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10 French idioms to speak like a native French-speaker

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

Idioms exist in all languages and are often part of everyday language and conversation! They don't really make sense when you read each word separately, but they have an implied meaning. They are very interesting because they are generally linked to French culture.

⚠️ Some idioms are in the familiar register (informal French). Review this topic in our article about language registers.

1. Avoir un coup de foudre ⚡️

Literally: to have a thunderbolt

No, it's not a meteorological catastrophe, but a feeling. Like lightning, which is a sudden, instantaneous phenomenon, this expression means "falling in love at first sight", instantly.

Romantic, isn't it?

Quand Thomas a vu Julie, il a su qu’elle était la femme de sa vie. Ça a été le coup de foudre.

2. Avoir un coup de barre 🥱

Literally: to have a blow bar

There are a lot of expressions with the word “coup”. Here, literally, a blow bar would be a bit violent. Figuratively, "avoir un coup de barre" means to be suddenly tired, to feel an unexpected fatigue.

Je prends toujours un café quand j’ai un coup de barre.

3. Poireauter

You may know the "leek" which is a green vegetable. The verb "poireauter" has nothing to do with the vegetable and means "to wait" (informally), usually due to a delay. You can also say "faire le poireau" ("to do the leek", oui oui).

J’avais rendez-vous avec Antoine mais il était en retard. J’ai poireauté pendant une heure dans le froid !

4. Sécher les cours

Literally: to dry classes

No, you don't literally "dry" classes with a hair dryer. This expression means you are deliberately missing classes, you are not attending classes voluntarily.

Le directeur du lycée m’a appelé ce matin car mon fils était absent en cours de maths ce matin. Quelle surprise, c’est la première fois qu’il sèche les cours !

5. Faire la grasse matinée (ou la grasse mat’)

Literally: to do the fat morning

Do you know that sweet pleasure of waking up peacefully on a Sunday morning at 11am without an alarm? Well, if you do, you have already done a "grasse matinée" (= to sleep late).

Mon fils de 15 ans fait toujours la grasse matinée, le dimanche il ne se réveille pas avant 11 heures ou midi !

6. Avoir du piston / Être pistonné(e)

"Être pistonné(e)” is a way to get a job, an internship, a promotion, a favor...because you know someone who recommends you, when you have connections and someone's recommendation to get an advantage.

Ce n’est pas juste, mon collègue a eu une promotion alors qu’il travaille moins que moi… Je suis sûr qu’il est pistonné ! Son père connaît le patron.

7. Chercher midi à quatorze heures

Literally: to look for noon at 2pm

As with most idioms, this one has no real literal meaning, but it is still widely used by French speakers. "Chercher midi à quatorze heures" means "needlessly choosing the complicated option, looking for complications when there are none."

Ne cherche pas midi à quatorze heures : pour les vacances, réserve un hôtel avec le petit-déjeuner inclus et tu seras tranquille !

8. Être au bout du rouleau

Literally: to be at the end of the roll

A roll is composed of sheets, of paper for example. When you have arrived at the last sheet, at the end of the roll, you are literally at the "end of the roll". Figuratively speaking, this means (familiarly) that you are exhausted, discouraged, without resources...

You have reached the limit of your capabilities... Let's hope you don't have to use this expression!

Les médecins et les infirmiers font beaucoup d’efforts depuis le début de la pandémie de Covid-19… Ils sont au bout du rouleau. Je comprends pourquoi ils font grève.

9. Avoir la chair de poule

Literally: to have gooseflesh

When you are cold, your skin looks like chicken skin, you know what I'm talking about? That's called "avoir la chaire de poule" (goosebumps). You can also use this expression to talk about a shiver felt during an emotion.

Avoir la chair de poule

Je ne peux pas écouter Jacques Brel sans avoir la chair de poule.

10. Casser les pieds de quelqu’un

Literally: to break someone's feet

To break someone's feet is to annoy, bother, or strongly irritate that person. If you are disturbed, annoyed by someone, you can say they are "breaking your feet" (informal expression).

Ma voisine me casse les pieds tous les soirs avec le volume de sa télé !

The expression gave birth to the adjective “casse-pieds” (annoying). Être casse-pieds = casser les pieds

Ma collègue Sandra est casse-pieds, elle arrive toujours en retard en réunion !

Do you use any other idioms? Tell us all in the comments!

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