10 Very Popular Everyday French Idioms

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:

  1.  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.
  2. 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 !
  3. 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 ! 
  4. 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 !
  5. 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

    fumée-pompier
    In the past the firefighters used to soak their clothes with water so they wouldn’t set ablaze while fighting the flames. The water turned to steam and made their clothes “give off fumes”.
  6.  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 ! 
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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 !
  10. 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

French Conjugation of Etre and Avoir

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 begging. 

  • 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 they conjugate 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)

Continue reading “French Conjugation of Etre and Avoir”

Lesson 12: In the Louvre Museum

mona-lisa-louvre-museum

In this lesson you will discover the Louvre Museum of Paris, the most visited museum in the world ! You will learn the French vocabulary and structures that will allow you to make the most of your visit in Louvre and your stay in Paris: how to buy tickets and ask for specific information. You will see how to use the French conditional sentences to sound more polite and how to express that you have only small quantity of something.  Enjoy !  

1. Dialogue: Au musée du Louvre

Le musée du Louvre est le musée le plus visité au monde. Vous êtes à Paris et vous décidez d’aller le visiter. Malheureusement, vous n’avez qu’une demi-journée à consacrer à votre visite.

Au guichet (at the counter) :

Madame: Bonjour, je voudrais deux entrées s’il-vous-plaît.  

Caissier : Deux billets adultes ? 30 euros s’il-vous-plaît.

Monsieur: Est-ce que vous auriez un guide ? Nous ne savons pas par où commencer

Caissier: Bien sûr. Pour vous repérer dans le musée vous avez des plans sur le comptoir à gauche. Ils sont gratuits.

Le mieux c’est de prendre en location un audio-guide. Cela ne coûte que 6 euros et il contient les commentaires concernant toutes les œuvres du musée..  

Monsieur: Par contre nous n’avons pas beaucoup de temps. Auriez-vous un plan avec les œuvres les plus intéressantes ?

Caissier: Bien entendu Monsieur. Il s’appelle “Les incontournables”. Dedans, vous avez les plus grands chefs-d'oeuvre que le Louvre vous présente. Le voici.

Monsieur: C’est parfait ! Merci beaucoup.

Caissier: A votre service monsieur, dames. Bonne journée et bonne visite !

Monsieur: Merci ! Bonne journée à vous.

Caissier: Au revoir.

Madame: Au revoir !   

2. Notes

Dialogue Vocabulary

French English
(le) monde world. / au monde (a + le = au) : in the world
consacrer to give time to / to devote time to
un guichet counter / desk / ticket office
une entrée entrance ticket
un billet a ticket / a pass / also a banknote (Eg. un billet de 5 euros)
commencer to start / to begin
se repérer: to locate / to get your bearings / to find your way
un comptoir: counter / bar
à gauche / à droite on the left / on the right
le mieux the best
location / prendre en location to rent
oeuvre(s): work (of art)
par contre however / on the other hand
intéressat(e) Interesting / attractive
un chef-d’œuvre: a masterpiece / crowning achievement
bien entendu of course / naturally
les incontournables: indispensable / that cannot be avoided
dedans Inside

Additional Vocabulary

French English
   
L’art et les œuvres d’art Art and the Works of Art
une exposition / une expo an exhibition
une collection a collection
un tableau a painting
une peinture a painting
une peinture à l’huile an oil painting
une aquarelle a watercolor
un portrait a portrait
peindre to paint
un peintre a painter
une sculpture a sculpture
un sculpteur a sculptor
sculpter to sculpt

Grammar

  1. Conditional French :

In general, the conditional structure is used to make a hypothesis about something. It is characterized by the use of the word “if” (si in French) and "would" in the English language and the root of verb in the future tense (eg. the verb "aller" (to go).

The root of the "aller" verb in the future tense is ir. Eg. Demain, j'irai à la plage. (Tomorrow, I will go to the beach.) + the suffix of the French imperfect tense ( –ais, –ais, –ait, –ions, –iez, –aient). The first three endings of the singular pronouns are pronounced exactly the same     

Eg.

  1. If had more money, I would travel around the world.

Si j’avais plus d’argent, je voyagerais autour du monde.

  1. If I were you, I wouldn’t do it.

Si j’étais toi, je ne le ferais pas.

 

But conditional can also be used to ask politely for something or to give an advice or suggest something.

Eg.

Auriez-vous un guide ? is a polite way of saying:  

Do you have a guide ? or Do you happen to have a guide ?

It is more polite than saying:

Avez-vous un guide ?

or

Vous avez un guide ? (no inversion in question)

 Even though both of these sentences are correct and polite (using the “vous” form, or “vouvoiement”) 

 

The pronunciation can be daunting at the beginning but if you master the conditionals it will mean you have come a long way in learning the French language. Don’t worry if you make mistakes with conditionals. The French people make them to (as well as in subjunctive case)

Other Examples:

I would like a ticket.

Je voudrais un billet.

I would like to know what you think about it.

J’aimerais avoir ton avis sur le sujet.

B. Ne + verb + que

A very frequent way of expressing small quantity of something, it is translated in English with the word “only”

Consider this example:

This book is expensive. It costs 30 euros.

Ce livre est cher. Il coûte 30 euros.

The other book isn’t expensive. It only costs 3 euros.

L’autre livre n’est pas cher. Il ne coûte que 3 euros.

3. Exercises

Input Explanation

Type in the French translation of the sentence in English. If you are stuck or need a suggestion, look closely into the dialogue above. Some detail might have escaped your attention.


  The punctuation marks have already been added there for you. Don't add the punctuation mark ( " . ", " ? ", " ! ") at the end of the sentence as it won't validate your answer ! Sometimes you may be asked to add a comma ( " , ") inside a sentence.
  For the French characters, if you don't know how to type them on your keyboard, please use the virtual keyboard provided below the exercise. The French characters are necessary for the sentences to be correctly completed. Otherwise, your sentence won't be validated.
  Please, remember: this kind of exercise, that is reading the lesson first and then trying to retrieve it from your memory and / or helping yourself by looking back into the lesson is EXTRAORDINARILY efficient. You will be surprised how fast you will learn and how quickly you will actually build your own sentences.

1. I would like to adult tickets, please.
, s'il-vous-plaît.

2. Do you happen to have a guide (book) ?
Est-ce que ?

3. It only costs 6 euros.
6 euros.

4. Do you happen to have a map with the most interesting works of art ?
?

5. The greatest masterpieces of Louvre.
de Louvre.

Everyday French Expressions Part 1

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) :

  1. Ouais … : a colloquial way of saying "oui", or showing that you agree with someone.

     

    1. Eg. A: "Tu viens ?" Are you coming ?
    2. B: "Ouais, j'arrive…" Yeah, I'm coming
  2. 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).

     

     

    1. Eg. A: "Je n'ai pas encore acheté de billet." I haven't bought the ticket yet.
    2. B: "Qu'est-ce que tu attends ? Vas-y !" What are you waiting for ? Go ahead ! (Do it) !
    3. 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. 
  3. 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).

     

     

    1. Eg. A: "Qu'est-ce qu'on fait ce soir ?" What are the plans for this evening ? (What are we doing this evening ?).
    2. B: "Ché pas ! Propose quelque chose  !" Don't know. Propose something ! 
  4. 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).

     

     

    1. Eg. A: (Au téléphone) "T'es où là ?" Where are you ?
    2. B: "Chui chez moi !" I'm at my place.
  5. Oh là là: Used to express stupefaction. You will hear it a lot.

     

     

    1. Eg. Your friend injured him/herself. You may ask: "Oh là là! Qu'est-ce qui t'es arrivé ?! ". Oh my ! What happened to you ?!"
  6. Laisse tomber ! The infinitive form: laisser tomber. To let  something go, to drop to, to forget it. Literally "to leave / let (something) fall"

     

     

    1. Eg.  A: "Je vais l'attendre encore un peu." I will wait for him (a bit).
    2. B: "Laisse tomber. Il ne viendra pas !" Forget it! He will never come !
  7. 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.

     

     

    1. Eg. A: "Tu étais au courant que fumer tue ?" Did you know that smoking kills ?
    2. B:  "Oui, mais je m'en fous." Yes, but I don't give a damn.
  8. 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).

     

     

    1. Eg.  When you are really irritated: "Putain ! Où est-ce que j'ai mis mes clés ?!" F**k, where did I put my keys ?
  9. 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.

     

     

    1. Eg. A: "Tu as fini ?" Have you finished ?
    2. B: "Oui, c'est bon. On y va!" Yes, I have (it's good to go). Let's go.
  10. On y va ! As seen in the previous example, it means "Let's go! " (Literally: "we there go!")

     

     

    1. 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 ! 
  11. En fait : Actually / In fact. Many people use it and some overuse it.

     

     

    1. Eg. A: "Tu as fait ce que je t'ai demandé ?" Did you do what I asked ?
    2. B: "En fait, je n'ai pas pu. J'ai eu un empêchement." Actually, I didn't (I couldn't). Something came up.
  12. 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.

     

     

    1. 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.
    2. B: "T'inquiète pas. Tu me le rendras la prochaine fois. " Don't worry. You will give it back the next time.
  13. C'est clair! : Of course ! / you bet !

     

     

    1. 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) !"
    2. 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 !

Exercises

 

French Grammar Deconstruction (à la Tim Ferriss)

french-language-deconstruction

You may have heard about How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language 1 Hour article 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.

English French
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 !

The Method

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 Opinion

The good thing about this approach is that it gives you a rather global view of the basic grammatical structure 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 the core 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 Conclusion

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 computer programming 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 easier for 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 think about 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.

Test Your French Grammar

Exercise 1 A (easy):

 

Exercise 1 B (easy):

 

Exercise 2 (difficult): 

 

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