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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.


quand le chat n’est pas là les souris dansent
when the cat’s away, the mice will play (lit.: when the cat is not there, the mice dance)

quand le diable devient vieux, il se fait ermite
new converts are the most pious (lit.: when the devil gets old, he becomes a hermit)

quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire
once the first step is taken, there is no going back; as you make your bed, so must you lie upon it (lit.: when the wine is drawn, it must be drunk)

quand les poules auront des dents
never; never in a month of Sundays; when pigs fly (lit.: when hens have teeth)

quand on parle du loup (on en voit le queue)
speak of the devil (lit.: when one speaks about a wolf, one sees the tail; n.b.: the second half is often omitted, in part because of the homonym between queue and cul)

qui a bu boira
a leopard never changes its spots; once a thief, always a thief (lit.: he who has drunk will drink)

qui aime bien châtie bien
who loves well suffers well (i.e.: those who truly love do not fear testing)

qui casse les verres les paie
you break it, you buy it; as you make your bed, so must you lie upon it (lit.: he who breaks the glasses pays for them)

qui craint le danger ne doit pas aller en mer
if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen (lit.: he who fears danger should not go to sea)

qui donne aux pauvres prête à Dieu
who gives to the poor loans to God (i.e.: those who are charitable are rewarded by God)

qui dort dîne
he who sleeps forgets his hunger (lit.: he who sleeps dines)

qui n’entend qu’une cloche n’entend qu’un son
hear the other side and believe little (lit.: he who hears only one bell hears only one sound)

qui naît poule aime à caqueter
a leopard cannot change its spots (lit.: one born as a hen will enjoy cackling)

qui ne dit mot consent
silence is consent (lit.: he who says not a word consents)

qui ne risque rien n’a rien
nothing ventured, nothing gained (lit.: he who risks nothing has nothing)

qui ne tente rien n’a rien
nothing ventured, nothing gained (lit.: he who does not attempt has nothing)

qui paie ses dettes s’enrichit
he who pays his debts becomes richer (i.e.: by paying one’s debts, one creates or increases credit)

qui peut le plus peut le moins
he who can do the most can do the least (i.e.: those who can do the hard things can readily do the easy ones)

qui s’excuse, s’accuse
he who excuses himself implicates himself; the lady doth protest too much (lit.: he who excuses himself accuses himself)

qui s’y frotte s’y pique
keep your distance; don’t get too close or you’ll get burned (lit.: he who rubs against it gets stung)

qui se couche avec les chiens se lève avec des puces
if you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas (lit: he who sleeps with dogs gets up with fleas)

qui se fait brebis le loup le mange
nice guys finish last (lit.: he who makes himself a ewe is eaten by the wolf)

qui se ressemble, s’assemble
birds of a feather flock together (lit.: those who resemble each other will get together)

qui se sent morveux se mouche
if the shoe fits, wear it

qui sème le vent récolte la tempête
as you sow, so shall you reap (lit.: he who sows the wind reaps the storm)

qui terre a, guerre a
he who has land has quarrels (lit.: who has land has wars)

qui trop embrasse mal étreint
you shouldn’t bite off more than you can chew (lit.: he who grasps too much holds onto little)

qui va à la chasse perd sa place
he who leaves his place loses it (lit.: he who goes on the hunt loses his place)

qui veut la fin veut les moyens
the ends justify the means (lit.: he who wants the end wants the means)

qui veut noyer son chien l’accuse de la rage
give a dog a bad name and hang him (lit.: he who wants to harm his dog accuses it of having rabies)

qui veut voyager loin ménage sa monture
slow and steady wins the race (lit.: he who wants to travel far spares his mount)

qui vole un œuf vole un bœuf
once a thief, always a thief; little lies lead to big lies (lit.: he who steals an egg will steal an ox)

quiconque se sert de l’épée périra par l’épée
he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword

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