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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.


c'est à l'œuvre qu'on connaît l’œuvrier
a man is judged or known by his works, by the work he does (lit.: it is by the work that we know the worker)

c'est au pied du mur qu’on voit le maçon
the tree is known by its fruit (lit.: it is at the base of a wall that one can see the mason)

c'est dans le besoin qu'on reconnaît ses vrais amis
a friend in need is a friend indeed (lit.: it is when there is need that one finds his real friends)

c'est dans les vieilles marmites qu'on fait les meilleures soupes
the best broth is made in the oldest pot (i.e.: a well-seasoned pan or pot is preferable to a new one, as is the case for the Chinese wok)

c'est en forgeant qu’on devient forgeron
practice makes perfect (lit.: it is in/by forging that one becomes an ironmonger/blacksmith)

c'est la goutte d'eau qui fait déborder levase
it's the straw that broke the camel's back; it's the last straw (lit.: it's the drop of water that makes hte vase overflow)

c'est la paille et la poutre
it's the pot calling the kettle black; it's six of one or a half dozen of the other; same difference (lit.: it's the mote and the beam; n.b.: from the New Testament reference to the mote in one's eye and the beam in another's)

c'est l’hôpital qui se moque de la Charité
it’s the pot calling the kettle black; it's six of one or a half dozen of the other; same difference (lit.: it is the hospital mocking charity)

c'est l'arroseur arrosé
hoisted by one's own petard; it's the biter bit (lit.: it's the waterer being soaked)

c'est la poule qui chante qui a fait l’œuf
the guilty dog barks the loudest (lit.: it is the hen that sings that laid the egg)

c'est le ton qui fait la chanson
it is the tone that makes the music; it's not what you say but how you say it (i.e.: how things are said makes their meaning credible)

c'est le ton qui fait la musique
it is the tone that makes the music; it's not what you say but how you say it (i.e.: how things are said makes their meaning credible)

c'est un prêté pour un rendu
tit for tat; one good turn deserves another; back and forth (lit.: it is something loaned for something returned)

ce n'est pas à un vieux singe qu’on apprend à faire la grimace
you can’t teach an old dog new tricks; there’s no substitute for experience (lit.: one can’t teach an old monkey to smile; n.b.: there are several other equivalents in English, including don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs)

ce n'est pas la vache qui crie le plus fort qui fait le plus de lait
talkers are not doers; all talk and no action (lit.: it’s not the cow that moos the loudest that makes the most milk)

ce que femme veut, Dieu le veut
what woman wants, God wants (i.e.: woman always reach their goals)

ce qui est fait n'est plus à faire
don't leave till tomorrow what can be done today (lit.: what is already done needs not to be done)

ce sont les tonneaux vides qui font le plus de bruit
empty vessels make the most noise (lit.: it’s the empty barrels that make the most noise)

c'est trop aimer quand on en meurt
they love too much who die for love (lit.: it is loving too much when one dies of it)

celui qui a volé de l'or est en prison, celui qui a volé un pays est fait roi
he who steals gold lands in prison, he who steals a country is made king (i.e.: invasion of a nation is a form of theft, though not so recognized)

chacun pour soi et Dieu pour tous
each to himself and God for all; every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost (i.e.: let God see to other people)

chacun ses gôuts (son gôut)
to each his own (lit.: each their tastes, style, etc.)

chacun son métier, les vaches seront bien gardées
mind your own business; tend to your own (lit.: each to his craft/task, and the cows will be watched well)

chacun voit midi à sa porte
to each his own (lit.: each person sees midday at their door)

chaque chose en son temps
all things in their time (lit.: each thing in its time)

charbonnier est maître chez soi
every man’s home is his castle (lit.: the charcoal maker is master in his home)

charité bien ordonné commence par soi-même
charity begins at home (lit.: well-ordered charity starts with oneself)

chat échaudé craint l’eau froide
once bitten, twice shy (lit.: a scalded cat fears cold water)

chose promise, chose due
promises are made to be kept (lit.: thing promised, thing owed)

ciel pommelé et fille fardée ne son pas de longue durée
like a dappled sky, the beauty of a woman does not last long (n.b.: a proverb that indicates the transience of things. The ciel pommelé is a sky that changes quickly, often into a storm. And the heavy make-up, fardée, does not last long either.)

cœur qui soupir n’a pas qu’il désire
the heart that sighs yet has desires (lit.: the heart that sighs does not have what it desires)

comme on connaît ses saints, on les honore
to know a friend is to respect him (lit.: as you know your saints, you honor them)

comme on fait son lit, on se couche
as you make your bed, so you shall lie in it (lit.: as one makes his/herbead, one sleeps)

comparaison n’est pas raison
comparison is not reason (i.e.: a comparison proves nothing)

contentement passe richesse
contentment is better than wealth (lit.: contentment or serenity surpasses riches)

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