Colloquial French Phrases & Proverbs

These phrases were featured on my Twitter account @ielanguages each weekday. For more informal French, check out the Informal French & Slang page. The French / Italian Phrase a Day collection can be found in my Twitter Favorites.

ne pas valoir un clou - to not be worth a thing


être une chiffe molle - to be a wet blanket


J'y suis pour rien ! - It's not my fault! I have nothing to do with it!


être dans de beaux draps - to be in a fine mess


être pris entre deux feux - to be caught in the crossfire/stuck in the middle


il s'en est fallu d'un cheveu - by very little, by a hair


donner du fil à retordre à qqn - to cause somebody (no end of) trouble


vouloir le beurre et l'argent du beurre - to want to have one's cake & eat it too


jeter l'argent par les fenêtres - to throw money down the drain


connaitre sur le bout des doigts - to know by heart; like the back of your hand


discuter à bâtons rompus - to talk about this and that; to talk freely


aller son petit bonhomme de chemin - to carry on in one's own sweet way


faire porter le chapeau à quelqu'un - to put the blame on someone


ce n'est pas ma tasse de thé - it's not my cup of tea; it's not my thing


avoir quelque chose sur le cœur - to have something on one's mind


ce n'est pas grave - Nevermind; it doesn't matter


ce n'est pas la mer à boire - it's not that difficult


parler à cœur ouvert - to speak sincerely, honestly (heart-to-heart)


ce n'est pas le Pérou - it's not exactly a fortune; it's not ideal


tourner le dos à quelqu'un - to turn one's back on someone


avoir du culot - to have (some) nerve

tourner le dos à quelqu'un - to turn one's back on someone

ce n'est pas le Pérou - it's not exactly a fortune; it's not ideal

parler à cœur ouvert - to speak sincerely, honestly (heart-to-heart)

ce n'est pas la mer à boire - it's not that difficult


Il ne manquait plus que ça - That's all we needed! (sarcastic)


avoir son franc-parler - to not mince words; to be outspoken


avoir d'autres chats à fouetter - to have other fish to fry


appeler un chat un chat - to call a spade a spade


sortir de la cuisse de Jupiter - to be God's gift to mankind


casser sa pipe - to kick the bucket, to buy the farm, to die


Il pleut des cordes - it's raining cats and dogs (Quebec: Il pleut à boire debout)


crier comme un putois - to scream one's head off [in protest]


Revenons à nos moutons - Let's get back to the subject


être bon comme du bon pain - to have a heart of gold


Oh là là ! - Oof! Phew!


Motus et bouche cousue ! - Mum's the word! Say nothing! Keep silent!


il y a anguille sous roche - I smell a rat, something fishy is going on


jamais de la vie ! - No way! Not a chance! In your dreams!


toucher le pactole - to make a fortune


J'en mettrais ma main au feu ! - I'd stake my life on it! I'd swear to it!


prendre ses jambes à son cou - to run off, flee


faire l'école buissonnière - to play hooky


être de mèche avec quelqu'un - to be in cahoots with somebody


ne pas avoir froid aux yeux - to be adventurous


entre la poire et le fromage - at the end of a meal


être dans le pétrin - to be in a jam


à quoi bon ? - what's the use?


ça me fait ni chaud ni froid - it's all the same to me; I have no strong feelings about it


à la manque (adjectival expression) - crummy, half-baked, second-rate


être en rade - to be stuck (both figuratively and literally); a synonym is être en panne


la pagaille - a mess (slang synonyms: bazar, foutoir, bordel ; standard French: désordre)


histoire sans queue ni tête - cock-and-bull story


à deux pas de chez moi - right near my house; a stone's throw from my house (literally: deux pas - two steps)


merdouiller - to screw up, mess up (derived from merder; intransitive, regular verb)


Du balai ! - Clear off! / Beat it!


une pige / un balai - year (when talking about age); balai is generally used for older people


et tout le bazar - and all the rest; and what have you


chatons de poussière - dust bunnies


le taffe - job, work (the verb taffer - to work is also common; bosser is a slang synonym)


Tu parles ! - Yeah right! (sarcastic; to refute something)


et après ? - so what? / what of it?


broyer du noir - to brood


être fêlé(e) - to have a screw loose / to be completely nuts


être comme l'âne de Buridan - to be unable to decide between two alternatives


à la guerre comme à la guerre - we'll just have to make the best of things


jamais deux sans trois ! - bad things happen in threes!


bon chien chasse de race - like father like son (synonym: tel père, tel fils)


un(e) de perdu(e), dix de retrouvé(e)s - there are plenty more fish in the sea


qui va à la chasse perd sa place - he who leaves his place loses it


roupiller - to sleep, take a nap


piocher - to study hard/cram for a test OR to pick//take something from a pile/among many choices


se bouffer le nez - to fight / yell at each other (literally: to eat each other's nose)


Chapeau ! - Bravo! / Hats off! / Well done! / Congratulations!


Mystère et boules de gomme ! - That's a mystery! / The plot thickens... (often heard in French in Action videos)


Ça tombe bien. - That's good/perfect timing.


faire la Saint-Nitouche - to act innocent, prudish, holier than thou


On n'a pas élevé des cochons ensemble. - Who do you think you are? I don't know you that well!


tenir la jambe - to bore someone to death / to talk someone's ear off


Punaise ! - Shoot! / Darn! (safe to say in front of children; often said by Homer on The Simpsons)


Ce sont des conneries ! - It's all BS! / Nonsense! (des bêtises is a less vulgar synonym of des conneries)


Ça ne tourne pas rond. - Something's wrong.


manger sur le pouce - to eat on the go / to have a quick snack


Quand les poules auront des dents - When pigs fly. (literally: when hens have teeth)


avoir la bougeotte - to be fidgety, have ants in one's pants


se casser la gueule - to break one's neck


Ah bon ? - Really? (does not mean "good" so can be used when responding to bad news as well)


Tu m'étonnes ! - You don't say! / Tell me something I don't know! (sarcastic) / I'm not surprised at all


et patati et patata - and blah blah blah


être une tête de mule - to be as stubborn as a mule (this phrase is also possible with the verb avoir)


attraper la crève - to catch a really bad cold


farfouiller - to rummage about (conjugated as regular -er verb)


avoir des atomes crochus avec quelqu'un - to have a lot in common with someone / to hit it off with someone


Va savoir ! - We'll never know! / Who knows!


à la limite - if it comes to that, if worse comes to worst, if necessary, etc. (stronger synonym: à la rigueur)


de fil en aiguille - little by little, gradually


à l'insu de / à mon insu - without the knowledge of / without my knowledge (or even: behind my back)


Je n'y suis pour rien. - I had nothing to with it. / It's not my fault. / It has nothing to do with me.


Cassé ! - Burn! / Denied! / Owned! / In your face!


avoir les chevilles qui enflent - to think one is better than everyone else / to be full of oneself


il fait un froid de canard - it's freezing cold


Je ne suis pas tombé de la dernière pluie ! - I wasn't born yesterday! / I'm not that gullible!


On n'est pas sorti de l'auberge - We're not out of the woods yet / There's still more work to do


tiré par les cheveux - far-fetched


ça ne mange pas de pain - it doesn't cost anything / might as well try / it can't hurt / no harm in trying


Mon œil ! - My foot! / Yeah, right! / No way! / As if!


D'enfer ! - Hell yeah!


dare-dare - quickly, fast, in haste, at the double


manquer de bras - to be short-handed, lack manpower


avoir les dents longues - to be very ambitious


prendre la poudre d'escampette - to disappear, skedaddle, leave quickly


Je suis partant(e) - Count me in / I'm game / I'm up to it


jouer son va-tout - to risk everything


un séjour farniente - a leisurely vacation (farniente borrowed from Italian, meaning "do nothing")


manger son pain blanc le premier - to have it easy at the start (literally: to eat one's white bread first)


arnaquer - to cheat, con, swindle / se faire arnaquer - to get cheated, conned, etc. (standard French: escroquer)


rouler quelqu'un dans la farine - to pull a fast one on somebody (standard: berner/duper qqn - to fool s.o.)


les doigts dans le nez - as easy as pie / piece of cake


Ça tape fort ! On étouffe ! - The sun is really beating down! / It's boiling/roasting/stifling!


blanc bonnet et bonnet blanc / kif-kif - it's the same; same difference (kif-kif is informal & comes from Arabic)


casser du sucre sur le dos de quelqu'un - to talk about someone behind his/her back


s'en moquer/ficher/foutre comme de l'an quarante - to not give a damn / a rat's ass


J'en ai marre/assez/ras-le-bol/plein le dos ! - I'm fed up!


Cela n'en vaut pas la peine. - It's not worth it.


se mettre sur son trente-et-un - to be dressed to the nines


tirer le diable par la queue - to live from hand to mouth


c'est pas tes oignons! - it's none of your business!


faire marcher quelqu'un - to pull somebody's leg


prendre une branlée - to get a beating, to get one's ass kicked


ça me soûle ! - it's annoying, it really annoys me


être la tête de turc de quelqu'un - to be someone's scapegoat, whipping boy


à la bonne franquette - informal, no fuss, simple (usually refers to a meal)


les tifs - hair / la tignasse - "mop" of hair


J'ai la pêche ! / J'ai la patate ! - I'm feeling great!


glander / glandouiller - to do nothing, to mess around, to goof off


bosser - to work / bosseur/bosseuse - hard-working


crado - filthy dirty


Il flotte ! Il pleut comme vache qui pisse ! - It's raining! It's pouring!


J'ai la dalle ! / J'ai les crocs ! - I'm starving!


gerber / dégueuler - to throw up, puke, barf


bourratif / bourrative (adj.) - filling (said of food)


casse-couilles - extremely annoying (literally: break-balls)


lessivé, crevé, éreinté, flapi, vanné, à plat, HS (hors service) - dead tired, exhausted, worn out


feignant(e) - lazy




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