10 French Expressions You Won’t Find in a Phrase Book
A French phrase book can teach you how to order a croissant or find your way to ‘la gare’ (the train station) but it’s only by talking to locals that you’ll learn how people really express themselves. Prepare for your upcoming trip to France by hosting a French guest and practicing some of these phrases with them, prepared especially by our Frenchies Anaïs and Hugo!
Travelling to Spain instead? Our Spanish expressions will be more useful for you.
1. Les chiens ne font pas des chats (dogs don’t make cats)
Meaning: When family members look very much alike. Grandparents love to use this French expression. It means that kids have the same character, behaviour, qualities and defaults as their parents.
Example: Look at Anna, she sings like her mum, les chiens ne font pas de chats!
2. Avoir une faim de loup (to have a wolf’s hunger)
Meaning: The feeling of being starving (like saying you are “as hungry as a wolf” in English)
Example: Jerome has eaten all the chocolates on the table, he had une faim de loup!
Image Credit: USFWSmidwest
3. Tuer le temps (to kill time)
Meaning: To spend time by entertaining yourself in any manner.
Example: Mike didn’t know what to do during his vacations, il a tué le temps by watching TV shows.
4. Faire faux bond (to make a fake leap)
Meaning: To let somebody down
Example: You won’t believe me. Axel m’a fait faux bond yesterday afternoon and never came to our meeting!
5. Être de mèche avec quelqu’un (being in cahoots with someone)
Meaning: to be a partner in crime or an accomplice
Example: I have noticed that my mirror was broken. Julie hasn’t said anything about it. I am sure that she is de mèche with her sister.
6. Se mettre sur son trente-et-un (to put on his thirty one)
Meaning: To put your best clothes (the English equivalent would be “to get dressed up to the nines)
Example: For his birthday, everyone s’était mis sur son trente-et-un.
Image Credit: Jonathan Mueller
7. Mettre de l’eau dans son vin (to put some water in one’s wine)
Meaning: To be more tolerant, to compromise. Someone can have a really strong position on a topic and revise it later to be less strict.
*Important Note: our French techy Hugo recommends that you NEVER put water in your wine.
Example: I used to always disagree on this topic with him, but since j’ai mis de l’eau dans mon vin.
Image Credit: Tim Lucas
8. En mettre sa main au feu (to put one’s own hand into the fire)
Meaning: To be certain about something (the English equivalent would be “to stake your life on it”)
Example: It was not like that last time I checked, j’en mettrais ma main au feu.
9. En rang d’Oignon (in Oignon’s rank/in a row of onions)
Meaning: ordered in straight rows (sometimes from the biggest to the smallest). This expression also exists as “en rang d’oignons”, or “en rang d’oignon”, but the original is with a capital O. The baron Oignon used to organise his guests at party by their ranks. The phrase means either “in Oignon’s rank/row” (if you are referring to the Baron Oignon) or “in a row of onions” (if you are referring to the vegetables)
Example: All the students were waiting, aligned en rang d’Onion.
Image Credit: Dubravko Soric
10. Ne pas avoir froid aux yeux (not having cold eyes)
Meaning: To be courageous / to not be scared (the English equivalent is to “not have cold feet”)
Example: You went bungee jumping? Tu n’as pas froid aux yeux.
Have these expressions peaked your interest? Do you suddenly feel like buying a plane ticket to Paris? On a cambio you’ll stay for free, so you can put your money towards indulging in delicious French wine and cheese. Take a look at our French hosts!
About the Authors: This post was put together with the help of Anaïs, our France Country Manager, and Hugo, our Online Strategy Manager. Find out more about them!
COVER IMAGE CREDIT: Daxis