A dozen French idioms to improve your language skills

Put your verb tables to one side and enrich your French with some idiomatic expressions

Idioms are commonplace in everyday French language
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French is full of interesting idioms, which, once you know and understand, can take your language skills to the next level.

An idiom is a non-literal phrase or expression whose meaning you would not be able to easily deduce purely by reading the individual words.

We use them often in English, a classic example being “break a leg” which is used to say “good luck” instead of the nastier, literal meaning.

Here are some French idioms to get you started.

1. S’occuper de ses oignons
Literal translation: Look after your onions.
Idiomatic meaning: Mind your own business!

2. Avoir les chevilles qui enflent
Literal translation: To have swollen ankles.
Idiomatic meaning: To be big-headed.

3. Avoir le melon
Literal translation: To have the melon.
Idiomatic meaning: To be big-headed.

Read also: Five French words that we use in English…and vice versa

4. Ne pas casser trois pattes à un canard
Literal translation: To not break three legs on a duck.
Idiomatic meaning: It is nothing special (Like the English expression “it is nothing to write home about).

5. Tire à balle reélle
Literal translation: To shoot real ammunition.
Idiomatic meaning: The English equivalent to “shots fired” - when someone says something critical to you.

6. Pointer le bout de son nez
Literal translation: To point to the end of his/her nose.
Idiomatic meaning: To show up.

7. Ca coute un bras
Literal translation: It costs an arm.
Idiomatic meaning: It is really expensive (like the English expression “it costs an arm and a leg”).

8. Avoir la gueule de bois
Literal translation: To have a mouth of wood.
Idiomatic meaning: To have a hangover.

Read also: Measure your French fluency against these five language milestones

9. Couper les cheveux en quatre
Literal translation: To cut the hairs into four.
Idiomatic meaning: To be pedantic or meticulous (like the English expression “splitting hairs”).

10. Faire la grasse matinée
Literal translation: To make a fat morning.
Idiomatic meaning: To have a lie-in.

11. Avoir un chat dans la gorge
Literal translation: To have a cat in your throat.
Idiomatic meaning: To have a sore throat or croaky voice (like the English expression “to have a frog in your throat”).

12. Une bouchée de pain
Literal translation: A mouthful of bread.
Idiomatic meaning: For low-cost/cheap.

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