French idioms can sometimes be hard to understand, but they can also be fun to learn and can give you an idea of the culture and humour behind the language.
The French people particularly have its own set of funny idioms that range from the quirky to the downright ludicrous.
In this article, you’ll find 10 common French idioms that you will hear in France.
Les carottes sont cuites
It literally means the carrots are cooked, but we say run simply because the speaker means that the outcome of the situation cannot be changed!
Coûter les yeux de la tête
This French expression literally means that something costs the eyes in your head – it’s a price that’s unreasonable. The English equivalent is ‘to cost an arm and a leg’. Here’s an example:
J’aurais aimé acheter un nouvel ordinateur mais ça coûte les yeux de la tête.
I would have liked to buy a new computer but it costs an arm and a leg.
Mettre son grain de sel
This French idiom literally means to put in one’s grain of salt – to give someone an unsolicited and unnecessary opinion. Case in point, your mom offering you advice and feedback on your love life (or lack thereof). Here’s an example:
Encore une fois, elle a mis son grain de sel.
Once again, she offered an unsolicited opinion.
This popular French idiom literally means “that works.” Marcher is an interesting verb because it means both “to walk” and “to function/to work,” so it is not always transparent for English speakers. You’ll use this expression much in the same way as its English equivalent. If you and some friends are making some plans, you’ll say ça marche to confirm that you’re on board. Note that this expression changes from region to region. In Switzerland, for example, people say ça joue: that plays! Here’s an example:
On se retrouve à midi pour déjeuner ?
Oui, ça marche!
Let’s meet at noon for lunch?
Yes, that works!
Chercher la petite bête
The literal translation of this expression is « to look for the little beast ».
When the French feel that someone is looking really hard for a reason to complain about something, they say someone is “looking for the little beast.” The best English equivalent would be “splitting hairs.
Appeler un chat un chat
When you tell someone to “call a cat a cat” in French, it means you want them to speak their mind or tell the truth.
The closest English expression would be to « call a spade a spade » or to « speak frankly ».
Arrête ton char!
This expression literally means « Stop your chariot » in English.
Initially, you might think that this French expression is used when trying to get someone to slow down. In actuality, however, this funny French phrase actually means to stop bluffing!
Être sur son 31
On big occasions, the French will “Être sur son 31,” meaning that they’ll be putting on beautiful and elegant clothes. If you watch the Cannes Festival Red Carpet events, for instance, this is typically what “to be on your 31” entails.
Être au taquet
This French expression literally means « to be at a piece of wood ».
The word “taquet” is used to refer to a piece of wood put between a door and a wall to block it. This funny French saying means to work hard with the expectation that something good will happen. The best English equivalent would be “to give your best.”
C’est la fin des haricots
While this expression literally means ‘that’s the end of the beans,’ the French meaning is ‘that’s the last straw.’ This expression, used often in exasperation, is quite confusing to French learners until they realize the meaning is not literal.