Here is a list of 10 French idiomatic expressions that you will probably hear most frequently while in France. The list is rather subjective, as I did not base myself on any official document proving the frequency (Does such such thing exist ?). The only explanation I have is that to my mind these idiomatic expressions are used more often than others. Of course, there are others but I thought these might be the most useful ones for the beginning and intermediate learners of French. Thus, upon your arrival to France you won't be surprised to hear what may at first appear as some strange sounding expressions you have no idea about their meaning.
"Why learn French idioms ?"
You may ask. If you want to get over the "speaking the very basic French" level, you need to get to know some idiomatic expressions. And this is true for any language. That's just the way people like to express ideas. Idioms make the language more vivid, more colorful and more expressive.It's one of the things that shows that you know the language well.
You may also check this website about The French Idioms (origin, explanations, translation).
The List of the 10 Popular Everyday French Idioms:
Prendre quelque chose au pied de la lettre: It is used to describe somebody who believes too seriously in everything he/she hears. Eg. On entend souvent dire que tous les parisiens sont grincheux mais il ne faut pas le prendre au pied de la lettre. C'est juste un cliché.
Il n'y a pas un chat: used to say that there are very few or no people in a particular place. There isn't a soul. Eg.Cet endroit est complètement désert ! Il n'y a pas un chat !
Il pleut des cordes: when it rains a lot and hard. It's raining cats and dogs. Eg. Tu as vu le temps qu'il fait dehors ? Il pleut des cordes ! Hors de question que je sorte !
Il n'y a pas le feu au lac / y'a pas le feu: when you are not in a hurry. There is no panic. Eg. Attends ! Pourquoi t'es si pressé ? Il n'y a pas le feu au lac !
Fumer comme un pompier: to smoke a lot of cigarettes. To smoke like a chimney. / To be a chain smoker. Eg. Ca pue la cloppe chez ton voisin ! C'est parce qu'il fume comme un pompier !
Maigre comme un clou: speaking about someone really thin, a skinny person. Thin as a rake. Eg. Il est maigre comme un clou ! Il ne doit pas peser plus de 50 kilos tout habillé !
Etre au taquet: when you are fully engaged in some activity. To be going flat out / to be going full throttle. Eg. Regarde le ! Il est complètement absorbé par son travail. Ouais, il est vraiment au taquet.
Etre nickel (chrome): when something is neatly / very well done. To be spotless. Eg.(En parlant de nettoyage d'une voiture par exemple) Vous avez fait du bon travail. C'est vraiment nickel ! / C'est nickel chrome !
En avoir marre: to have had enough of something. To be fed up with something. Eg. J'en ai marre de ton comportement stupide ! Je me casse d'ici !
S'en moquer / ficher / foutre: to be completely uninterested or indifferent to something / somebody. Not to give a damn / toss about something. Eg. Tu es au courant que fumer tue ? Oui, me je m'en fous !
It this lesson you will learn or consolidate, if you have gone through the 1st and 2nd part of my French Lessons for Beginners, the conjugation and use of the two most important verbs in the French language: Etre and Avoir.
1. French Verbs: Etre / Avoir
Here are some of the advantages of learning etre (to be) and avoir (to have) from the beginning.
They are two the most important verbs in almost any language, but they are particularly useful in learning Romance Languages
Thanks to them you will be able to express all the basic things concerning yourself
Etre and avoir are essential in constructing most of the grammatical structures of the French language (past, future, conditional, perfect, subjunctive)
Two irregular verbs, which means theyconjugate differently from other verbs
In both verbs, the second ( tu ) and the third( il/elle ) person singular are pronounced in the same way (although they are written in a different way)
Even if you have learned a substantial amount of the French language, once you are in the country you might feel overwhelmed by the way the people speak. One of the reasons will certainly be some of the French expressions that you won’t see in a French language course book. Here you will learn some of the common expressions of the spoken French.
13 Everyday French Expressions
Here is a list of the most common everyday French expressions that you will come across while in France. You will notice them easily as the people will be using them all the time. They are the words and expressions that each French person is using tens if not hundreds of times each day. The list is in no way exhaustive, but it will certainly make the everyday French a bit easier to understand. If you use them correctly, they will also make you sound more native like.
The List (with examples) :
Ouais … : a colloquial way of saying “oui”, or showing that you agree with someone.
Eg. A: “Tu viens ?” Are you coming ?
B: “Ouais, j’arrive…” Yeah, I’m coming
Vas-y ! / Allez-y ! : It means “go on!”, “come on”, or “do it!”. Don’t forget that “vas-y! ” is informal (used between friends and young people) and “allez-y” is formal (adults, people you don’t know, especially older than you people).
Eg. A: “Je n’ai pas encore acheté de billet.”I haven’t bought the ticket yet.
B: “Qu’est-ce que tu attends ? Vas-y !”What are you waiting for ? Go ahead ! (Do it) !
Eg. Formal situation. You want to let someone go in front of you, in a queue for example: “Allez-y (Madame / Monsieur). Vous pouvez passez devant.” Please, Madame, you can go ahead of me.
Je sais pas / Chais pas ! : Literally it means “I don’t know”. In the spoken French you won’t here the “ne” word normally added in negative sentences in writing. In spoken French, especially when spoken rapidly, it will sound more like “chais pas” (also written “ché pas”) than “je sais pas”. Interestingly, it doesn’t work in the affirmative way. You just cannot say “chais / ché” for “Je sais” (I know).
Eg. A: “Qu’est-ce qu’on fait ce soir ?”What are the plans for this evening ? (What are we doing this evening ?).
Je suis / J’suis / Chui: The same principle as in the previous example. In spoken French the “to be” verb in “I am” sounds more like “chouis” than “Je suis” when said rapidly. You will rarely hear the French pronounce all the words from for example “Je suis chez moi” (I’m at my home).
Eg. A: (Au téléphone) “T’es où là ?” Where are you ?
B: “Chui chez moi !” I’m at my place.
Oh là là: Used to express stupefaction. You will hear it a lot.
Eg. Your friend injured him/herself. You may ask: “Oh là là! Qu’est-ce qui t’est arrivé ?! “.Oh my ! What happened to you ?!“
Laisse tomber ! The infinitive form: laisser tomber. To let something go, to drop to, to forget it. Literally “to leave / let (something) fall”
Eg. A: “Je vais l’attendre encore un peu.”I will wait for him (a bit).
B: “Laisse tomber. Il ne viendra pas !”Forget it! He will never come !
Je m’en fous / M’en fous / On s’en fout: It is very informal way of saying “I don’t care”, or simply “I don’t give a damn / shit about … .”. It has a formal equivalent “Je m’en fiche” but you won’t hear it as often as the informal version.
Eg. A: “Tu étais au courant que fumer tue ?”Did you know that smoking kills ?
B: “Oui, mais je m’en fous.”Yes, but I don’t give a damn.
Putain ! The ultimate swear word in the French language. It basically is a pejorative term for a prostitute but it is used in the same context as the English word “f**k”. Nowadays, you can even hear it on tv sometimes. It is also interchangeable with the word “merde” which mean “shit” (literally).
Eg. When you are really irritated: “Putain ! Où est-ce que j’ai mis mes clés ?!”F**k, where did I put my keys ?
C’est bon ! : Literally it mean “It is good.”However, in the spoken language it is more used in the context of “That’s ok / Okay / All right.” You can also used it to express irritation.
Eg. A: “Tu as fini ?”Have you finished ?
B: “Oui, c’est bon. On y va!”Yes, I have (it’s good to go). Let’s go.
On y va ! As seen in the previous example, it means “Let’s go! ” (Literally: “we there go!”)
Eg. Before going out. A man to a woman: “Tu es prête? Si oui, alors on y va !”. You’re ready ? If so, then let’s go !
En fait : Actually / In fact. Many people use it and some overuse it.
Eg. A: “Tu as fait ce que je t’ai demandé ?”Did you do what I asked ?
B: “En fait, je n’ai pas pu. J’ai eu un empêchement.”Actually, I didn’t (I couldn’t). Something came up.
T’inquiète pas. Don’t worry / Never mind / That’s ok. Normally, it should be “ne t’inquiète pas” but in the spoken French the “ne” is frequently thrown out.
Eg. A: “Excuse-moi, j’ai oublié de te rendre ton livre.”I’m sorry (lit. pardon me), I’ve forgotten to take your book.
B: “T’inquiète pas. Tu me le rendras la prochaine fois. “Don’t worry. You will give it back the next time.
C’est clair! : Of course ! / you bet !
Eg. A: “Il aurait pu au moins me prévenir qu’il ne serait pas là !”He should at least have let me know that he wouldn’t come (be here) !”
B: “Oui, c’est clair!.” Of course ! (that he should have).
Please include in the comments which words you think you have heard most often or you think the French people are using most frequently. Merci !
You may have heard about How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language 1 Hourarticle by Tim Ferriss. Here is a quick overview of his approach and how it applies to the French language. You can also test yourself in deconstructing the French grammar at the end of the article.
French Grammar Deconstructed
So if you are interested in deconstructing the French language Tim Ferriss’ way, you may dig right into it.
French Language Deconstruction (Tim Ferriss Way) of the French Language Grammar.
The first 6 basic sentences from the Ferriss’ blog
1. The apple is red.
1. La pomme est rouge.
2. It is John’s apple.
2. C’est la pomme de Jean.
3. I give John the apple.
3. Je donne la pomme à Jean.
4. We give him the apple.
4. Nous la lui donnons.
5. He gives it to John.
5. Il la donne à Jean.
6. She gives it to him.
6. Elle la lui donne.
Additional Sentences from this video, where he actually decided to extend his range of grammatical structures to cover.
7. Is the apple red ?
7. La pomme, est-elle rouge ? (Est la pomme rouge ?) *
8. The apples are red.
8. Les pommes sont rouges.
9. I must give it to him !
9. Je dois la lui donner !
/ Il faut que je la lui donne ! **
10. I want to give it to her !
10. Je veux la lui donner.
11. I’m going to know tomorrow.
11. Je le saurai demain.
12. I can’t eat the apple.
12. Je ne peux pas manger la pomme.
* Even though it is highly unlikely to hear this kind of sentence in France (it is more probable to encounter something like La pomme, est-elle rouge ? or Est-ce que la pomme est rouge ?) the subject / verb inversion to create a question is correct but rather formal and rarely used in speech.
** When it comes to expressing obligation in French, it is more common to use the il faut que structure. Eg. Il faut que je la lui donne !
Learn any language by deconstructing it, that is by stripping the language you want to learn to (almost) its bare bones and finding all the positive and negative for you aspects that you can turn into your advantage.
The good thing about this approach is that it gives you a rather global view of the basic grammaticalstructure of the language to learn. You get the impression of grasping the language, and thus the quantity of grammar to acquire less daunting. Its strength lies, in my opinion, in outlining thecore of a particular grammar and thus the language itself. It is much easier to go further into details later on as opposed to trying to grasp every detail from the very beginning and quickly run out of your steam, a very common pitfall for all foreign language learners.
The concept itself is nothing new in the way it approaches the understanding of the mechanics of any given concept. Let’s take learning any computerprogramming language for example: the most general teaching method consists of explaining the basic concepts (variable declaration, managing strings and numbers, control flow, lists or arrays, etc) which are common to all of the programming languages but which structure may be expressed differently in each of them.
Nevertheless, the idea is somewhat new in teaching a foreign language as it compresses all of the grammar of the language into the most basic but also the most relevant things that will make the learning easierfor us. We obtain an insight into what is already familiar to us, i.e. what the language(s) we know has in common with the one we want to acquire and what differentiates it from our native tongue(s).
As far as the usefulness of the French language deconstruction is concerned, I’m leaving it to your own judgement. I can only hope you will find it useful.
Please, tell what you thinkabout this French language deconstruction in the comments section.
Thank you !
PS: Don't confuse this article with the deconstruction, a philosophical and literary notion coined by Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher.
The French R makes you sound French and the only way to master it is through pronunciation practice.
The rrrrr sound is a distinctive sound of the French language. It gives satisfaction to those who can pronounce it effortlessly and nightmares to those who can’t.
I can say so because I have been through it.
Even if your speach is fluent, that is you understand and you speak without efforts, there might still be some slight differences in the way you pronounce certain French sounds.
Normally, anyone knowing that you are a foreigner won’t point those out, but it is indispensable if you want your French to sound, well … French.
And what makes you sound French ? Of course, the French guttural rrrrrrrr…. sound.
Why the French R is Important ?
Your French nasal sounds may be awful, your stress and intonation despicable, but as long as you are able to pronounce the French “r” you can feel French. It’s just so distinctively French that nothing beats it, but that is just my opinion….
With a correct pronunciation, you will avoid some sarcastic remarks too, people are people after all, whatever the nationality I guess …
Why did I create these exercises ?
I’m not French myself, so ever sine I came to France I wanted to learn the French language and sound French too. I just couldn’t stand the spiteful remarks and the way people would look at me if I started to speak with a hard “R”, the way the people from the eastern countries often do…
I thought that if your mouth muscles produce the sounds of your native language that your brain is subconsciously telling it to do, then all you need to do is to convince your brain to do the same but for new sounds.
And how you do that ?
By repeating the specific sounds many times. That is how you develop the muscles in your mouth to produce the sounds and get your brain accustomed to hearing them and producing them.
I don’t think it’s going to become 100% subconscious as with your mother tongue, but it will significantly improve your pronunciation.
That is why it is easier for the people already living in the country where the language is spoken since they hear and produce the specific sounds (or at least something that is close to it) on everyday basis.
However, it is wrong to think that this is the sine qua non condition to an adequate pronunciation. Far from it !
How many people have you met who have been living abroad for ages and still struggle to sound more like a native ? Lots of them.
Unfortunately, there are people who have been living for decades in a foreign country and they can’t even speak the language of their new home country. But that’s a different story, since there are many factors that must be taken into account: human factor, family relations, psychology of the individual, social contact, etc.
And this is not because they are less gifted or less smart. They just don’t know how to learn and didn’t take time to work on it.
That’s why I like to think of second language acquisition as very similar to physical workout, especially nowadays when the world is going fast and you need to (and want to) learn fast.
And this is particularly true in the case of pronunciation, since your muscles are involved in the process. It’s just you won’t come across people doing these exercises at your local gym .
How to produce the French “R” sound ?
It is a sound that is produced in your throat.
What you should do is to gurgle as if you were cleaning your throat, or trying to scratch your itching pallet with the compressed air coming from your lungs.
You need to have the feeling that the back of your pallet is working slightly and your tongue should stay motionless.
It is very close to the sound of snoring on exhalation(when you breath out). You can try this out.
It is very easy to inhale the air and make the palet vibrate. It is slightly more difficult to do the same on exhalation, but this is where you will find your French “R”.
Of course, this is only an approximation ! Your gurgled “R” will sound a bit artificial and forced at the beginning.
To pronounce the French “R” correctly, you will have to practice it a bit to make it smooth.
You should notworry too much about pronouncing it correctly, as in the real speech you don’t pay that much attention to one particular sound.
That is also the secret of mastering this particular sound. Many learners of French commit the mistake, quite naturally, to push it a bit too far.
They overdo it and it makes them sound weird. This kind of behaviour is quite normal.
That’s why some of the learners give the whole thing up and either pronounce the “r” as the would in their native language (à l’américaine (the English style) ou à la russe (the Spanish style) , or they keep overdoing it. The solution lies, as usual, in between.
The types of “R”
You also need to know that the French “R” does not always sound the same way. Sometimes it is more or less audible. It may depend on such things like:
the speed of speech,
the place of the sound in relation to other syllables in the sentence,
stress that the speaker puts on that particular sound or others
or other things that I am not clever enough to enumerate …
But you don’t need to analyse all that in your speech, it is just good to know. With a bit of practice you will come to the same conclusion.
You might hear some of the French People make a trilling “R” with their uvula (like the one you can hear in the songs of Charles Aznavour or George Brassens).
This is not the reference however and most ofthe French people don’t speak like that.
How to practice the French “R” ?
In order to have an impeccable French “R” pronunciation, you must speak French and listen to a lot of French all the time ! Yeah, right….
That would take ages and would cost you a lot of frustration along the way !
In order to improve a particular aspect of something, you need to make a conscious and concentrated effort over a given period of timeto accelerate its improvement.
In our case, you need to focus on that particular aspect of the French pronunciation (that is the French R sound), exhaust your muscles (yes, your mouth and throat have muscles too !), by repeating the sound in exercises, exaggerating it even, and then smooth it out in speech.
Do you remember that gurgling and snoring I told you about ? You take it and you repeat it continuously with all of the French vowel sounds (a, e, i, o, u). You start slowly.
With some practice you can make it faster so you can produce that uvular fricative “r” sound effortlessly.
ra ra ra
re re re
ré ré ré
ri ri ri
ro ro ro
ru ru ru
With nasal vowels as with an, in, un, on.
In this exercise not only will you practice your French R sound but you will also practice the other distinctive French sounds, that is the nasal vowels like an[ã], in[ɛ̃], and on[õ].
an [ã] : grand, franc, ranger
in [ɛ̃] : brin, fringues, ringard
on [õ] : rond, front, gronder
Try to do that exercise whenever you have time (in a car, in the elevator, in your shower, etc). Once a day for a minute for one week would be perfect.
The other trick is to practice with words. The ones below will really muscle your vocal apparatus. Some of them can be really hard.
They will not only make you work your French “R”, but also some other important sounds associated with o, e, é, er, an, u.
rajouter, râler, racorder
regarder, recevoir, redire
répéter, réussir, récupérer
rire, ricaner, riche
robert, robinet, romantique
rural, rustique, russe
Buy the ebook: “Master the French R Sound”
Do you want to take your French pronunciation to a higher, native like level ? Here is how !
The best advice I can give you as a conclusion is to work hard your exercises everyday for a week exaggerating the sounds while practicing them and not to worry too much about it in the actual speech.
In fact, forget it is there and that it doesn’t sound very “RRR” like the real French “r”.
If you concentrate too much on pronouncing the French “R” correctly, not only will it sound strange but it will also wear you out, make your speech less fluent and natural and you will feel quickly exhausted.
That’s right, speaking a foreign language is kind of a strain for your brain (though beneficial and giving lots of satisfaction) so you’d better take it easy concentrate of the fun part.
Should you have any suggestions concerning how to pronounce and improve the French “R”, share it with me in the comments !