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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.


l’air ne fait pas la chanson
do not judge by appearances; appearances can be deceptive (lit.: the sound does not create the song)

l’appétit vient en mangeant
the more one has, the more one wants (lit.: the appetite grows as one eats)

l’arbre cache souvent la forêt
haste makes waste; one can’t see the forest through the trees (lit.: the tree often hides the forest)

l’argent est un bon serviteur et un mauvais maître
money makes a good servant but a poor master (i.e.: money can contribute to happiness for those who use it well but creates misery for those who are controlled by greed)

l’argent n’a pas d’odeur
money has no smell

l’argent ne fait pas le bonheur
money can’t buy happiness

l’argent va à l’argent
money attracts money (lit.: money goes to money)

l’eau va à la rivière
money flows to the rich (lit.: water goes to the river)

l’enfer est pavé de bonnes intentions
the road to hell is paved with good intentions (lit.: hell is paved with good intentions)

l’espirt qu’on veut avoir gâte celui qu’on a
the spirit one wants to have ruins what one already has

l’exactitude est la politesse des rois
punctuality is the politeness of kings

l’exception confirme la règle
the exception that proves the rule (i.e.: one exception does not necessarily disprove a rule, and can, when examined closely, confirm it)

l’habit ne fait pas le moine
clothes don’t make the man (lit.: the habit doesn’t make the monk)

l’habitude est une seconde nature
habit is second nature

l’homme est un loup pour l’homme
man is a wolf toward himself; brother will turn on brother (lit.: man is a wolf toward man; n.b.: from the Latin homo homini lupus, by Plautus)

l’intention vaut le fait
it is the thought that counts (lit.: the intention is worth the act)

l’occasion fait le larron
opportunity makes a thief [of anyone] (lit.: the opportunity makes the robber)

l’oisivité est la mere de tous les vices
the devil finds work for idle hands (lit.: idleness is the mother of all vices)

le bonheur des uns fait le malheur des autres
one man's meat is another's poison (lit.: the happines of some creates the sadness of others)

le rire est le propre de l'homme.
laughter is unique to man

la caque sent toujours le hareng
what’s bred in the bone will come out in the flesh (lit.: the barrel will always smell of herring)

la faim chasse le loup du bois
necessity knows no law (lit.: hunger chases the wolf from the woods)

la fête passée, adieu le saint
when his day is done, it’s good-bye to the saint (lit.: once the party is over, it is good-bye to the saint)

la fin justifie les moyens
the end justifies the means

la fortune sourit aux audacieux
fortune favors the brave (lit.: fortune smiles upon the audacious)

fortune vient en dormant
luck comes while we sleep (i.e.: the best way to become wealthy is to leave it up to fate)

la goutte d’eau qui fait déborder le vase
the straw that breaks the camel’s back (lit.: the drop of water that makes the vase spill over)

la météo est la science du temps qu’il aurait dû faire
meteorology is the science of the weather that should have happened

la nuit port conseil
night brings wisdom (i.e.: a time to reflect, think, ponder, rest, and often gain new ideas while sleeping)

la nuit, tous les chats sont gris
all cats are grey in the dark (lit.: at night, all the cats are gray; i.e.: in darkness people and things look the same)

la parole est d’argent, mais le silence est d’or
words are silver, yet silence is golden

la patience paye
patience is a virtue (lit.: patience pays)

la pluie du matin réjoiut le pèlerin
morning rain delights the pilgrim (i.e.: because morning rain is often followed by a sunny day)

la plus belle fille du monde ne peut donner que ce qu’elle a
the most beautiful woman in the world can only give what she has

la raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure
might makes right (lit.: the right of the strongest is always the best)

l la vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid
revenge is a dish best served cold

la vérité sort de la bouche des enfants
out of the mouths of babes and sucklings [comes forth truth] (lit.: the truth comes out of the mouths of infants)

le chat parti, les souris dansent
when the cat’s away, the mice will play (lit.: when the cat is gone, the mice dance)

le doute est la clé de toute connaissance
doubt is the key to all knowledge

le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle
not worth the effor (lit.: the game is not worth the candle)

le loup retourne toujours au bois
one always goes back to one’s roots (lit.: the wolf always returns to the woods)

le mieux est l’ennemi du bien
better is the enemy of good (lit.: better is the enemy of good)

le soleil luit pour tout le monde
the sun shines on the entire world (i.e.: everyone has a irght to what nature provides to us all)

le temps c’est de l’argent
time is money (n.b.: from the English proverb)

le temps perdu ne se rattrape jamais
time and tide wait for no man (lit.: time lost is never recovered)

les absents ont toujours tort
it is always the people who are not there that are blamed (lit.: the absent are always wrong)

les arbres cachent la forêt
the trees hide the forest

les beaux esprits se rencontrent
great minds think alike (lit.: beautiful minds find each other)

les bons comptes font les bon amis
good accounting makes for good friends (i.e.: friends should know exactly what each owes the other)

les chiens aboient, la caravane passe
let the world say what it will; to each his own (lit.: the dogs howl, the caravan passes by)

les chiens ne font pas des chats
the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; like father, like son (lit.: dogs do not make or become cats)

les conseilleurs ne sont pas les payeurs
nothing is given so freely as advice; free advice is seldom cheap (lit.: advisors do not pay for advice)

les cordonniers sont (toujours) les plus mal chaussés
the shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot (lit.: shoemakers are always have the worst shoes)

les grandes douleurs sont muettes
great sorrow is often silent (i.e.: extreme moral suffering does not make itself known)

les grands diseurs ne sont pas les grands faiseurs
great talkers are not great doers

les grands esprits se rencontrent
great minds think alike (lit.: great minds find each other)

les gros poissons mangent les petits
survival of the fittest; the large fish eat the small ones (lit.: big fish eat little fish)

les jours se suivent et ne se ressemblent pas
what a day may bring, a day may take away (lit.: the days follow each other but don’t resemble each other)

les loups ne se mangent pas
there is honor among thieves (lit.: wolves do not eat each other)

les murs ont des oreilles
walls have ears (lit.: walls have ears)

les paroles s'envolent, les écrits restent
words fly, but letters remains

les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières
tall oaks from little acorns grow (lit.: small streams formt great rivers)

loin des yeux, loin du coeur
out of sight, out of mind (lit.: far from the eyes, far from the heart)

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