French idioms

A collection of idiomatic expressions in French with English equivalents and translations.

Idioms English versions
faire la tête to sulk
("to do the head")
garder la tête froide to keep one's cool
("to keep the head cool")
se creuser la tête / les méninges to think really hard / to try to remember something
("to dig into your head / brain")
se casser la tête to go to a lot of trouble; to worry about sb/sth
("to break your head")
coûter les yeux de la tête to cost an arm and a leg
("to cost the eyes from the head")
se mettre le doigt dans l'œil to put your foot in it - to make a mistake
("to put your finger in your eye")
être bouche bée to be open-mouthed; gapping; flabbergasted
("to be mouth open")
être sans voix to be speechless
("to be without voice")
donner sa langue au chat to give up
("to give one's tongue to the cat")
avoir (un mot) sur le bout de la langue to have (a word) on the tip of your tongue
avoir les dent longues to be ambitious; to have lofty goals
("to have long teeth")
avoir un poil dans la main to be lazy; to avoid work
("to have a hair in the hand")
manger sur le pouce to grab a bite to eat; to eat on the run
("to eat on the thumb")
ne rien faire de ses dix doigts to be lazy
("to do nothing with one's ten fingers")
prendre ses jambes à son cou to take to one's heels; to run away
("to take one's legs to one's neck)
casser les pieds à quelqu'un to get on someone's nerves
("to break someone's feet)
enlever une épine du pied à quelqu'un to help / get someone out of a fix
("to remove a thorn from someone's foot)
couper la poire en deux to meet someone halfway
("to cut the pear in two")
pédaler dans la semoule to go round in circles / to get nowhere fast
("to pedal in the semolina")
tomber dans les pommes to faint / pass out
("to fall in the apples")
tondre des œufs to be cheap / a skinflint
("to mow/crop/shear the eggs")
sucrer les fraises to be a bit doddery
("to sugar the strawberries")
c'est la goutte d'eau qui fait déborder le vase the straw that broke the camel's back
("it's the drop of water that made the vase overflow")
casser du sucre sur le dos de quelqu'un to gossip about someone behind their back
("to break some sugar on someone's back")
appuyer sur le champignon to drive very fast; to accelerate;
to floor it; to put the pedal to the metal
("to press on the mushroom")
étre dans le pétrin to be in a mess / a jam; in serious trouble
("to be in the kneading-trough")
avoir la tête dans le guidon to be overwhelmed; to be striving; to be working hard
("to have one's head in the handlebars")
mettre son grain de sel to butt in; to put one's oar in; to make one's point
("to put one's grain of salt")
se regarder le nombril to be egocentric; pretentious; selfish;
to think the world/universe revolves around oneself
("to gaze at your navel")
être soupe au lait to be quick-tempered
("to be milky soup")
prendre la mouche to go off in a huff
("to take the fly")
faire mouche to score a bull's-eye
("to do a fly/button")
rouler à tombeau ouvert to go at breakneck speed
("to roll with the tomb open")
sentir le sapin to have one foot in the grave; have a graveyard cough;
be not long for this world
("to smell of fir trees") - fir is used for coffins
(faire quelque chose avec) les doigts dans le nez as easy as falling off a log
("[as easy as putting] one's fingers in one's nose")
tomber de sommeil to fall asleep; to be asleep on one's feet; to be very sleepy
coûter un œil / un bras to cost an arm and a leg
("to cost un eye / an arm")
(c'est) une autre paire de manches (it's) another kettle of fish, (it's) a whole different story
("another pair of arms")
avoir les pieds et les poings liés to have one’s hands tied
("to have one's feet and fists tied")
avoir le cul entre deux chaises to sit on the fence
("to have one's arse between two chairs")
avoir d’autres chats à fouetter to have other fish to fry
("to have other cats to whip")
Être comme un poisson dans l’eau to be like a pig in clover/to take to something like a duck to water
("to be like a fish in the water")
taper dans le mille to hit the bull’s eye/hit the nail on the head
("to hit 1,000")
mettre du beurre dans les épinards to give one a bit more money (possibly ‘to put jam on the bread’/’to put bread on the table’..?)
("to put butter on the spinach")
être sur la paille to be skint
("to be on the straw")

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Idioms were provided by Jan Underwood, Ludovic Martin and Lynette Raven. Corrections by Sylvain Bouchard

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More idioms

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