Tag Archive | Advanced French

Idiomatic Expressions

It’s good to learn the idiomatic expressions of a language you want to learn. Not everything is translated literally, and unless you learn these expressions, you’ll be left with scratching your head. So I’ve compiled a few of these helpful expressions for your reference. 🙂

Avoir le cul bordé de nouilles.

Literal translated: To have the ass surrounded by noodles.

Idiomatic expression: To be a lucky so-and-so.

PĂ©daler dans la semoule.

Literal translation: To pedal in semolina.

Idiomatic expression: To go around in circles.

L’habit ne fait pas le moine.

Literal translation: The habit doesn’t make the monk.

Idiomatic expression: The suit doesn’t make the man.

Chanter comme une casserole.

Literal translation: Sing like a saucepan.

Idiomatic expression: Someone who can’t sing/sings flat.

Avoir le cafard.

Literal translation: To have the cockroach.

Idiomatic expression: To feel blue/feel down.

Faut pas pousser mamie dans les orties!

Literal translation: Don’t push granny into the nettles!

Idiomatic expression: Don’t push your luck!

ĂŠtre dans de beaux draps.

Literal translation: To be in beautiful sheets.

Idiomatic expression: To be in a right mess.

Noyer le poisson.

Literal translation: Drown the fish.

Idiomatic expression: Change the topic/confuse the issue.

Il pleut des cordes.

Literal translation: It’s raining ropes.

Idiomatic expression: It’s raining cats and dogs.

C’est la fin des haricots.

Literal translation: It’s the end of the beans.

Idiomatic expression: Nothing more can be done.

Il me court sur le haricot.

Literal translation: He’s running on my bean.

Idiomatic expression: He’s getting on my nerves.

Ça ne casse pas trois pattes à un canard.

Literal translation: It doesn’t break three legs of a duck.

Idiomatic expression: Nothing to write home about.

Faire une queue de poisson.

Literal translation: Make a fish tail.

Idiomatic expression: Cut someone off.

Avoir le cul entre deux chaises.

Literal translation: To have one’s ass between two chairs.

Idiomatic expression: To sit on the fence.

Revenons Ă  nos moutons.

Literal translation: Let’s come back to our sheep.

Idiomatic expression: Let’s get back to business/get back on track.

Manger les pissenlits par la racine.

Literal translation: Eat the dandelions by the root.

Idiomatic expression: Push up daisies.

Avaler des couleuvres.

Literal translation: To swallow snakes.

Idiomatic expression: To be gullible.

ĂŠtre rond comme une queue de pelle.

Literal translation: To be round as a shovel handle.

Idiomatic expression: Drunk as a skunk.

I hope everyone is having a great week! Let me know if you like posts like this, and I can make more. Also, if anyone is having difficulty understanding the idiomatic expressions in English, let me know and I’ll be happy to explain it. I know a lot of my readers come from non-English speaking countries, and English isn’t their first language.

Merci Ă  vous !



Degrees of Certainty – Impossibility, Doubt

This is the third and last in this 3 part series of French in Action. (Part 1; Part 2) Today we wrap this series up with the negative : Impossibility and Doubt.


The expressions used to denote possibility can be used in the negative to suggest impossibility.

La date nous est impossible.|The date’s impossible for us./We can’t make the date.

Mon fils a toujours tenté l’impossible.|My son’s always tried to do the impossible.

J’aimerais faire le tour du monde, mais c’est un rĂŞve irrĂ©alisable.|I’d like to travel around the world, but it’s an impossible dream.

L’accord Ă©tait vouĂ© Ă  l’Ă©chec.|The agreement was impossible/bound to fail.

Il est impossible qu‘elle soit exclue de l’Ă©quipe.|She can’t possibly be excluded from the team.

Votre démarche a rendu impossible tout compromis.|Your action has made any compromise impossible.

Il est hors de question que vous le fassiez Ă  sa place.|It’s out of the question for you to do it instead of him/her.


French possesses the verb douter, the cognate of the English verb “to doubt”. The constructions in which it is used can confuse English speakers. Note that se douter de quelque chose means “to suspect that something is the case” (as in the opposite of doubt).

On peut douter de l’authenticitĂ© de la signature.|There is reason to doubt whether the signature is authentic.

Je doute qu‘il ait eu le temps de tout faire.|I doubt if/that he had time to do everything.

Il est parti ? Je m’en doutais.|Has he left? I thought as much.

Je me doutais de ses intentions.|I suspected those were his intentions.

J’ai hĂ©sitĂ© Ă  vous rĂ©veiller.|I wasn’t sure whether I should wake you up.

Je me suis mĂ©fiĂ© de ce qu’il a dit.|I wasn’t sure whether to trust what he said.

On peut avoir des doutes sur ses capacitĂ©s.|There’s reason to doubt his abilities.

Rien n’indique qu‘il ait dĂ©cidĂ© de revenir.|There’s nothing to suggest he’s decided to come back.

Here are some adverbial and adjectival constructions to express doubt:

Il ne sera pas forcĂ©ment d’accord.|He won’t necessarily be in agreement.

Je serais difficilement convaincu.|It would be difficult to persuade me.

Ile est fort peu probable que le magasin soit ouvert dimanche.|It’s very unlikely that the shop is open on Sunday.

Il est douteux qu‘elle se reprĂ©sente aux prochaines Ă©lections.|It is doubtful whether/unlikely that she will stand again at the next election.

L’issue est incertaine.|The outcome is undecided/unsure.

Le verdict était contestable.|The verdict was debatable/open to question.

C’est une procĂ©dure tout Ă  fait alĂ©atoire.|It’s a completely random procedure./The procedure leaves everything to chance.

Have a great week, everyone!

A bientĂ´t !


Degrees of Certainty – Probability, Possibility

Continuing on from last week’s part 1 post, we’ll continue with probability and possibility.


The chance that something will happen. To convey that something is probable in a word or short phrase:

Tu assisteras au concert ? – Sans doute.|You’ll go to the concert? _ Most likely./Probably.

C’est Christine qui a tĂ©lĂ©phonĂ© ? – Probablement.|Was it Christine who called? – Probably.

Christophe fait du théâtre maintenant ? – ParaĂ®t-il.|Christophe is doing some acting now? – So it seems.

Vous allez poser le tapis vous-mĂŞme ? – En principe.|Are you going to lay the carpet yourself? – That’s the idea.

The combination of the verb pouvoir with the verb bien provides the basis for a number of expressions of probability:

Je peux bien prendre le train.|I may well take the train.

Ils pourraient bien tĂ©lĂ©phoner ce soir.|They’re likely to call this evening.

Other ways to form probability expressions:

Il est très/fort probable qu‘elle jouera le rĂ´le de la reine.|It’s very/highly likely that she’ll play the role of the queen.

Il y a de fortes chances que j’obtiendrai une bourse.|There’s a very good chance that I’ll get/obtain a grant.

Ils sont censĂ©s arriver par le train de six heures.|They’re meant to arrive on the six o’clock train.

Ils devraient vous rembourser tout de suite.|They should reimburse you immediately.


Most constructions expressing “the possibility that…” or “doubt that…” are followed by the subjunctive.

Brief responses to indicate that something is possible include:

Il est malade ? C’est possible.|Is he sick? – Possibly./Maybe.

Tu as besoin de la voiture ? – Ça se peut.|Will you need the car? – Possibly./I might.

Tu pourrais le remplacer ? – Oui, Ă©ventuellement.|Could you replace him? – Possibly.

More elaborate expressions often use the verb pouvoir:

Ils ont pu perdre leur chemin.|They may have lost their way.

Il se peut que la voiture soit tombĂ©e en panne.|It’s possible the car’s broken down.

A la limite, on pourrait croire qu‘il l’a fait exprès.|You might almost think he did it deliberately.

Possibility can also be expressed by idiomatic phrases:

Il est possible que je sois en mesure de vous aider.|It may be that I’m in a position to help you.

Nous vous soutiendrons dans la mesure du possible.|We shall support you as far as we can.

Ce que vous proposez, c’est très faisable.|What you’re suggesting is quite possible/do-able.

Tu crois que c’est un projet rĂ©alisable ?|Do you think the plan could work/is feasible?

Come back next week for the final installment of this three part topic. Have a great week, everyone!

A la prochaine…


Degrees of Certainty


Affirmative expressions of certainty and probability take the indicative – the indicative is used to express most statements and questions.

To convey certainty by a single word or a short phrase:

Il viendra demain ? – Certainement. | Will he come tomorrow? – Definitely.

On les invitera ? – Ah, oui, sĂ»rement. | Will they be invited? – Yes, of course.

Ce candidat sera Ă©lu, c’est sĂ»r. | This candidate is sure to be elected.

Fuller expressions of certainty rely mainly on adjectives or verbs. The most useful expressions based on adjectives are those with a personal subject:

Je suis sĂ»r que vous rĂ©ussirez. | I’m sure you’ll succeed.

Elle est convaincue que c’est la meilleure solution. | She’s convinced it’s the best solution.

Ils sont persuadĂ©s qu‘il y a eu une erreur. | They’re convinced there’s been a mistake.

Impersonal subjects ce and il also convey certainty:

Il n’y aura pas de session d’Ă©tĂ©. C’est formel. | There won’t be a summer session. That’s final.

Il est sĂ»r maintenant que le prĂ©sident va dĂ©missionner. | It’s now certain that the president is going to resign.

The word doute can be used in expressions to make an affirmation, but take note that sans doute means “probably”.

Il n’y aucun doute qu‘elle l’emportera la prochaine fois. | Of course she’ll win next time.

Sans aucun doute ils le payeront plus cher en Angleterre. | No doubt they’ll pay more for it in England.

Similarly to doute, certitude conveys a similar degree of affirmation:

J’ai la certitude qu‘il m’a dĂ©jĂ  posĂ© la mĂŞme question. | I’m absolutely sure he’s already asked me the same question.

Elle sait avec certitude qu‘elle sera envoyĂ©e aux Etats-Unis. | She knows that she’ll definitely be sent to the United States.

Next week there will be a part 2 to this post, and it will be on the degrees of probability and possibility. This is the first in a little series of French “in action” posts that I’ll be doing, where there will be somewhat real life situations and how to use it in speech. Not like those generic “The mouse is under the chair” type of non-useful phrases.

I am also working on a requested post one of my followers asked for, and I think I will make it a page at the top of my blog.

Have a great week, everyone!

A bientĂ´t !


The Pronoun ‘En’

We’re going to dig a bit deeper into the pronoun ‘en’ this week. I touched on the subject awhile ago.

The basic function of the French pronoun ‘en’ is to replace complements that consist of de + noun. In most cases (but not all) en can replace complements consisting of de + either an animate object or inanimate noun.

En can can replace de + any noun when de + the article is a partitive article or a plural indefinite article. En is often translated as some or any in English, but in many cases it has no English equivalent.

Vous avez des livres ? | Do you have (any) books?

Vous en avez ? | Do you have any?

Tu veux des frites ? | Do you want any fries/chips?

Tu en veux ? | Do you want any?

Elle a des cousines en Californie. | She has cousins in California.

Elle en a en Californie. | She has some in California.

Ce magasin ne cherche pas d’employĂ©es. | This shop isn’t looking for employees.

Cette magasin n’en cherche pas. | This shop is not looking for any.

En can replace both animate and inanimate nouns that follow a quantity word (most of which contain de) or a numeral.

J’ai beaucoup de travail. | I have a lot of work.

J’en ai beaucoup. | I have a lot.

Elle fait tant de voyages. | She takes so many trips.

Elle en fait tant. | She takes so many.

Nous avons résolu la plupart des problèmes. | We have solved most of the problems.

Nous en avons résolu la plupart. | We have solved most of them.

Ce prof enseigne cinq cours. | This prof teaches five classes.

Ce prof en enseigne cinq. | This prof teaches five.

When a noun following quelques is replaced by en, quelques becomes quelques-uns or quelques-unes.

Nous avons lu quelques articles. | We read some articles.

Nous en avons lu quelques-uns. | We read some.

Je peux te donner quelques fleures. | I can give you some flowers.

Je peux t’en donner quelques-unes. | I can give you some.

En also replaces inanimate nouns when de means from.

Elle est revenue de la campagne. | She came back from the country.

Elle en est revenue. | She came back (from there).

Cheers, everyone!

A la prochaine…


Moods in Hypothetical Clauses

First off, I must apologise; I meant to post this part 2 from my Conditional Mood post last week, but I somehow thought I already did. (Oups.) Anyhow, let’s continue from where we left off from two weeks ago.

All true conditional sentences follow one of three patterns:

🔵 If … happens (present)

  • …stay at home (imperative)
  • …people always stay at home (present)
  • …we’ll stay at home (future)

French uses identical tenses to the above English example:

Si + present

S’il y a une tempĂŞte, reste chez toi! | If there is a storm, stay home!

S’il y a une tempĂŞte, les citoyens de la ville restent chez eux. | If there is a storm, the town’s citizens will stay home.

S’il y a une tempĂŞte, je resterai chez moi. | If there is a storm, I will stay home.

🔵 If … happened (simple past), X would stay at home (present conditional)

Here, French uses the imperfect, not the simple past like in English, after si.

Si + imperfect … present conditional:

S’il y avait une tempĂŞte, est-ce que vous resteriez chez vous ? | If there was/were a storm, would you stay at home?

🔵 If … had happened (pluperfect), X would have stayed at home (conditional perfect)

Si + pluperfect … conditional perfect:

Si j’Ă©tais tombĂ© malade, je serais restĂ© chez moi. | If I had fallen ill, I would have stayed at home.

When si is followed by two hypothetical statements, the first should be put in the indicative (present/imperfect/pluperfect), and the second should be introduced by et que + subjunctive:

Si ce parti gagne/gagnait l’Ă©lection et qu‘il tienne ses promesses…

If this party wins/won the election and keeps/kept its promises…

There are ways of expressing hypotheses without using a conditional sentence introduced by si.

🔵 In colloquial usage, to emphasize the hypothetical nature of a statement, the first clause can be introduced by quand (même) + conditional, and the second clause also in the conditional:

Quand (mĂŞme) tu me le dirais, je ne le croirais pas.

Even if you told me so, I wouldn’t believe it.

🔵 In colloquial usage, the first and second clauses can be conditional, joined by que:

Vous chercheriez toute la soirée que vous ne le trouveriez pas.

If you searched all evening, you still wouldn’t find it.

I’m liking revisiting older posts for verb tenses and going a bit deeper and more advanced. What do you think? I hope everyone has a great week!

Merci Ă  vous !


Conditional Mood

I’m jumping back a bit to further explain the Conditional at a more advanced level. There is a bit of debate on whether the conditional in French should be classed as a verb tense or a mood, and actually, the conditional verb forms can convey information about both time and the attitude of the speaker.

Present Conditional

The present conditional is formed from the future stem + imperfect endings.

Je donnerais, tu donnerais, etc.

I would/should give, you should/would give, etc.

Conditional Perfect

The conditional perfect is formed from the present conditional of the auxiliary verb (J’aurais / je serais) + past participle.

J’aurais donnĂ©. – I would have given.

Tu serais parti. – You should have left.

The main uses of the conditional are listed below.

To express a hypothesis, most commonly in the form: “If x happened, I would do… / If x had happened, I would have done…”

Si je gagnais 1.000.000 euros, je m’achèterais une nouvelle voiture.

If I won 1,000,000 Euros, I would/should buy a new car.

Si j’avais su ton adresse, je serais venu te voir.

If I had known your address, I would have come to see you.

In indirect speech or thought after si to ask/know whether something would happen/would have happened.

Il m’a demandĂ© si je viendrais.

He asked me if/whether I would come.

Nous ne savons pas si elle aurait prĂ©fĂ©rĂ©e passer l’annĂ©e dernière Ă  Nice.

We don’t know if/whether she would have preferred to spend last year in Nice.

It’s good to note that this is one of the only cases in which it is correct to use the conditional after si. An easy way to check whether an English sentence fits this category is to ask if “if” can be replaced by “whether”.

Il m’a demandĂ© si  je changerais d’emploi.

He asked if I would change my job. / He asked whether I would change my job.

In a main clause, to imply that the information is as yet unconfirmed. This is seen mostly in the media such as newspapers and online journalism. There is also no direct equivalent form in English.

Le Président des Etats-Unis serait malade.

The President of the United States is said/rumoured to be ill.

Un avion aurait été manqué.

A plane is reported to have gone missing.

In questions, giving a tentative supposition.

La voiture n’est plus lĂ . Ta sĹ“ur serait partie ?

The car’s gone. Might your sister have left? / Perhaps your sister has left?

Est-ce qu’ils auraient dĂ©pensĂ© tout l’argent dĂ©jĂ  ?

Is it possible they’ve already spent all the money?

In exclamations to convey that something is unlikely, and possibly to suggest some indignation.

Moi, je lui enverrais une invitation Facebook!

Can you imagine me sending him a Facebook [friend] request! / I’d never send him a Facebook [friend] request!

There are two cases where in English would/should may be used, but where French requires a different construction.

“Would” conveying the sense of “used to”, such as a repeated action in the past. This would actually be translated into French by the Imperfect.

When we were travelling in France, we would stay at youth hostels. (When we were travelling in France, we used to stay at youth hostels.)

Quand nous voyagions en France, nous restions dans des auberges de jeunesse.

“Should / should have” conveying the sense of “ought to / ought to have”, such as an obligation. This would be translated into French by using the Present Conditional, or the Conditional Perfect of devoir + infinitive.

I should call my mother tonight. (I ought to call my mother tonight.)

Je devrais téléphoner à ma mère ce soir.

We should have turned right at the traffic light. (We ought to have turned right at the traffic light.)

Nous aurions dû tourner à droite aux feux rouges.

Next week I will continue a bit more with the Conditional. But I will leave you with this for now.

Have a great week, everyone!

Merci Ă  vous !