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French Idioms

To know a language you have to know its idioms, and French is no exception. All forms of the language, from the highly colloquial to the utterly erudite use idioms. Browse below to find the idiom you need, or just explore the many ways you can express yourself in French.


c'est à dire
that is to say

c’est au bout du monde
it’s halfway around the world; it’s on the other side of the world; it’s at the end of the Earth

c’est bête comme chou
as easy as pie; simplicity itself

c’est bientôt dit
it’s easier said than done; that’s easy to say

c’est bonnet blanc et blanc bonnet
it amounts to the same thing; it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other (lit.: it's a white hat and a hat white; n.b.: the adjective can precede or follow the noun it modifies in French)

c’est dans mes cordes
it’s right up my alley (lit.: it’s in my ropes)

c’est de l’algèbre pour moi
it’s all Greek to me (lit.: it’s algebra to me)

c’est donné
it’s a bargain; it’s a steal

c’est du bidon
that’s a load of hot air; that’s rubbish; that’s crap (lit.: it’s a can or tin)

c’est du billard
it’s a piece of cake; it’s a cinch

c’est du gâteux
be easy as cake

c’est du tout cuit
it’s a cinch; it’s easy as pie

c’est facile comme bonjour
it’s easy as pie

c’est l’enfance de l’art
it’s child’s play

c’est la carte forcée
there is no choice (lit.: it is a forced card/hand)

c’est la coix et la bannière
it’s a pain in the neck/butt

c’est la fin des haricots
it’s all over; the game is up

c’est la goutte d’eau qui fait déborder le vase
it’s the last straw; it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back

c’est le bouquet
that takes the cake; that’s the last straw

c’est le cadet de mes soucis
that’s the least of my problems; I couldn’t care less (lit.: it’s the smallest/junior of my concerns)

c’est le comble
that’s the last straw (lit.: that’s the summit)

c’est le coq du village
he’s the cock of the walk (lit.: he’s the rooster of the village)

c’est le dernier cri
it’s the latest thing; it’s quite something

c’est le dernier des hommes
he’s scum; he’s the scum of the earth

c’est ma dernière planche de salut
it’s my last hope

c’est ne pas le Pérou
it’s nothing to write home about; it’s no big deal

c’est tout comme
it amounts to the same thing

c’est un déjeuner de soleil
it won’t last (lit.: it’s a breakfast in the sun)

c’est un faux jeton
he’s a double-dealer; he’s as crooked as a snake

c’était fatal
it was bound to happen (lit.: it was fated)

ça cout la peau de cul
be very expensive

ça cout les yeux de la tête
be very expensive; cost a great deal

ça crève les yeux
it's as plain as the nose on your face (lit.: it punctures the eyes)

ça fait deux
apples and oranges; two separate things; two things that don't go together (lit.: it makes two). 1. L’informatique et toi, ça fait deux.

ça m’a cassé bras et jambes
that was the last straw (for me) (lit.: that broke my legs and arms)

ca m’est égal
I don’t care; it’s all the same to me

ça me dit quelque chose
that rings a bell [for me]

ça ne pisse pas loin
it's nothing to write home about; it's no big deal (lit.: that doesn't piss far)

ça pisse
it's pouring; it's pissing down; it's coming down in buckets (lit.: it's pissing)

ça se voit comme le nez au milieu de la figure 
it’s very obvious

ça sent le sapin
someone is going to die soon (n.b.: said of someone who is at death's door)

ça vous pend au nez 
it’s going to happen to you (threat)

hide and seek

caresser une idée
toy with an idea (lit.: caress an idea)

casser du sucre sur le dos de qqn
talk about someone behind their back (lit.: break sugar on somebody's back)

casser la figure à qqn
knock someone’s block off (lit.: break the figure of someone)

casser les oreilles
bore; talk to death

casser les pieds à
be a pain in the neck (lit.: to break the legs [of someone])

casser les pieds à qqn
get one someone’s nerves; bore someone stiff

casser sa pipe
kick the bucket (lit.: to break the pipe)

ce n’est pas évident
it’s harder than you think

ce n’est pas la mer à boire
it’s not as bad as all that; it’s not asking the impossible

ce n’est pas une mince affair
be no small matter

ce n'est pas du bidom
I'm not kidding; he's not kidding (etc.)

ce sont deux têtes sous le même bonnet
be hand in glove together

cela en dit long sur
that says a lot about

cela fait deux
that’s two different things/matters

cela fait un bail
it’s been ages; it’s been a long time [since] (lit.: it makes a lease [since])

cela ne me dit pas grand chose
that’s not much; it’s not impressive

c'est de la broutille
it's junk; it's rubbish; it's worthless; it's not important

c'est du bidom
that's a load of hot air; that's a load of bull; that's codswallop

c'est fini, oui
enough already; enough (said when telling someone to cease and desist with whatever they are saying or doing; expresses exasperation or frustration)

c'est le pompon
it beats everything

chacun sa croix
everyone has his problems

chair de poule
goose bumps

change d’avis
change one’s mind

changer de langage
change one’s tune (lit.: to change language)

changer de refrain
give it a rest; change the tune (lit.: change the chorus)

chanter comme une casserole
sing really badly

chercher à tâtons
feel one’s way along

chercher des poux dans la tête de
try to make trouble for (lit.: search for fleas on the head of [someone])

chercher la petite bête
split hairs; nitpick (lit.: search for little beasties)

cirer les bottes à qqn
brownnose; polish someone’s apple (lit.: wax someone’s boots)

clair comme de l’eau de roche
crystal clear (lit.: clear like water from a spring)

clin d’oeil

coller un élève
keep a student after school; give a student detention

comme de juste
as might be expected

comme d'habitude
as always (n.b.: name of a song by Claude Francois from 1968, which was then rewritten by Paul Anka as "My Way" and sung by Frank Sinatra)

comme l’âne de Buridan
unable to make up one’s mind (lit.: like Buridan’s donkey; n.b.: this comes from a philosophical text supposedly by Buridan [14th century] about a donkey tha

comme les doigts de la main
thick as thieves

comme qui dirait
so to speak

comme un bolide
at top speed; very fast (lit.: like a meteor). 1. Il conduit comme un bolide.

comme un coq en pâte
in clover (lit.: like a rooster in pastry/dough)

comme un fagot
badly dressed

comme une fleur
unexpectedly; without trying, effortlessly; without a hitch (lit.: like a flower)

comprendre la plaisanterie
be able to take a joke; be a good sport (lit.: understand the joke)

compter pour du beurre
not to count (lit.: count as butter)

condamner une porte
closee off a door (lit.: condemn a door)

conducteur du dimanche
Sunday driver

connaître comme sa poche
know like the back of one’s hand (lit.: know like one’s pocket)

connâitre de vue
know by sight

connaître la musique
know the score (lit.: know the music)

connaître les ficelles
know all the angles

connaître sur le bout du doigt
have at one’s fingertips (lit.: know at the end of a finger)

conter fleurette à
flirt with (lit.: tell flowers to)

côte à côte
side by side (lit.: coast at coast)

coup d’oeil

coup de bec
cutting remark, dig (lit.: peck, blow from a beak)

coup sur coup
in rapid succession

couper bras et jambes à
take the steam out of; deflate

couper l’herbe sous le pied de qqn
pull the rug out from under someone; cut the ground from under someone’s feet

couper la poire en deux
meet halfway; compromise; split the difference (lit.: cut the pear in half)

couper le sifflet à qqn
interrupt someone; cut someone short

couper les cheveux en quatre
split hairs

couper les ponts
cut off relations; burn one’s bridges

courier deux lièvres à la fois
work both ends against the middle; have a finger in many pies

courir le cotillon
chase skirts; chase girls

courir le jupon
chase skirts; chase girls

courir les filles
chase skirts; chase girls

courir les rues
be common knowledge; be ordinary

court sur pattes

cousu d’or
filthy rich; stinking rich

cousu de fil blanc
easy to see through; obvious

coûte que coûte
at all costs; at any cost; come hell or high water

coûter les yeux de la tête
cost an arm and a leg

cracher dans la soupe
spoil something (so that it can only be enjoyed by you) (lit.: spit in the soup)

crever d'ennui
be bored; be bored to tears

crever de chaud
be boiling hot; be steaming hot

crever de faim
be starving; be famished

crever de froid
be freezing; be freezing cold

crever le cœur à qqn
break somebody's heart

crever les yeux
be obvious

croir qqn sur parole
take someone’s word for something

croire savoir que
understand that

you can take my word for it

cuisiner qqn
give someone the third degree

cul sec
bottoms up

cuver son vin
sleep it off (i.e.: the effects of alcohol)

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