10 French Idiomatic Expressions and Their English Meanings

Updated on June 10, 2020
Uriel Mbobda profile image

Uriel is an avid linguaphile who provides the best pieces of advice to reach your language goals.

Source

The Use of Idiomatic Expressions in French

With about 280 million speakers worldwide, French is recognized as the fifth most spoken language in the world. Whatever may be your motivation for learning the language of love, your ultimate goal would certainly be to be able to communicate fluently with your audience. Idiomatic expressions are an essential tool to master any language, and French is no exception. They are those interesting locutions which contribute to the beauty of the language and which must not be taken literally! We will study the following ten French expressions, their literal and actual meanings, as well as their use in a sentence:

  1. Avoir une langue de vipère.
  2. Chercher midi à quatorze heures.
  3. Avoir la grosse tête.
  4. Vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué.
  5. Poser un lapin.
  6. Tomber dans les pommes.
  7. Avoir le cœur sur la main.
  8. Baisser les bras.
  9. Mettre la main à la pâte.
  10. Appeler un chat un chat.

1. Avoir une Langue de Vipère

Literal meaning: To have a viper's tongue

Actual meaning: A person is said to have a "langue de vipère" when they are known for regularly slandering and backbiting others. Sometimes, a gossipy person is called a viper in reference to this idiomatic expression.

Use in a Sentence: Quelle langue de vipère elle a, cette Jasmine! Elle passe son temps a dire du mal de Carla.

Translation: Jasmine is such a gossip! She keeps slandering Carla.

2. Chercher Midi à Quatorze Heures

Literal Meaning: To look for midday at 2 p.m (I agree, it makes no sense!)

Actual Meaning: To turn a simple task into a complicated task.

Use in a Sentence: C'est aussi simple que ça, ne cherchez pas midi à quatorze heures!

Translation: It's as simple as that, do not look into the matter more than is necessary!

3. Avoir la Grosse Tête

Literal Meaning: To have a big head.

Actual Meaning: To be pretentious.

Example: Depuis qu'il a été nommé directeur du personel, il a pris la grosse tête!

Translation: Ever since he was appointed Human Resources Manager, he has been acting pretentious.

A humourous illustration of the expression "Avoir la grosse tête"
A humourous illustration of the expression "Avoir la grosse tête" | Source

4. Vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué

Literal Meaning: To sell a bear's skin before killing it.

Actual Meaning: To consider a privilege as acquired before first possessing it.

Example: Le client doit d'abord approuver la transaction, alors ne vendez pas la peau de l'ours avant de l’avoir tué.

Translation: The client is yet to approve the transaction, so do not celebrate your victory just yet.

5. Poser un Lapin

Literal Meaning: To drop a rabbit.

Actual Meaning: It speaks of a failure to honor an appointment with someone, without letting them know in advance.

Use in a Sentence: J'avais rendez-vous avec Jacques ce matin, mais il m'a posé un lapin.

Translation: Jacques and I had an appointment this morning, but he didn't come.

6. Tomber Dans les Pommes

Literal Meaning: To fall into apples.

Actual Meaning: To faint.

Use in a Sentence: Elle en était tellement choquée qu'elle est tombée dans les pommes.

Translation: She was so shocked that she fainted.

A literal representation of the locution "Tomber dans les pommes"
A literal representation of the locution "Tomber dans les pommes" | Source

7. Avoir le Coeur sur la Main

Literal Meaning: To have your heart on your hand.

Actual Meaning: To be generous.

Example: Cette dame a le coeur sur la main; chaque année, elle offre des cadeaux aux enfants.

Translation: This woman is so generous; each year, she makes gifts for children.

8. Baisser les Bras

Literal Meaning: To lower your arms.

Actual Meaning: To give up.

Use in a Sentence: Ne baisse pas les bras, tu y es presque!

Translation: Don't give up, you are almost there!

9. Mettre la main à la pâte

Literal Meaning: To put your hand in the dough.

Actual Meaning: To participate in a work being done.

Example: Si vous pouviez mettre la main à la pâte sur ce projet, nous irions certainement plus vite.

Translation: If could you bring in your contribution to this project, we would surely work faster.

"Mettre la main à la pâte"
"Mettre la main à la pâte" | Source

10. Appeler un Chat un Chat

Literal Meaning: To call a cat, a cat.

Actual Meaning: To speak frankly about a delicate issue.

Use in a Sentence: Je vais appeler un chat un chat et vous dire que votre conduite etait inadmissible.

Translation: I am going to be frank with you and tell you that your behavior was inappropriate.

The Key to Using Idiomatic Expressions

Do not take them in their literal sense and always learn as much as you can about their meaning and use.

Learn More French Idioms

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Uriel Eliane

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Uriel Mbobda profile imageAUTHOR

      Uriel Eliane 

      4 weeks ago from Toronto

      Thanks for your comment Liz! I hope you learned a thing or two :)

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      4 weeks ago from UK

      I studied French many years ago, but, apart from the third one, all the others were new to me.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)