons entendu les propos déplacés de Julien. We were of marble (didn't react) when we heard Julien's inappropriate words. -A l’annonce du retard du train, je suis resté de marbre. At the announcement of the delay of the train, I remained marble (I didn't react). -Ils sont restés de marbre devant la violence des images à la télévision. They stayed like marble (remained unmoved) by the violence of the images on television. -Je suis resté de marbre lors du jour de l’élection de Barak Obama. I stayed like marble (remained unmoved) on the day of the election of Barak Obama. Merci for reading this article! Which French idiom did you like best? How would you use it in real life? Leave a comment and let me know :) Thomas Ricomard

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