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Francophonie - Expressions


Are you interested in speaking French like a native? One of the ways to master your French is to learn expressions and idioms to describe situations and talk about daily life. Here at the Alliance Française, we've got you covered if you would like to move to Belgium, Switzerland, France, or Canada. What are some of the sayings used in these countries? 


France:

In France, there are many expressions that English speakers can learn, including « poser un lapin à quelqu'un » (to stand someone up, literally "placing a rabbit") or « se casser la tête » (to worry a lot about something, literally "breaking the head"). Along with these sayings, there are also expressions that are faux amis, or false friends similar to those in English. Here are a few that you can learn quickly:

French expression and meaning

Literal translation

The English equivalent

Quand les poules auront des dents (jamais)

When chickens have teeth.

When pigs fly. (never)

La cinquième roue du carrosse. (quelqu'un de trop)

The fifth wheel of the carriage.

The third wheel. (the odd one out)

Avoir un chat dans la gorge. (être enroué)

Having a cat in your throat.

Having a frog in your throat. (feeling hoarse)



Belgium: 

Belgian French has a variety of unique expressions only used in their country mixed in with Flemish. They are also known to be less direct than the French. If you only know standard French and travel to Belgium, you will avoid any misunderstandings by keeping these sayings in mind!

Belgian expression

French equivalent

English translation

Ça te goûte ?

Ça te plaît ?

Do you like it? (Literally "Do you taste it?)

Je ne sais pas.

Je ne peux pas.

I can't. (Literally "I don't know.")

Non, peut-être. 

Oui, peut-être. 

Oui.

Non.

Yes and no (Similar to "No, yeah." and "Yeah, no." in American English)

Switzerland: 

Swiss French is similar to that of their neighbors, but they also have a variety of expressions using Swiss German words that are often used at the Franco-Swiss border. Here are a few expressions differing from standard French you can use to sound like a local.

Swiss expression

French equivalent

English translation

Je peux prendre un schlouck de ta boisson ?

Je peux prendre une gorgée de ta boisson ?

Can I take a sip of your drink? (« schlouck » comes from the German word "Schluck", which means gulp)

Faire un clopet

Faire une sieste

To take a nap. (This expression is also used in the Savoie region of France.)


Il n'y a pas le feu au lac.

Il n'y a pas d'urgence.

There's no hurry. (Literal translation: "The lake isn't on fire.")

Canada: 

The French spoken in Canada is dominated by Quebec French but there are also French speaking populations in areas such as New Brunswick and Newfoundland. Here are a few expressions used in the country.

Canadian expression

French equivalent

English translation

Être aux petits oiseaux

Être aux anges

To be over the moon (The literal translation in Quebec French is "to be with the little birds" and the French expression is "to be with the angels") 

La cerise sur le sundae.

La cerise sur le gâteau.

The cherry on the cake. (When the French use the English equivalent, the Quebecois are more likely to say "the cherry on the sundae.")

J'espère
un enfant.

Je suis enceinte.

This Acadian French expression used in New Brunswick means "I'm pregnant" and literally translates to "I hope for a child."


If you would like to learn more expressions, TV5Monde has a collection of expressions and illustrations showcasing popular metaphors used all around the Francophone world. The website expressio.fr is also a great place to look up the meaning of French idioms and their translations in English. You can add a splash of color to your French by slipping in one of these idioms during your next conversation.


 






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