French idioms and their meanings

Learning a new language opens up a world of cultural nuances and intricacies that are often encapsulated in idiomatic expressions. French idioms, in particular, can add a flair of sophistication to your conversation and help you sound more like a native speaker. Here are some French idioms and their meanings that will enrich your language skills:

Poser un lapin
This idiom translates to “to put down a rabbit,” but its actual meaning is “to stand someone up.” It’s used when someone does not show up to a meeting or a date without giving prior notice.

Il devait me rejoindre au café mais il m’a posé un lapin.

Casser les pieds à quelqu’un
Literally translating to “to break someone’s feet,” this phrase means “to annoy or bother someone.” It’s associated with the feeling of being irritated or fed up with someone’s actions.

Arrête de faire du bruit, tu me casses les pieds !

Avoir le cafard
Directly translating to “to have the cockroach,” this idiom has nothing to do with pests. Instead, it means “to feel down or to be depressed.”

Depuis qu’il est seul, il a le cafard.

Coûter les yeux de la tête
This means “to cost an arm and a leg” in English, signaling something extremely expensive. The idiom suggests that something is so costly it could cost you your eyes—quite a valuable part of yourself.

Cette robe est magnifique, mais elle coûte les yeux de la tête.

Tomber dans les pommes
Although it might sound like someone fell into an apple basket, “to fall in the apples” means “to faint or to pass out.”

Il faisait tellement chaud dans la salle qu’elle est tombée dans les pommes.

Mettre son grain de sel
To “put in one’s grain of salt” implies “to give an unsolicited opinion,” often in a conversation where one’s input isn’t necessarily needed or wanted.

Je pourrais réussir si tu ne mettais pas toujours ton grain de sel.

Ça ne casse pas trois pattes à un canard
A literal translation is “it doesn’t break three legs of a duck,” which whimsically means “it’s nothing to write home about” or “it’s not that impressive.”

Son nouveau film, ça ne casse pas trois pattes à un canard.

Se mettre sur son 31
The phrase means “to dress very elegantly or to dress up,” likened to how one might dress for a special occasion. The number 31 doesn’t have a specific significance; it just indicates putting in extra effort.

Pour l’anniversaire de Marie, tout le monde s’est mis sur son 31.

Vendre la mèche
Translating to “to sell the wick,” what it actually means is “to spill the beans” or “to reveal a secret.”

Je ne peux rien te dire, sinon je risquerais de vendre la mèche.

Avoir un chat dans la gorge
“To have a cat in one’s throat” strangely equates to the English idiom “to have a frog in one’s throat.” It signifies having difficulty speaking due to a sore or itchy throat.

Pardonne-moi, j’ai un chat dans la gorge ce matin.

These idioms can help you deepen your understanding of French language and culture. Practicing them will not only improve your fluency but also show your appreciation for the nuances of French expressions, making your conversations more colorful and authentic.

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