Language Learning

French expressions and how to use them

Moving to France? Learn how to speak like a local by learning these common French expressions that verge on being humorous and offensive.

French expressions
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Updated 15-5-2024

The French are famous for their elaborate expressions which allow them to convey a range of emotions with lashings of creativity. So if you truly want to fit in and speak like a local, here are some top French expressions to learn and when to use them.

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Quirky French expressions

A French person won’t comment on your ‘broken French’ but they will let you know you speak French like a Spanish cow. Here are some other quirky French expressions to add a splash of color and humor to your language-learning experience:

Faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties

The French won’t tell you that ‘you’re going a bit far’ – they’ll tell you not to ‘push grandma in stinging nettle’.

Yoyoter de la cafetière

The French are not ‘crazy’, instead they ‘play yoyo with the coffee pot’.

Faire avaler des couleuvres à quelqu’un

The French don’t ‘lie’ – they ‘make someone swallow grass snakes’.

Manger les pissenlits par la racine

The French are not ‘dead’, but they ‘eat dandelions from the root’.

Se faire manger la laine sur le dos

A French person is not ‘naive’, they let ‘their wool get eaten while it’s still on their back’.

On a pas gardé les cochons ensemble

The French won’t say that someone ‘takes liberties’ but they’ll say, “We did not look after the pigs together.”

Ne pas avoir froid aux yeux

When the French are ‘brave’, their ‘eyes are not cold’.

C’est de la crotte de bique

The French won’t tell you that your work is ‘worthless’, instead they’ll politely say that it’s ‘goat’s poop’.

Casser du sucre sur le dos de quelqu’un

The French won’t ‘talk behind your back’ but they will ‘break sugar’ on it.

Ramener sa fraise

When the French want to ‘add their two cents’, they ‘bring in their strawberry’.

Ca sent le sapin

A French person doesn’t say ‘he/she does not have long to live’, they say, “It smells like fir tree.”

Pleurer comme une madeleine

The French don’t ‘cry a lot’ – they ‘cry like a madeleine’.

Etre con comme la lune

The French won’t call someone ‘stupid’, but they’ll say they are ‘as dumb as the moon’.

Avoir les portugaises ensablées

The French don’t say that someone is ‘hard of hearing’ – they say that ‘their Portuguese are filled with sand’.

Parler français comme un vache espagnole

A French person won’t tell you that you speak ‘broken French’ but they’ll say you speak French ‘like a Spanish cow’.

Je ne suis pas né(e) de la dernière pluie

A French person won’t defend themselves by saying ‘I’m not stupid’ – they’ll say, “I was not born during the last rain fall.”

S’en aller en eau de boudin

The French don’t say that something is ‘fizzling out’, they say, “It’s turning into blood sausage water.”

Avoir le cul bordé de nouilles

When the French are not ‘very lucky’, their ass is ‘lined with noodles’.

Passer un savon à quelqu’un

The French don’t ‘reprimand someone’, they ‘soap them up’.

Jeter l’éponge

The French don’t ‘give up’, instead they ‘throw away the sponge’.

Reprinted with permission of Matador Network.

Angry French expressions

In place of insulting someone’s mother, instead get grandma involved when getting mad in French. Tell them how you really feel with these cutting expressions:

Go and cook yourself an egg (we’d like you to get lost – but we don’t want you to starve)

Va te faire cuire un œuf

Do I ask you if your grandma bikes? (Mind your own damn business).

Est-ce que je te demande si ta grand-mère fait du vélo?

It makes my leg look so pretty

Ça me fait une belle jambe

If your words had the power to get rid of my cellulite, I’d care what you’re talking about.

I care about it like I care about my very first shirt

Je m’en fous comme de ma première chemise

That’s what you dare not say when your in-laws ask if you would like to see our holiday slides?

I’m getting swollen by this (halfway into the slide show).

Ça me gonfle

Is my ass made of chicken?

Et mon cul, c’est du poulet?

Do not answer this question. Bow your head in forgiveness for the lies you told or run very fast.

I’m going to ring their bells (you’ll be yelled at so hard that all you’ll hear is a heavy ringing in your ears)

Je vais lui sonner les cloches

Don’t push grandma in stinging nettle (you’re going way too far).

Faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties

It’s hanging at the tip of your nose (watch out because someone is about to slap you).

Ça te pend au bout du nez

Mustard is coming up my nose! (When someone is upset, imagine their face is gradually turning red as the mustard rises).

La moutarde me monte au nez