10 Famous French Sayings and Proverbs

By OptiLingo • 6 minute read

learn about french sayings and proverbs

Learn Common French Sayings

Sayings and proverbs are essential to our lives. They don’t just shape our views with wise connotations. They’re also very common in everyday speech. So, if you want to reach fluency in French quickly and easily, learn common French sayings and proverbs. Here are the 10 most famous and profound French sayings, with literal translations and meanings.

Why are French Sayings Useful?

  • Understand everyday French: These French sayings are very commonly used. You’ll see them in films, newspapers, books, and podcasts.
  • Keep up with conversations: Since you’ll hear these French proverbs often, if you know them, you’ll understand them better. Don’t ask your French friend what they mean by these sayings. Keep up with the conversation comfortably, and reach French fluency
  • Appear Wise: Using the appropriate expression at the right time can make you look very intelligent. French people admire smart people, so you can easily boost your public image with these French proverbs and sayings.
  • Cultural Insight: Many of these sayings have been repeated for hundreds of years and succinctly express the cultural perspectives of French people. So, they give a perfect insight into the French mindset.  Learning what the common phrases, sayings, and expressions mean and how and when to use them can make you sound like a native French speaker. The key is not to overuse the expressions when you speak.

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Use French Proverbs Sparingly, But Effectively

Part of the art of using French sayings properly is understanding the right situations in which to use them. Plus, the sayings should be used sparingly, but effectively or you will begin to seem odd, dull or annoying. Study and try to become familiar with a few of the sayings at a time and pay attention to how they are used in conversation. Gradually, you will begin to understand how to use them to share you feelings or point of view. This will enhance your French communication skills.

10 Common French Sayings and Proverbs

The following are some of the most common French expressions used in conversations by people on all levels of French society.

1. Il ne faut pas se fier aux apparences. 

The literal translation of this phrase is: “One should not trust appearances.”

It’s meaning is roughly equivalent to the English phrases ‘Looks can be deceiving’ or ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’. It advises one not to make assumptions about people they encounter just because of how they are dressed or how they look. This saying is commonly used to guide individuals who meet people whose looks don’t match their expectations.

french sayings and proverbs are sometimes very wise

2. Aussitôt dit, aussitôt fait.

Literally translated this phrase says: ‘As soon as said, as soon as done.’ 

It’s meaning is roughly equivalent to the English expression, ‘It’s as good as done.’ You can say this when someone asks you to do something, and you’ll start on it immediately. It’s an assurance that the task will take priority, and it will be ready soon.

3. Bien mal acquis ne profite jamais. 

This phrase’s literal translation is: ‘A badly acquired good never benefits’. 

In English, two phrases with similar meanings are, ‘Crime doesn’t pay’ and ‘Ill-gotten goods seldom prosper’. The overall meaning is, honesty is the best policy because dishonest actions don’t benefit you in the long run. The saying is used when you’re talking about stealing or sketchy activities. It can also mean don’t lie, cheat or sabotage someone else’s progress in an attempt to promote yourself.

4. Mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup. 

The literal translation of this saying is: ‘Eat well, laugh often, love abundantly.’

It’s analogous in meaning to the expression used in English speaking countries, ‘Live life to the fullest’. It also conveys a similar sentiment to the Roman phrase ‘carpe diem’ which means ‘Seize the day’ or ‘Enjoy life while you can’. The expression is often used in France to convince a friend to enjoy themselves and not dwell on the past or worry too much about the future.

5. Qui vole un œuf, vole un bœuf.

Translated, this expression literally says, ‘Who steals an egg, steals an ox.’

It means, there’s no petty theft. No matter how big or large the crime is, a criminal mindset lies behind it. While legally it’s not the same, this French saying certainly contains some truth.

French sayings and proverbs are very wise

6. Après la pluie, le beau temps. 

The literal translation of this expression is: ‘After the rain, good weather.’ 

It means although things may be challenging right now, better times are ahead. It’s a similar sentiment to the popular saying ‘This too shall pass’. You can say this to encourage a friend who’s going through a rough patch.

7. Bien faire et laisser dire. 

This expression’s literal translation is: ‘Do well and let (them) speak.’ 

It simply means do what’s right and do not worry about what others say. The saying is often used for people who experience a lot of peer pressure or ridicule. In moral or political contexts, using the phrase is a way of telling someone they should do what they believe is right, regardless of critics and naysayers.

8. La nuit porte conseil. 

This phrase’s literal translation is: ‘The night brings advice.’ 

It’s meaning is equivalent to the English term, ‘Sleep on it’. It’s a very wise French saying. If you’re faced with a difficult decision, it’s better to decide refreshed after sleep. You can also advise your friend to do the same with this French saying.

9. Il faut battre le fer pendant qu’il est chaud.

The literal translation of this phrase is: ‘One shall strike the iron while it’s hot.’ 

It means quickly take advantage of favorable conditions or opportunities before the chance disappears. It’s a metaphor comparing a time-sensitive opportunity a person has to red-hot metal in a blacksmith’s forge. The most opportune time to use hammer strikes to shape the metal is when the metal is red hot. The saying is used to encourage people to take decisive action immediately to complete their task if they want to be successful.

10. Chacun voit midi à sa porte. 

The literal translation of the words in this popular French saying is: ‘Each person sees noon at his/her door.’ 

It means each person perceives things in their own, unique way. This saying acknowledges no two people have exactly the same ambitions and expectations. You can use it to talk about someone’s selfish behavior, or at a disagreement. It’s also used to tell someone not to compare people because each person is different.

Learn More French Sayings and Proverbs

French sayings certainly have a lot of wisdom. But, to fully engage with them, you need to learn French. Luckily, it doesn’t take long at all. With OptiLingo, you can reach French fluency in record time.

OptiLingo is a language learning app that brings you results. It combines the most effective teaching methods into one. Experience the most useful French phrases and expression, so you know exactly how locals speak. Develop your fluency faster by avoiding useless materials. Try OptiLingo today to make your studies more focused and successful!