Using French idioms and expressions can be a great way to improve your language skills and impress French friends and colleagues.
There are many French expressions which have similar equivalents in English, although usually the direct translations differ significantly.
We have rounded up five French expressions and their equivalents in English for you to test out.
French expression: Appeler un chat un chat
Literal translation: to call a cat a cat
English equivalent: to call a spade a spade
Appeler un chat un chat is the French equivalent to the English phrase, to call a spade a spade
It means to speak frankly, whether it is positive or negative.
The phrase has been employed by many famous writers, including Jean Paul Sartre in his 1948 work, Qu’est-ce que la littérature?, when he wrote: “La fonction d’un écrivain est d’appeler un chat un chat. Si les mots sont malades, c’est à nous de les guérir.” (The function of a writer is to call a spade a spade. If the words are bad, it’s up to us to sort them.)
French expression: Après la pluie, le beau temps
Literal translation: after the rain, the good weather
English equivalent: after the storm comes a rainbow or every cloud has a silver lining
Après la pluie, le beau temps is the French equivalent of the English expression, after the storm comes the rainbow, or every cloud has a silver lining.
It means that good things come after something bad has happened.
The phrase is linked to the fact that when a storm clears the sun usually returns.
French expression: Aux grands maux les grands remèdes
Literal translation: to the great evils great remedies
English equivalent: desperate times call for desperate measures
Aux grands maux les grands remèdes is the French equivalent to the English phrase, desperate times call for desperate measures.
The saying is an old French proverb and means you must take drastic actions in times of crisis to manage the situation.
You will often see the phrase used by the French press during times of crisis in the country, for example during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
French expression: être au bout du rouleau
Literal translation: to be at the end of the scroll
English equivalent: to be burnt out
Être au bout du rouleau is the French equivalent to the English expression, to be burnt out.
It’s used to describe when you are lacking enthusiasm or energy.
You may see it shortened to “bdr” in texts.
The origins of the expression comes from the 19th century, when banks would use rolls of paper to gather together coins, and being “au bout du rouleau” meant being out of money.
As a result, the expression can also mean being burnt out financially.
French expression: vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre
Literal translation: to want the butter and the butter money
English equivalent: to want to have your cake and eat it
Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre is the French equivalent of the English expression to want to have your cake and eat it.
It is thought to date back to the days when farm workers would make and sell butter, and the idea that it was not appropriate to make the butter, sell it to someone and take the money, all while keeping the product for yourself too.
In French, you will notice that beurre is often used in financial expressions.
This is because in old fashioned slang, beurre used to mean money.