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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


il faut battre le fer pendant qu’il est chaud
strike while the iron is hot (lit.: one must strike the iron while it is hot)

il faut casser le noyau pour avoir l’amande
no pain, no gain; one has to break some eggs to make an omelet (lit.: one must crack the shell to get the almond)

il faut prendre la vie comme elle vient
one must take life as it comes (n.b.: this is not fatalistic, but rather realistic and pragmatic)

il faut qu’une porte soit ouverte ou fermée
there can be no middle course (lit.: a door must either be open or closed)

il faut que jeunesse se passe
youth must have its fling (lit.: youth must happen)

il faut rendre à César ce qui appartient à César, et à Dieu ce qui est à Dieu
render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, and unto God what is God’s (n.b.: Biblical origin)

il faut toujours garder une poire pour la soif
save for a rainy day (lit.: one must always keep a pear for thirst)

il faut tourner sept fois sa langue dans sa bouche avant de parler
you should count to ten before you say anything (lit.: you should turn your tongue seven times in your month before speaking)

il n’est pire aveugle que celui qui ne veut pas voir
there is no worse blind person than the one who does not want to see

il n’est pire eau que l’eau qui dort
still water runs deep (lit.: there is no worse water than the water that sleeps)

il n’est pire sourd que celui qui ne veut pas entendre
there is no worse deaf person than the one who does not want to hear

il n’est si méchant pot qui ne trouve son couvercle
every Jack has his Jill (lit.: there is no jar so horried that it cannot find a lid)

il n’y a pas de fumée sans feu
where there’s smoke, there’s fire (lit.: there is no smoke without fire)

il n’y a pas de sot métier
all professions are respectable (lit.: there is no dirty profession)

il n’y a qu’heur et malheur en ce monde
there is nothing but good luck and bad luck in the world

il n’y a que le premier pas qui coûte
the first step is the hardest (lit.: it is only the first step that costs)

il n’y a que les montagnes qui ne se recontrent jamais
there are none so distant that fate cannot bring together (lit.: it is only mountains that never meet)

il n’y que la vérité qui blesse
it is only the truth that hurts

il ne faut jamais courir deux lièvres à la fois
do not do two things at once (lit.: do not ever chase two hares at the same time)

il ne faut jamais dire “Fontaine, je ne boirai bas de ton eau!”
never say never (lit.: never say, Fountain, I will not ever drink your water)

il ne faut jamais jeter le manche après la cognée
don’t give up so easily

il ne faut jamais jeter le manche après la cognée
never say die (lit.: never throw the ax handle after striking)

il ne faut jurer de rien
you never can tell (lit.: you should not promise anything)

il ne faut pas juger les gens sur la mine
don’t judge a book by its cover (lit.: do not judge people by their appearance)

il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué
don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched (lit.: do not sell the skin of a bear before you kill it)

il ne sert à rien de déshabiller Pierre pour habiller Paul
robbing Peter to pay Paul (lit.: it’s useless to undress Peter to dress Paul)

il vaut mieux aller au boulanger qu’au médecin
an apple a day keeps the doctor away (it is better to go to the breadmaker than to the physician; i.e.: a balanced lifestyle helps maintain health)

il vaut mieux aller au moulin qu’au médecin
an apple a day keeps the doctor away (it is better to go to the mill than to the physician; i.e.: a balanced lifestyle helps maintain health)

il vaut mieux avoir affaire à Dieux qu’à ses saints
it’s better to talk to the organ grinder than to the monkey (lit.: better to speak to God than to his saints)

il vaut mieux être marteau qu’enclume
it’s better to be a hammer than a nail (lit.: it’s better to be a hammer than an anvil)

il vaut mieux s’adresser à Dieux qu’à ses saints
it’s better to talk to the organ grinder than to the monkey (lit.: better to speak to God than to his saints)

il vaut mieux tenir que courier
it is better to have than to chase

il y a loin de la coupe aux lèvres
there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip (lit.: it is far from the cup to the lips)

il y a plus d’un âne à la foire qui s’appelle Martin
don’t jump to conclusions; it’s a very common name (lit.: there’s more than one donkey called Martin in the marketplace; n.b.: the idea here is to obtain more information than just one piece of data)

il y a un temps pour tout
there is a right time for everything
(lit.: there is a time for everything)

impossible n’est pas français
there is no such word as can’t (lit.: impossible is not French; n.b.: Napolen is credited with creating this proverb when he said ce n’est pas possible, m’écrivez-vous; cela n’est pas français to general Lemarois, commander in Magdebourg, who was having difficulty holding his ground)


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