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French Proverbs

Spice up your language with some French proverbs

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These French proverbs in italics are followed by their English equivalents, and then their literal translations "in quotation marks."

À cœur vaillant rien d'impossible.
Nothing is impossible for a willing heart.
"To a valient heart nothing impossible."

À l'impossible nul n'est tenu.
No one is bound to do the impossible.

À quelque chose malheur est bon.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
"Unhappiness is good for something."

Après la pluie le beau temps.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
"After the rain, the nice weather."

L'arbre cache souvent la forêt.
Can't see the forest for the trees.
"The tree often hides the forest."

Aussitôt dit, aussitôt fait
No sooner said than done
"Immediately said, immediately done."

Autres temps, autres mœurs.
Times change.
"Other times, other customs."

Aux grands maux les grands remèdes.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
"To the great evils great remedies."

Avec des si (et des mais), on mettrait Paris en bouteille.
If ifs and ands were pots and pans there'd be no work for tinkers' hands.
"With ifs (and buts), one would put Paris in a bottle."

Battre le fer pendant qu'il est chaud.
to strike while the iron is hot.
"To hit the iron while it's hot."

Bien mal acquis ne profite jamais.
Ill gotten ill spent.
"Goods poorly gotten never profit."

Bonne renommée vaut mieux que ceinture dorée.
A good name is better than riches.
"Well named is more is worth more than golden belt."

Bon sang ne saurait mentir.
What's bred in the bone will come out in the flesh.
"Good blood doesn't know how to lie."

Ce sont les tonneaux vides qui font le plus de bruit.
Empty vessels make the most noise.
"It's the empty barrels that make the most noise."

Chacun voit midi à sa porte.
to each his own.
"Everyone sees noon at his door."

Un clou chasse l'autre.
Life goes on.
"One nail chases the other."

En avril, ne te découvre pas d'un fil.
Warm weather in April isn't to be trusted
"In April, don't remove a thread (of your clothing)."

En tout pays, il y a une lieue de mauvais chemin.
There will be bumps in the smoothest roads.
"In every country there is a league of bad road."

Entre l'arbre et l'écorce il ne faut pas mettre le doigt.
Caught between a rock and a hard place.
"Between the tree and the bark one shouldn't put a finger."

Heureux au jeu, malheureux en amour.
Lucky at cards, unlucky in love.
"Happy in the game, unhappy in love."

Une hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps.
One swallow doesn't make a summer.
"One swallow doesn't make spring."

Il faut casser le noyau pour avoir l'amande.
No pain no gain.
"You need to break the shell to have the almond."

Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée.
There can be no middle course.
"A door must be open or closed."

Il faut réfléchir avant d'agir.
Look before you leap.
"You have to think before acting."

Il ne faut jamais dire « Fontaine, je ne boirai pas de ton eau ! »
Never say never.
"You should never say, 'Fountain, I will never drink your water!'"

Il ne faut jamais jeter le manche après la cognée.
Never say die.
"One should never throw the handle after the felling axe."

Il ne faut rien laisser au hasard.
Leave nothing to chance.
"Nothing should be left to chance."

Il n'y a pas de fumée sans feu.
Where there's smoke, there's fire.
"There's no smoke without fire."

Il n'y a que les montagnes qui ne se rencontrent jamais.
There are none so distant that fate cannot bring together.
"There are only mountains that never meet."

Il vaut mieux être marteau qu'enclume.
It's better to be a hammer than a nail.
"It's better to be hammer than anvil."

Impossible n'est pas français.
There is no such word as "can't."
"Impossible isn't French."

Les jours se suivent et ne se ressemblent pas.
There's no telling what tomorrow will bring.
"The days follow each other and don't look alike."

Un malheur ne vient jamais seul.
When it rains, it pours!
"Misfortune never comes alone."

Le mieux est l'ennemi de bien.
Let well enough alone.
"Best is good's enemy."

Mieux vaut plier que rompre.
Adapt and survive.
"Better to bend than to break."

Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir.
Prevention is better than cure.
"Better to prevent than to cure."

Mieux vaut tard que jamais.
Better late than never.
"Late is worth more than never."

Les murs ont des oreilles.
Walls have ears.

Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison.
A warm Christmas means a cold Easter.
"Christmas on the balcony, Easter at the embers."

On ne fait pas d'omelette sans casser des œufs.
You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.

On ne peut pas avoir le beurre et l'argent du beurre.
You can't have your cake and eat it too.
"You can't have the butter and the money from [selling] the butter."

Paris ne s'est pas fait en un jour.
Rome wasn't built in a day.
"Paris wasn't made in a day."

Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières.
Tall oaks from little acorns grow.
"The little streams make the big rivers."

Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire.
Once the first step is taken there's no going back.
"When the wine is drawn, one must drink it."

La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure.
Might makes right.
"The strongest reason is always the best."

Rien ne sert de courir, il faut partir à point.
Slow and steady wins the race.
"There's no point in running, you have to leave on time."

Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait.
Youth is wasted on the young.
"If youth knew, if old age could."

Un sou est un sou.
Every penny counts.
"A cent is a cent."

Tant va la cruche à l'eau qu'à la fin elle se casse.
Enough is enough.
"So often the pitcher goes to the water that in the end it breaks."

Tel est pris qui croyait prendre.
It's the biter bit.
"He is taken who thought he could take."

Tel qui rit vendredi dimanche pleurera.
Laugh on Friday, cry on Sunday.
"He who laughs on Friday will cry on Sunday."

Le temps, c'est de l'argent
Time is money.
"Time, that's money."

Tourner sept fois sa langue dans sa bouche
to think long and hard before speaking.
"To turn one's tongue in one's mouth seven times."

Tous les goûts sont dans la nature.
It takes all kinds (to make a world).
"All tastes are in nature."

Tout ce qui brille n'est pas or
All that glitters isn't gold.

Tout est bien qui finit bien.
All's well that ends well.

Toute peine mérite salaire.
The laborer is worthy of his hire.
"All trouble taken deserves pay."

Un tiens vaut mieux que deux tu l'auras.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
"One that you hold is better than two that you will have."

Vouloir, c'est pouvoir.
Where there's a will, there's a way.
"To want, that is to be able."


More French Proverbs

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