French Sayings

Valorie Delp
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Common French sayings sometimes develop into proverb status, and some become so common that they bridge over into other languages. From cooking to romance, and many topics in between, several popular phrases from French have made their way into English.

English Sayings and Words That Come From the French

Truthfully, English speakers have borrowed quite a bit from the French language. While the French have a tradition of keeping their language pure, English has historically incorporated words from several European languages. Anglophones use German, Italian and even Spanish words in daily communication. Did you know that these common English phrases come from French?

Apple pie a la mode
Apple pie with ice cream: a la mode
  • Au naturel: This phrase is the same in French and in both languages means naked.
  • Coiffe: While the word in English is somewhat antiquated, in France, those who are hairdressers are still referred to as coiffeurs. Likewise, a stylish hair do in French is a coiffe.
  • In lieu of: In English you usually use this expression to replace the word instead. Likewise, in France the equivalent expression means instead of.
  • Je ne sais quoi: This saying literally means I don't know what and can be used in English to describe something that has a certain panache. It is often used melodramatically or to refer to someone whose social grace is magnetic.
  • Faux pas: In English this is a mistake in etiquette. In French, faux is the word for false and pas is the word for 'step'. Literally translated: a false step.
    Fashionable French woman
    Fashionable woman: a la mode
  • À la mode: In English, this is generally used to describe a dessert with ice cream. However, in French it means that something is fashionable.
  • Au contraire: In both languages this French phrase means to the contrary.
  • Carte blanche: In English this expression refers to having free reign to do whatever you'd like to do. In French, the expression literally means a blank letter or card.
  • A coup: In English this refers to a government overthrow. The French saying that means a government overthrow is ''coup d'état.
  • C'est la vie: In both English and French this expression means that's life.
  • Double entendre: Entendre is the verb for understand. Therefore a double entendre literally means a double understanding and is used when an utterance can be interpreted in two

Unique French Sayings and Expressions

Of course the French have their own unique sayings, some of which have taken on proverb status:

  • Ça m'est égal: It doesn't matter to me. (Literally: To me it is equal.)
  • À jeune chasseur, il faut un vieux chien: Someone inexperienced needs someone older to show him the ropes. (Literally: A young hunter needs an old dog.)
  • À bon chat, bon rat: Tit for tat. (Literally: For a good cat, a good rat.)
  • À deux pas de chez moi: Right by my house. (Literally: Two steps from my house.)
  • Acheter quelque chose à prix d'or: To pay an arm and a leg for something. (Literally: To buy something for the price of gold.)
  • Après la pluie, le beau temps: Every cloud has a silver lining. (Literally: After the rain comes nice weather.)
  • Bien faire et laisser dire: Work hard and don't listen to others' criticism. (Literally: Work well and let them talk.)
  • Ça ne me dit pas grand-chose: I'm not familiar with that. (Literally: That doesn't say much to me.)
  • Qui vole un œuf vole un boeuf: Once a thief, always a thief. (Literally: He who steals an egg, steals an ox.)
  • Manger les pissenlits par la racine: To be dead or pushing up daisies. (Literally: To eat dandelions from the roots.)
  • Souris qui n'a qu'un trou est bientôt prise: Better to be safe than sorry. (Literally: A mouse with only one mouse hole quickly gets taken.)
  • Courir sur le haricot: To annoy someone or get on their nerves. (Literally: To run on the bean.)
  • C'est le ton qui fait la musique: It's not what you say but how you say it. (Literally: It's the tone that makes the music.)
  • Les carrottes sont cuites: The die are cast. (Literally: The carrots are cooked.)

To take all of these sayings with you, click on the image below and download a free printable study guide. If you need help downloading the printable, check out these helpful tips.

Romantic Sayings

French is often referred to as the language of love, and indeed the language is beautiful and can sound lovely for romantic occasions. Learning a few romantic French love phrases, or famous French love quotes, to speak or add to a card or letter can be a wonderful way to express your emotions. Try a simple phrase such as Je t'adore (meaning I adore you) to start.

Using Common Sayings in French

The more you can interject some common sayings into your everyday French vocabulary, the more you will sound like a native speaker of French. Practice with each phrase daily until you know it and know how to use it in the correct context. Practicing regularly is the road to French fluency!

French Sayings