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Learning a new language is no easy feat. Sometimes things are a direct translation from English to French and then it’s easy but other times, not so much. One story that comes to mind was when I was a child in Ontario and could barely speak English still. I was attending a hockey game with a friend and during the intermission I wanted some barbe à papa. So I began to start reciting all the lines I’ve been shown at school. Hi! (so far so good) I would like some… father’s beard! Ahhhh alas, foolish me. I quickly learned by the food clerk’s face that barbe à papa was not father’s beard but instead cotton candy. But how was I supposed to know that in this case it’s not a direct literal translation? Well, guess what! Today’s column will be to avoid these funny but awkward miscommunications and to help you avoid looking like a fool in front a stranger.

Idioms, or expressions as we call them in French, are not only something that we use on a daily basis (it is estimated by some that the English language as more than 25,000 of them!) but they are a great way to immerse yourself in a culture with a different language. They are an easy and fast way to convey a message but when you’re a stranger to them, it makes your life tough! Here are a list of commonly used expressions in French and their equivalence in English, you can thank me later!

French Expression

English Equivalence

L’habit ne fait pas le moine

Can’t judge a book by its cover

Coûter un bras

Cost an arm and a leg

Quand les poules auront des dents

When pigs fly

Connaitre quelque chose comme le fond de sa poche

Know something like the back of my hand

Donner un coup de main

Pitch in / Give a hand

Vendre la mèche

Let the cat out of the bag

Ce n’est pas le couteau le plus aiguisé

He is not the sharpest tool in the shed

On s’en fou

Who cares

Écoeurer de

Fed up of / sick of

Virer une brosse

Get hammered

Il me gosse

He’s a pain in the neck / He’s bugging me

Merde (avant une performance)

Break a leg!

Ne t’en fait pas

Don’t sweat it

Un mal pour un bien

A blessing in disguise

La balle est dans ton camp

Ball is in your cart

Broche à foin

Bush league

Parlant du loup / Quand on parle du loup

Speak or Speaking of the devil


Go crazy



Tourner autour du pot

Beat around the bush

Deux pierres d’un coup

Kill two birds with one stone

La goutte qui fait déborder le vase

Last straw / Straw that broke the camel’s back

Hopefully some of these help you feel more at home next time you have a conversation with either a Francophone or an Anglophone!

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