French idioms

Black and white view of Paris with Eiffel Tower on the right and purple lettering "ça va sans dire"

Tête-à-tête, vis-à-vis, noblesse oblige, rien ne va plus, ça va sans dire... These are some of the most popular French idioms used all over the world. Let’s see what do they exactly mean and how to pronounce them. Click the blue words and listen to their correct pronunciation.

Ça va sans dire

The French expression Ça va sans dire can be translated into it goes without saying, meaning that something, a concept, or a thought, are so obvious and clear, that they do not need to be explained or even stated.

C'est la vie

This French exclamation (literally in English, that’s life) is used when something unpleasant happens in your life, and you can't do anything about it. Well, you have to accept it because... that's life! C'est la vie

Comme ci comme ça

The French idiom Comme ci comme ça (literally, like this like that), means that something is not good nor bad, it is just average, mediocre.

Crème de la crème

If you translate Crème de la crème literally into English, you would say is cream of the cream, meaning that something or someone is the very best available, the best of the best.

En plein air

The expression En plein air can be literally translated into in the open air. This French expression has the same meaning as an English idiom borrowed from Italian: Al fresco. It means outdoors, on the outside.
En plein air is also the act of painting outside. The most famous En plein air artists were Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Vincent van Gogh.

Enfant prodige

An Enfant prodige is literally a child prodigy, a child particularly gifted and talented under the age of ten. The most famous Enfant prodige worldly recognized is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who started composing at the age of five.

Enfant terrible

This French expression, Enfant terrible (literally translated into English is terrible child), refers to an unruly child who, in a very candid way, says terrible things embarrassing parents and bystanders. However, this expression can also be used referring to adults who are considered genius, usually in artistic fields, and can create unique and unorthodox masterpieces, usually offensive.

Esprit de l'escalier

This idiom was created by French philosopher and writer Denis Diderot to indicate the situation when someone makes a rather unpleasant remark to you, and you do not have a quick reply: when the right replay comes to your mind, it is too late… it comes to you when you are on a ladder. Esprit de l'escalier literally translated is staircase wit.

Femme fatale

The French expression Femme fatale (literally, fatal woman) indicates a siren, a woman incredibly attractive who can be a real danger to a man.

Les jeux sont faits

Les jeux sont faits (the bets are made) is a sentence used by croupiers in the roulette games. Outside casinos, this French expression means that it is not possible to change things, time is over.

Ménage à trois

This French saying literally means love affair involving three people. It indicates a relationship in which three lovers are involved: a threesome.

Noblesse oblige

The French idiom Noblesse oblige can be literally translated into nobility obliges. It is used to express the concept that: being noble and rich requires some responsibility towards the less fortunate. High rank people, since they are so privileged, should be good role models for less lucky folks.


Pourparler is a French expression used to indicate a diplomatic consultation, a preliminary talk before an important decision. It is commonly used with the meaning of talking about, discussing.

Rien ne va plus

Rien ne va plus (literally, nothing goes any more), such as Les jeux sont faits, is a French expression used in the roulette games. The croupier says Rien ne va plus when the time to bet is over.


The French idiom Tête-à-tête (literally, head-to-head) is used to indicate a very private meeting, a very intimate encounter between two people.  

Tout court

Tout court (literally, all short) is a French idiom indicating a very short concept, explained without any futile addition, kept it very simple.


In English, Vis-à-vis means face-to-face, but in French, it can also be used to indicate across from, being opposite: a neighbour can leave vis-à-vis, and that means he leaves in front of your house. 

16 novembre 2023
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