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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.


s’acheter une conduite
go straight; turn over a new leaf (lit.: to buy oneself a conduit)

s’annoncer bien
look good; be off to a good start (lit.: to announce itself good)

s’annoncer mal
look bad; be off to a bad start (lit.: to announce itself bad)

s’aplatir devant
grovel before; crawl before (lit.: to flatten onself in front of)

s’en donner à coeur joie
have a great time; have a whale of a time

s’en prendre à
attack; assault; insult

s’en rendre compte
be aware; notice

s’en tenir à bon compte
get off lightly

s’en vouloir
blame someone

s’ennuyer comme un rat mort
be really bored

s’entendre comme chien et chat
not to get along

s’entendre comme larrons en foire
be as thick as thieves

saisir la balle au bond
seize the ball on the rebound; jump at an opportunity

sans bourse délier
without spending anything

sans doute
probably, maybe, perhaps

sans éclat
quietly, discreetly

sans façon

sans fard
plainly; openly (lit.: without rouge)

sans foi ni loi
without any sense of decency (lit.: without faith or law)

sans précaution
carelessly; recklessly

sans rancune
no hard feelings

sans relâche
tirelessly, ceaselessly

sans rire
you’re joking; you’re kidding; no joke; no fooling (lit.: without laughing)

sans sou ni maille
without a penny; without a cent

sauf erreur
unless someone is mistaken

sauf votre respect
with due reverence to you; with all due respect

sauter au cou de qqn.
hug; throw one's arms around someone's neck

sauter au plafond
be very, very angry (and surprised); hit the ceiling

sauter du coq à l’âne
jump from one subject to another (lit.: jump from the rooster to the donkey)

se bercer d’illusions
harbor illusions; be deluded (lit.: to cradle illusions)

se bouffer le nez 
be at each other’s throats

se brûler la cervelle
blow one’s brains out

se casser la tête
rack one’s brains (lit.: to break one’s head)

se casser le nez
have no luck; get no answer (lit.: break one’s nose)

se casser les dents sur
unable to deal with (lit.: break one’s teeth on)

se creuser la cervelle
rack one’s brains

se crever le cul
bust one's balls; slog one's guts out

se croire sorti de la cuisse de Jupiter
think a lot of oneself; think the world of oneself; think one is God’s gift to the world (lit.: believe oneself to have come from the hip of Jupiter)

se donner les gants de
take credit for

se dresser sur ses ergots
get one’s hackles up

se fâcher tout rouge
be hopping mad; boil with rage,

se faire de la bile
stew; brood over

se faire désirer
be long in coming

se faire écraser
get run over [by a vehicle]

se faire un devoir de
make a point of

se faire une montagne de
make too much out of

se faire une raison
resign oneself [to something]

se flatter
claim; profess; like to think

se jeter à l’eau
take the plunge; dive in

se jouer de qqn
deceive someone; fool someone; dupe someone

se la couler douce
take it easy; have it easy

se mettre à table
confess (to the police); come clean (lit.: put oneself on the table)

se mettre le doigt dans l’oeil
be entirely mistaken; kid oneself

se mettre sur le dos
wear [clothing]

se montrer à la tête
go to one’s head

se passer de la pommade à qqn
butter someone up

se payer la tête de qqn
make fun of someone

se porter comme une charme
be fit as a fiddle

se saigner aux quatre veines
sweat blood

se tourner les pouces
do nothing; be inactive (lit.: twirl the thumbs)

se trouver nez à nez avec qqn
meet someone by chance

semer la zizanie
sow discord; put at loggerheads

s'en tirer
get along; make ends meet; manage. 1. Ma famille n'était pas riche, mais on s'en tirait.

serrer le kiki
throttle somebody; grab somebody by the throat; choke

si encore
if only; at least

sortir en trombe
leave in a rush

sortir son joker
play one's trump card

sous clé
under lock and key (lit.: under key)

sous couleur de
under the pretense of

sous couvert
under the pretext [of]

sous le couvert
under the pretext [of]

sous le drapeau
into the service [military]

sous sa coupe
in one’s clutches

sur des charbons ardents
on pins and needles (lit.: on burning coals)

sur la brèche
on the go; busy

sur la dure
on the [bare] ground

sur la même longueur d’onde
on the same wavelength

sur la piste de
on the trail of

sur la trace
on the trail

sur le bord
not far from, near

sur le coup
at the time

sur le fait
in the act

sur le moment
at the time

sur les dents
all nerves; very stressed out

sur les lieux
on the scene; on the spot

sur son trente et un
dressed (up) to the nines

sur un grand pied
in great/grand style

on the spot; straight away, immediately, now

suspendre à ses lèvres
hang on someone’s words

s'y prendre à
manage; go about [doing something]

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