Appendix:French idioms

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List of idioms in French

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Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
à bon chat, bon rat¹ tit-for-tat to a good cat, a good rat
à chaque jour suffit sa peine each day as it comes each day's pain is sufficient for it (reference to the Biblical verse Matthew 6:34)
à cheval donné on ne regarde pas les dents¹ don't criticize gifts, accept them gratefully one does not look at the teeth of a horse that has been given.
amoureuse comme une chatte¹ very affectionate in love like a female cat
ânerie¹ stupidity; stupid remarks action proper to a donkey
appeler un chat un chat¹ to tell it like it is; to call a spade a spade to call a cat a cat
arriver comme un chien dans un jeu de quille¹ to turn up when least desired or expected to arrive like a dog at a bowling game
arriver comme un éléphant dans un jeu de quille¹ to turn up at the absolute worst possible time, to have bad timing to arrive like an elephant in a bowling game
avaler des couleuvres to eat crow, i.e., to put up with humiliation to swallow grass snakes
avoir bon dos to be an easy scapegoat to have [a] good back
avoir d'autres chats à fouetter¹ to have other/better things to do, to have bigger fish to fry to have other cats to whip
avoir de la gueule¹ to be attractive to have [a] mouth; to be mouth-watering
avoir des lettres to be well read to have letters
avoir du chien¹ to be a very attractive woman to have "dogginess"
avoir l'air d'une poule qui a trouvé un couteau to look puzzled or baffled to look like a hen that has found a knife
avoir la tête dans le cul to be tired, phased out (e.g. after waking up) to have one's head up one's arse
avoir le cafard to have the blues, to be down in the dumps to have the cockroach
avoir le cœur sur la main to be generous, to give the shirt off one's back to have one's heart in one's hand
avoir le cul bordé de nouilles to be lucky to have an arse full of noodles
avoir le melon to be sure of oneself to have the melon
avoir les jetons to be scared, to have the jitters or the willies to hold the chips
avoir mangé du lion to have a tiger in one's tank, to have incredible energy to have eaten lion
avoir ses ours¹ to menstruate to have her bears
avoir un chat dans la gorge to have a frog in your throat to have a cat in one's throat
avoir un cheveu sur la langue to have a lisp to have a hair on one's tongue
avoir un coeur bien accroché to have nerves of steel to have one's heart firmly attached
avoir un poil dans la main to shy away from work, to avoid work at all costs to have a hair on one's hand (i.e., palm)
avoir une bonne gueule¹ to be friendly-looking to have a good mouth
avoir une faim de loup¹ to be famished to have a wolf's hunger
avoir une mémoire de lièvre¹ to have a poor memory to have a hare's memory
avoir une mémoire d'éléphant¹ to have a good memory to have an elephant's memory
avoir une nuit blanche to have a sleepless night to have a white night
avoir une sale gueule¹ to be nasty-looking to have a filthy muzzle


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
bêler une chèvre¹ speak with a shaky voice to bleat like a goat
bête à manger du foin¹ dumb enough to eat hay [so] dumb [as] to eat hay
bête à pleurer¹ so stupid you could cry [so] dumb [as] to cry
bête à…¹ so stupid that… [so] stupid that…
bête comme ses pieds¹ very stupid dumb as one's feet
bête comme un âne¹ very stupid dumb as a donkey
bête comme…¹ stupid as… stupid as…
bête curieuse¹ strange animal curious beast
bête noire¹ nemesis, pet peeve black beast
bon an, mal an year in, year out good year, bad year
bonne bête¹ good-natured person good beast
bouc émissaire¹ scapegoat emissary goat
bouc¹ billy goat billy goat
brave bête¹ good guy brave beast


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
c’est kif-kif et bourricot¹ it's even, it's all the same kif-kif is from Arabic and bourricot means "donkey"
ça me dit quelque chose that rings a bell that tells me something
ça me prend la tête that drives me crazy / that annoys me that takes my head
ça me soûle that pisses me off that makes me drunk
ça ne tient pas debout it doesn’t make any sense it doesn’t stand upright
ça passe ou ça casse sink or swim it passes or it breaks
caractère de chien¹ bad attitude, ill temper dog's personality
caractère de cochon¹ nasty disposition pig's personality
ce n’est pas le mauvais cheval¹ he/she is not bad it's not the wrong (or bad) horse
ce ne sont pas vos oignons it is none of your business those are not your onions
ce n'est pas la mort du petit cheval¹ it is not a tragedy, it is not the end of the world it is not the death of the little horse
c'est pas le Pérou it's nothing special, it's nothing to write home about it's not Peru
c'est un travail de Romain it's a big job it's a Roman's work
chargé comme un mulet / une mule¹ heavily loaded loaded up like a [male/female] mule
chatte¹ pussy (vulgar) female cat, pussy
chercher la petite bête to nit-pick to look for the tiny beast (errors)
cheval de bataille¹ favorite theme, argument, trope war horse
cheval de labour¹ work horse work horse
chien qui aboit ne mord pas¹ its bark is worse than its bite [a] dog that barks does not bite
chienne de grippe¹ a bad flu [a] bitch of a flu
chienne de…¹ extreme example of something, hell of a..., bitch of a... [a] bitch of a …
chiens écrasés¹ local newspaper articles that serve as filler [stories about] dogs that have been run over
comme ci, comme ça neither good nor bad, so-so like this, like that
comme un éléphant dans un magasin du porcelaine¹ careless in thought or action, like a bull in a china shop like an elephant in a porcelain shop
comme un poisson dans l'eau at ease, like a duck to water like a fish in the water
conduire comme un pied to drive horribly to drive like a foot
coup du lapin¹ whiplash hare's blow
couper les cheveux en quatre to split hairs to cut hairs in four
courir comme un lapin¹ to be scared as a rabbit to run like a rabbit
couteaux volent bas sarcasm has overtaken a conversation knives are flying low
coûter la peau du cul to cost dearly, to cost an arm and a leg to cost the skin of the arse
coûter les yeux de la tête to be very expensive, to cost an arm and a leg to cost the eyes in one's head
crever comme un chien¹ to die in an undignified manner, to die like a dog to die like a dog


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
... de chien¹ added to make something worse or pejorative dog's ...
... de cochon¹ added to make something worse or pejorative pig's ...
dérouler le tapis rouge to roll out the red carpet to unroll the red carpet
devenir chameau¹ to become nasty (pejorative, usually applied to women) to become a camel
les doigts dans le nez very easy [with] one's fingers in one's nose
donner sa langue au chat¹ to give up trying to guess something, e.g. the answer to a riddle give his/her tongue to the cat
dormir en chien de fusil¹ to sleep curled up to sleep like the cock of a rifle
dose de cheval¹ big dose horse's dose


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
écrire comme un cochon¹ to have bad handwriting to write like a pig
éminence grise powerful decision-maker who operates "behind the scenes" gray eminence
en un clin d’œil in a flash in the wink of an eye
entre chien et loup¹ dusk between dog and wolf
ésprit de l’escalier when one has a perfect witty rejoinder too late to be of use wit of the staircase
être à cheval sur ses principes¹ to be very strict, to be a martinet to be on a horse (i.e., high up, insurmountable) regarding one's principles
être aux anges to be ecstatic, to be over the moon to be with the angels
être chameau¹ to be nasty (pejorative, usually applied to women) to be [a] camel
être comme l'âne de Buridan¹ to be unable to choose between alternatives to be like Buridan's ass
être comme les moutons de Panurge¹ to act like a bunch of sheep to be like Panurge's sheep
être simple comme « bonjour » to be as easy as pie to be as simple as ‘hello’
être tiré à quatre épingles to be dressed very well to be drawn with four pins
être tiré par les cheveux to be far-fetched to be pulled (in) by the hairs
être un chaud lapin¹ to be horny to be a hot rabbit
être un mouton¹ to be easily led to be a sheep
être un singe sur une branche to be at home, in one's natural habitat to be a monkey on a branch
être une chienne¹ to be a bitch to be a bitch
être une fouine¹ to be nosy to be a marten
être vache¹ to be mean, to be nasty to be [a] cow


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
faire chou blanc to draw a blank to make white cabbage
faire d'une pierre deux coups to hit two birds with one stone to make two hits with one stone
faire la grasse matinée to have a lazy day, to have a lie-in to do a fat morning
faire la sourde oreille to turn a blind eye; to ignore to make as if one's ears were deaf
faire le cochon pendu¹ to hang by one's knees from a bar to act like a pig hanging
faire le singe¹ to monkey about, to goof off to act like a monkey
faire le zouave to clown around to act like a Zouave or more specifically the man depicted by a statue at the Alma Bridge
faire pleurer dans les chaumières to get sentimental, to tug on people's heart strings to make people cry in their cottages
faire quelque chose au nez et à la barbe de quelqu’un to do something in front of someone without them noticing to do something to someone’s nose and beard
faire tourner en bourrique¹ to annoy, to drive crazy to make [one] turn about like a donkey
faire un tabac to have a huge success to open a tobacco shop
faire une carte de France to have a wet dream to make a map of France
faire une queue de poisson (à quelqu'un) to cut in front of someone while driving to do a fishtail (to someone)
faits comme des rats¹ trapped like rats made [to be] like rats
ferme ta gueule¹ shut up shut your maw
fièvre de cheval¹ high fever, serious illness horse's fever
fou comme un jeune chien¹ crazy crazy like a young dog
fumer comme un pompier to smoke a lot, to smoke like a chimney to smoke like a fireman


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
gourmande comme un chat¹ greedy but picky gourmand like a cat
gros comme un cochon¹ as fat as a pig as fat as a pig
gros comme une baleine¹ very fat, as fat as a whale as fat as a whale
gueuler comme un âne¹ to bray like a donkey to bray like a donkey
gueule cassée¹ war veteran (with severe facial deformities) broken muzzle
gueule de bois¹ hangover wooden mouth
gueule¹ animal mouth, human face, appearance muzzle, mouth, maw
gueuler¹ to bawl, to bellow, to shout gueule = an animal's mouth


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
hurler avec les loups¹ to conform, to run with the crowd to howl with the wolves


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
il fait un vent à décorner les bœufs¹ bad weather it's windy enough to de-horn the cows
il n'y a pas de quoi fouetter un chat¹ it's nothing to make a fuss about there's no issue over which to whip a cat
il n'y a pas un chat¹ nobody around, not a soul there's no cat around
il pleut comme vaches qui pissent¹ it's raining heavily it's raining like cows pissing


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
jeter l'éponge to abandon a cause, to give up, to throw in the towel to throw the sponge
jouer à chat perché¹ to play off-ground tag to play "perching cat"
jouer au chat et à la souris¹ to play cat and mouse to play cat and mouse


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
la mort du petit cheval¹ tragedy, end of story, end of hope the death of the little horse
la nuit, tous les chats sont gris¹ in the dark, everybody looks the same at night, all the cats are gray
la petite mort orgasm the little death
la vache!¹ expletive, exclamation like "hell!" or "damn!" the cow!
le chien aboit, la caravane passe¹ it happens despite what is said about it the dog barks, the caravan passes
le petit Jésus en culotte de velours to go down (one's throat) smoothly little Jesus in velvet underwear
les doigts dans le nez very easy [with] one's fingers in one's nose
lever un lièvre¹ to make a discovery to raise (startle) a hare
l'habit ne fait pas le moine do not judge by appearances the cloth does not make the monk


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
malin comme un singe¹ very clever, sharp as a tack, clever as a fox as smart as a monkey
manger comme un cochon¹ to eat greedily, to eat like a pig to eat like a pig
manger comme quatre to eat lots to eat like four [people]
manger de la vache enragée¹ to go through hard times to eat mad cow
manger ses mots to mumble to eat one's words
manger sur le pouce to eat hastily to eat on the thumb
ménager le chèvre et le chou¹ to keep both parties happy, to play both sides to arrange the goat and the cabbage
mettre la charrue devant les bœufs¹ to get ahead of yourself, to put the cart before the horse to put the plow before the oxen
mettre les petits plats sur les grands to roll out the red carpet to put the little plates on the big ones
(être) mort de rire (commonly abbreviated to MDR) laughing out loud (commonly abbreviated to LOL) (to be) dead from laughter
mon biquet / ma biquette¹ my darling my little goat
mon petit lapin¹ my darling my little rabbit
mon petit loup¹ my darling my little wolf
monter sur ses grands chevaux¹ to make a big fuss of something to get on one's high horses
myope comme une taupe¹ senseless, blind as a bat nearsighted as a mole


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
naviguer à vue to manage day to day navigate by sight
nom d'un chien¹ (expression of distaste) name of a dog


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
on n’apprend pas à un vieux singe à faire des grimaces¹ one can't teach something old something new, one can't teach an old dog new tricks one does not teach an old monkey to make faces
ours mal léché¹ uncouth, impolite, person poorly licked [not groomed properly] bear


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
payer en monnaie de singe¹ to fail to pay to pay in a monkey's money
pilier de bar barfly bar pillar
plancher des vaches¹ solid ground, dry land the cows' floor
pleuvoir des cordes to rain cats and dogs to be raining ropes
poser un lapin à quelqu'un¹ to set someone up, not show up, to stand someone up to set a rabbit before someone
pour qui tu te prends ? who are you to say that? / who do you think you are? for whom do you take yourself?
prendre ses jambes à son cou to run away quickly; to escape to take one's legs to one's neck
pris garder une poire pour la soif to save for a rainy day taken to keep a pear for thirst


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
quand le chat n'est pas là, les souris dansent¹ when the cat's away the mice will play when the cat is not there, the mice dance
quand on parle du loup, on en voit la queue¹ speak of the devil when one speaks of the wolf, one sees its tail
qui sème le vent récolte la tempête who looks for trouble, finds worse who sows the wind, reaps the whirlwind (reference to the Biblical verse Hosea 8:7)
qui vivra, verra time will tell whoever lives [long enough] will see


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
rat de bibliothèque¹ bookworm, person who spends all their time reading library rat
remède de cheval¹ drastic cure, too strong of a remedy horse's cure
rendre quelqu'un chèvre¹ to drive someone crazy to turn someone into a goat
reprendre du poil de la bête¹ to regain strength, recuperate to take back the hair of the beast
retourner sa veste to go back on your word, change your mind to turn your jacket inside out
revenons à nos moutons¹ to get back on topic, to return to the question at hand let's return to our sheep


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
sans l'ombre d'un doute¹ without a shadow of a doubt without the shadow of a doubt
sauter du coq à l’âne¹ jump from one thing to another to jump from the rooster to the donkey
se battre comme chien et chat¹ to fight like cats and dogs to fight like [a] dog and [a] cat
se casser la tête to go to a lot of trouble or hassle to break one's head
se creuser la tête to think hard, to remember something, to wrack your brains to dig into one's head
se mettre le doigt dans l'oeil to put your foot in it to put the finger in the eye
se passer la corde au cou to get married to put a rope around one's neck
se plier en quatre to try your best, to bend over backwards to fold oneself in four
se regarder en chiens de faïence¹ to glare at each other to look at each other like earthenware dogs
s'ennuyer comme un rat mort¹ to be bored to death to be bored like a dead rat
sobre comme un chameau¹ extremely serious, sober as a judge as sober as a camel
souris¹ pejorative term for girl mouse
suer comme une bœuf¹ to sweat profusely to sweat like an ox
suivre comme un mouton¹ to follow obediently to follow like a sheep


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
taupe¹ mole, engineering student mole
tête de fouine¹ nosy person, weasel, one who looks ill head of a marten
têtu comme une mule¹ stubborn as a mule stubborn as a mule
tirer le diable par la queue to be too poor to do anything pull the devil by the tail
tirer les plans sur la comète to count one's chickens before they have hatched to draw up plans on the comet
tomber dans les pommes to faint, possibly originated from the onomatopoeic homophone "pom" to fall into the apples
tondre la laine sur le dos de quelqu'un¹ to steal from someone, to take advantage of someone to cut the wool off someone's back
tout au plus at the most at the uttermost
travailler comme une bœuf¹ to work very hard, to work like a dog to work like an ox
trente-six mille choses à faire many things to do thirty-six thousand things to do
triste comme un repas sans fromage very sad sad like a meal without cheese


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
un coup de pot a stroke of luck a stroke of [the] pot
un grand cheval¹ disgraceful woman a big horse
un temps à ne pas mettre un chien dehors¹ bad weather weather in which to not put out a dog


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning
vache¹ cow, satchel, bookbag cow
vache à lait¹ person whom one takes advantage of [a] milking-cow
vachement¹ very "cowishly"
vachement grand¹ big as hell "cowishly" big
vacherie¹ dirty trick, nasty comment action proper to a cow
vaches grasses¹ prosperous years fat cows (reference to the Biblical chapter of Genesis 41)
vaches maigres¹ lean times thin cows (reference to the Biblical chapter of Genesis 41)
vendre la peau de l'ours avant de l'avoir tué¹ to count your chickens before they hatch to sell the bear's skin before having killed it
vieux bouc¹ dirty old man, old pervert old billy goat
vieux renard¹ sly fox, clever as a fox old fox
voler de ses propres ailes to stand on one's own two feet to fly off using one's own wings


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning


Idiom Meaning Literal Meaning


  • ¹ O’Donnell, Paul E. (February 1990), “Entre chien et loup: A Study of French Animal Metaphors”, in The French Review[1], volume 63, issue 3, retrieved 28 February 2014, pages 514-523