Learning Something New: French Idioms

In my tutoring sessions with L, we’ve been covering all kinds and colors of topics: lots of listening comprehension (the main thing I struggle with), asking intentional questions, talking about various subjects, working on pronunciation, and last but not least, learning about French idioms.

In English, I use idioms all the time, more so than I realized before arriving in France. Until I got here, I didn’t realize how few French idioms I knew (ie, maybe one out of hundreds). If you are someone like me who wants to sound as authentically French as possible, learning and using idioms is a good way to get there! Moreover, learning some of the most popular idioms will help with your listening comprehension as well.

I thought it would be fun to share some of the most interesting/useful/fun idioms that I have learned over the past few weeks. I hope you enjoy!

Avoir la pêche/banane/patate
Literal meaning: to have the peach/banana/potato
Idiomatic meaning: to feel great/to feel happy/to be in high spirits
In a sentence (FR): J’ai la banane parce qu’il ne pleut pas aujourd’hui.
In a sentence (EN): I feel happy because it is not raining today.

This is one of my favorite idioms for the sheer reason that I think the literal translation is so peculiar. While I don’t often hear other people using this phrase, it is one that I really like to use 🙂

Boire un coup
Literal meaning: to drink a shock
Idiomatic meaning: to have a drink with friends
In a sentence (FR): Qu’est-ce que vous voulez faire ce soir? On peut aller boire un coup si vous voulez.
In a sentence (EN): What do you want to do tonight? We can go have a drink if you want.

I hear this one all the time and it’s a good one to know. However, make sure you are careful on the way you pronounce “coup”: you should pronounce the word with a /ku/ sound (like you are saying “coucou”) and not with the /ky/ sound (like you are saying “culpabilité). Don’t be like me and pronounce it with the /ky/ sound unless you want illicit laughter from your French friends because you’d be saying “to drink an ass” instead of “to have a drink”.

Être en train de
Literal meaning: to be in the action of
Idiomatic meaning: be +ing
In a sentence (FR):  Je suis en train de regarder un film avec mes amis.
In a sentence (EN): I am watching a movie with my friends

While this is not technically an idiom, it’s still an extremely useful phrase to use and know…it is one that I hear frequently! While I am sure that I did learn this sometime over the course of my eight years of French classes, it’s definitely not a phrase I put into my toolbox until now.

Prendre la tête
Literal meaning: to take the head.
Idiomatic meaning: to bother someone, to give yourself a headache, to drive you crazy
In a sentence (FR): Tu me prends la tête quand tu fait beaucoup de bruit.
In a sentence (EN): You bother me when you make a lot of noise.

This is one of those phrases that I say all the time in English where I figured the literal translation (“tu me conduis fou” for “you drive me crazy”) would suffice, but alas, it does not. Yay for learning new things!

Quelque chose qui cloche
Literal meaning: something wrong
Idiomatic meaning: to not add up, to not be right
In a sentence (FR): Le four ne marche pas, il y a quelque chose qui cloche avec le gaz.
In a sentence (EN): The oven is not working, there is something wrong with the gas.

Another way you can use this phrase is as a question: “Quelque chose cloche?” (meaning: what’s wrong?”)

Ah la vache
Literal meaning: to the cow
Idiomatic meaning: holy cow
In a sentence (FR): Oh la vache, l’orage est fou!
In a sentence (EN): Holy cow, the storm is crazy!

As someone who will just say “holy cow” and then continue speaking in French, I am happy I learned this phrase for the sheer purpose of having language continuity in my sentences.

Tenir au courant
Literal meaning: to hold to the current
Idiomatic meaning: to keep up to date, to keep posted
In a sentence (FR): Je n’ai pas reçu un SMS avec des détails pour la fête ce soir, mais je te tiens au courant.
In a sentence (EN): I have not received a text with the details about the party with evening, but I will keep you posted.

This is one of those phrases that makes me feel cool when I understand it and super hip and authentic on the occasions that I use it.

Ça marche
Literal meaning: it works/walks
Idiomatic meaning: alright, okay
In a sentence (FR): Si vous voulez, nous pouvons de rencontre en face de l’église à 9h30 pour aller au marché? Ça marche!
In a sentence (EN): If you want, we can meet in front of the church at 9:30am to go to the market? That works!

This is hands down the most useful phrase I’ve learned since arriving. The first few days I was at the lycée, I kept hearing this phrase and thinking, “What do you mean, it walks?? That makes zero sense”. Thankfully, I have been enlightened to this idiomatic expression and use it on the daily.

There we have it–a brief overview of some of my favorite French idioms. I’m hoping to continue this series over the upcoming months as I continue to develop my French language skills. I hope you enjoyed and check back next week for more!

Until next time,


2 Thoughts

  1. I absolutely love this!!!!!!! It is so true that the idioms often note the difference between those who read French or speak with FSL people – but you are “in like flint.” (Now try to share that with a French speaking person! Miss you

    In Christ, Bp. Keith L. Ackerman, SSC

    “Ego Autem In Medio Vestrum Sum Sicut Qui Ministrat”

    See our websites: http://Www.sttimothyacc.com http://www.theparishpress.com http://www.bishopkeithackerman.com http://www.fifna.org

    “Christ has no body but yours; no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which His Compassion looks out upon the world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do Good. Yours are the hands with which he Blesses all the world.” St. Teresa of Avila


    Liked by 1 person

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