Idioms exist in every language. They are expressions where the actual meaning of the saying is different from its literal meaning. For example, when you hear, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” you know that animals aren’t actually falling from the sky. Or when somebody tells you to “break a leg,” you know it really means “good luck.” Learning common French idioms can help you understand the French Language from a new perspective.
1. Avoir le coup de foudre
French is said to be the language of love, and here is proof of that. “Avoir le coup de foudre” literally means in English to get struck by lightning. Very romantic, right? Originally, it was used to talk about something unexpected and almost unpleasant. Over time, it took on a more sentimental meaning and is now used to talk about love at first sight.
Sans même lui parler, je suis tombé amoureux. J’ai eu le coup de foudre.
Without even talking to him/her, I fell in love. It was love at first sight.
2. Les carottes sont cuites
While the literal translation of this idiom is “the carrots are cooked,” the importance of this phrase lies in the fact that the carrots aren’t raw. The phrase expresses when something is finished for good — for example, when somebody is dying or when you have no chance of succeeding on a project.
Il veut se présenter aux élections mais je pense que pour lui, les carottes sont cuites.
He wants to run for office but I think that it’s over for him.
3. Poser un lapin
“Poser un lapin” literally means “to put down a rabbit.” The idiom, however, means that someone never showed up to their date; in other words, to be stood up.
Elle ne me répond pas; je crois qu’elle va me poser un lapin.
She isn’t answering me; I think she’s going to stand me up.
4. Faire la grasse matinée
Literally “to do the fat morning,” this amazing activity is something that you can’t do when you become a parent or have a needy pet. “Fat” or “gras/grasse” has the meaning of big, opulent, and long, and therefore “une grasse matinée” means to sleep in for a long, long time.
Je me suis réveillée à 15h; j’ai fais une belle grasse matinée.
“I woke up at 3 p.m.; I slept in really late.”
5. Raconter des salades
Meaning “to tell salads” — sometimes replaced by “raconter des histoires” (“to tell stories”) — “raconter des salades” is an idiom used for someone who exaggerates and tells elaborate lies when storytelling. Someone who “tells salads” is sometimes called a “baratineur.” It’s similar to the expression “spinning yarns” in English.
Il ne savait pas quoi me dire alors il m’a raconté que des salades.
He didn’t know what to tell me so he told me stories.
6. En faire tout un fromage
Since cheese might be the most important thing in France, “en faire tout un fromage” literally translates to “to make a whole cheese about something.” The idiom means do not give something the importance of cheese. The French use this expression when people overreact, exaggerate, or give too much importance to something that isn’t worth it. Nothing is as important as cheese — so don’t make it so.
Tu ne vas pas en faire tout un fromage!
Don’t make such a big deal about it!
7. Tomber dans les pommes
In this case, “to fall in the apples” means to faint, most likely because the old French word “pâmer” (“to faint”) over time turned into “pomme” (“apple”).
L’odeur était si forte qu’il est tombé dans les pommes.
The smell was so strong that he fainted.
8. Les doigts dans le nez
Often translated as “fingers in the nose,” this French idiom is used to talk about something that we can do easily and therefore without the use of hands. Don’t mistake it with “se curer le nez,” which means to pick your nose. “Les doigts dans le nez” is similar to the English expression “to do something with one hand tied behind your back” or to say “I could do this with my eyes closed.”
J’ai passé le test les doigts dans le nez.
I could have passed that test with my eyes closed.
9. Rouler dans la farine
Literally “rolled in flour,” this expression means to get scammed. French speakers may also express this by saying “se faire rouler.” “La farine” used to have a similar meaning to telling “salades” (refer to number 5).
J’ai payé 3 euros mon croissant. Je crois que je me suis fait rouler dans la farine.”
I paid 3 euros for my croissant. I think I got ripped off.
10. L’habit ne fait pas le moine
This French idiom, which translates to “the dress doesn’t make the monk,” means to not judge a book by its cover or be fooled by outward appearances. Here, we can replace the monk with any profession with a uniform.
Je me suis fait rouler dans la farine par cet homme élégant. L’habit de fait pas le moine!
I got scammed by an elegant man. Don’t judge a book by its cover!
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