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French Proverbs





French proverbs offer insight into French culture, history, and society, and are often used in speech and writing. There is no substitute for knowing them, and if you can use them in yourself, so much the better. Below are all the standard proverbs used in French, along with English translations and explanations. Use the Search Box at left if you cant't navigate your way to what you want.

A B C D E F G H I J L M N O P Q R S T U V


à beau mentir qui vient de loiny
long ways, long lies (lit.: he who comes from afar can lie well; i.e.: someone from far away can more easily tell lies without fear of being caught because he is unknown in his new region)

à bon chat, bon rat
meet one's match; tit for tat; an equal [in combat] (lit.: a good rat for a good cat)

à bon vin, point d’enseigne
the reputation of a good thing precedes it (lit.: not need to explain a good wine; i.e.: what is good needs no recomendation)

à brebis tondue Dieu mesurele vent
the Lord tempers the wind to the shorn lamb (a Biblical reference)

à chaque jour suffit sa peine
sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (lit.: for each day there suffices suffering; i.e.: deal with today’s difficulties without worrying about what might come tomorrow; n.b.: from the New Testament, Matthew 6:34)

à cheval donné on ne regarde pas le dents
don’t look a gift horse in the mouth (lit.: one doesn’t look at the reins of a horse given as a gift)

à cœur vaillant rien d’impossible
nothing is impossible to a willing heart (lit.: for a brave heart, nothing is impossible)

à l’impossible, nul n’est tenu
no one can be expected to do the impossible (lit.: for what is impossible, nothing is expected)

à l’œuvre on reconnaît l’artisan
you can tell an artist by his work (lit.: by his work one recognizes the artisan)

à la Chandeleur, l’hiver se passe ou prend vigueur
as of February 2, winter either wanes or gains strength (lit.: on Candlemass [Feb. 2], winter ends or becomes stronger than before; n.b.: the date Feb. 2 is also Groundhog Day, whose connotations are similar, though a shadow of a marmot is involved)

à la Sante-Luce, les jours croissent du saut d’une puce
as of Sainte Luce Day (Dec. 13), the days start to lengthen ever so slowly (lit.: on Sainte Luce, the days grow at the pace of a flea; n.b.: this of course is not accurate; it is after the solstice on Dec. 21 or 22 that the daytime starts to lengthen)

à mauvais ouvrier point de bons outils
a bad workman blames his tools (lit.: for a bad workman, no good tools)

à père avare fils prodigue
the miser’s son is a spendthrift (lit.: for a miserly father a prodigal son; i.e.: a vice or fault in a parent can turn into the opposite vice or fault in a child)

à quelque chose malheur est bon
every cloud has a silver lining (lit.: for something bad there is good; i.e.: bad things can have a positive aspect, in particular when viewed from a distance)

à tout seigneur, tout honneur
honor to whom honor is due (lit.: to all nobles, all honor; i.e.: honor should be bestowed upon people according to rank and achievement)

à vieille mule, frein doré
a golden brake for an old mule (i.e.: be nice to older animals so they can be sold at market; also used to refer to older women who apply makeup excessively)

abondance de biens ne nuit pas
an abundance of goods does no harm (said when receiving something that one already has in sufficient quantity)

aide-toi, le ciel t-aidera
God helps those who help themselves (lit.: help yourself, and the heavens will help you; n.b.: despite popular belief, this phrase is not found in the Bible)

après la pluie, le beau temps
every cloud has a silver lining; good and bad things come one after the other (lit.: after the rain, nice weather)

araignée du matin, chagrin, araignée du soir, espoir
seeing a spider in teh morning brings bad luck, seeing a spider in the evening brings good luck (a commonly cited French superstition)

au bout du fossé, la culbute
danger is imminent (lit.: at the end of a ditch, a somersault)

au royaume des aveugles, les borgnes sont rois
in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king (lit.: in the kindgom of the blind, the one-eyed are kings)

aussitôt dit, aussitôt fait
said and done (lit.: soon said, soon done; from the Latin dictum factum)

autant des têtes, autant d’avis
too many cooks spoil the broth (lit.: so many heads, so much advice)

autant en emporte le vent
empty promises (lit.: as much as the wind can carry)

autres temps, autres mœurs
times change (lit.: other times, other customs)

aux grands maux, les grands remèdes
big problems require big solutions; desperate situations call for desperate measures (lit.: for large evils, great remedies)

aux innocents les main pleins
fortune favors the innocent (lit.: the innocent have their hands full)

aux innocents les mains pleines
the meek shall inherit the earth (lit.: full hands for the innocent)

avant de balayer devant la porte du voisin, il faut commencer par balayer devant sa propre porte
before cleaning up your neighbor’s door, you must start by cleaning your own
(lit.: before sweeping at your neighbor's door, you must sweep your own door)

avec des “si,” on mettrait Paris en bouteille
if ifs and ands were pots and pans, there’d be no work for tinker’s hands; if wishes were horses (lit.: with ifs, Paris could be put in a bottle)

avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre
have one’s cake and eat it too, to (lit.: to have one’s butter and the money for it; n.b.: this idiom is also used with vouloir instead of avoir)


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