Have you been learning French vocabulary, grammar, and basic sentence formation but still do not understand some of the common expressions in French people say or use? Are you planning to go to France and would like to sound french more than ever and discuss with local people? If your answer is “YES!”, then this article is for you.
Common expressions or what we call idioms in English are found in each and every language. Not only do they reflect linguistic characteristics, but they also reflect different cultural aspects. They are used in different contexts and situations and are generally used in daily conversations. Some of them are recent, some of them exist since a long time; but, all of them are frequently used. Here are some of the most familiar expressions used daily in French-speaking communities classified per theme.
- “Avoir une nuit blanche” (to have a white night) – this expression is used when someone has a sleepless night. If on some night you had trouble sleeping and next morning your friend asks you how was your night, you can say that you had une nuit blanche.
“J’ai fait une nuit blanche” would be the right sentence to say.
- “Voir la vie en rose” (to see life in pink) – you might know this expression from Edith Piaf’s song “La Vie en Rose”. If you don’t, what are you waiting for? Go check it out and enjoy. It is an icon in French music.
Now, when we talk about voir la vie en rose, we mean that someone is optimistic, positive, and always thinks about and expects the best.
Edith Piaf says in her song “Quand il me prend dans ses bras […], je vois la vie en rose” (When he takes me in his arms, I see la vie en rose). Dear reader, may you always see la vie en rose.
- “Avoir la main verte” (to have a green hand) – this expression is used to say that a person knows how to maintain and take care of plants. If you visit someone’s place and find many plants that are well kept, you can say “Vous avez la main verte”.
- “Poser un lapin” (to lay a rabbit) – Yes, the translation between brackets does not make any sense, and it gives us a strange image. Fortunately, it is not the actual meaning of the expression. Poser un lapin means to stand someone up. If you are expected on a date or a meeting and you do not go, then this is the proper expression to use.
J’ai posé un lapin à mon amie Stéphanie. (I stood my friend Stéphanie up)
Stéphanie m’a posé un lapin. (My friend Stéphanie stood me up)
Try not to poser un lapin too often. 😉
- “Avoir la chair de poule” (to have a hen’s flesh) – whenever you have goosebumps and you want to let someone now, you can say “J’ai la chair de poule”, I have goosebumps, that is the actual meaning of the expression. Do you see the resemblance and why we use this comparison? We hope you do.
- “Après la pluie, le beau temps” (after the rain, the good weather) – this is an uplifting common expression in French that suggests that there are always good times after bad ones. If sometimes you feel like giving up, or you feel like someone is down, always remind yourself and remind them that après la pluie, le beau temps. Happiness always comes back after experiencing a misfortune.
- “Ce n’est pas la mer à boire” (it is not the sea to drink) – again, you do not have to drink anything here. We use this idiomatic expression to say that a task or a thing is not as difficult and challenging as we may perceive it. Learning French? Ce n’est pas la mer à boire.
- “Jouer avec le feu” (to play with fire) – you guessed it, in the same way one should not play with fire, he or she should not take useless risks. That is the meaning of jouer avec le feu; to take meaningless or unnecessary risks.
- “La langue de bois” (the language of wood/wooden language) – but wood do not speak. And as far as we know, it does not have a language on its own. Correct! That is why when we talk about langue de bois, we refer to vague and ambiguous words in order to divert attention from the salient issues.We use this expression while we talk about politicians. Les politiciens ont tendance à utiliser la langue de bois, politicians tend to use wooden language.
- “Tomber dans les pommes” (to fall into apples) – now here is a funny one! How can we fall into apples? We cannot. Unless it happens in another parallel universe. Well, at this point, we are getting closer to the actual meaning of the expression. Tomber dans les pommes actually to faint or pass out. If we say “cette femme est tombée dans les pommes”, we mean this woman fainted. As funny as the expression can be, we hope you will not use it often.
- “Quelque chose qui cloche” (something is wrong) – here’s an easy sentence to say; il y a quelque chose qui cloche, and it means that something is not right.
- “Chercher midi à quatorze heure” (to look for noon at fourteen o’clock) – hmmm.. What could this possibly mean. Do we want to go back in time? Not really. Are we playing with time? No. Does it have anything to do with time? No? Oh well.
You see what we are doing here, asking a lot of questions and being impatient. We are making a big deal out of something so simple and probably looking for a solution where there is no actual ‘problem’. This is the exact meaning of chercher midi à quatorze heure. It describes the act of turning something so simple into something so complex or deep unnecessarily. So keep that in mind, chercher midi à quatorze heure, does have nothing to do with time.
- And last but not least, “c’est en forgeant qu’on devient forgeron” (It is by smithing that you become a blacksmith) – this expression is the french expression for “practice makes perfect”. And speaking about practice, keep this expression (in addition to all of the above) to practice and improve your french!
Now what are you waiting for? Start using these common expressions and prepare yourself for a unique and exciting journey into French culture. For more common expressions and practice, follow our language blog!