10 Useful French Proverbs For All Situations

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May 14, 2016

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Life is one hell of a roller coaster ride. One moment you’re up and feeling like the king of the world, the next you’re down in the dumps and wishing the earth would just swallow you whole.

But hey, no matter what situation you’re currently in, there’s always a good French proverb to knock some sense into you. 

From the lowest of lows to the most mundane situations, here are some useful French proverbs that would be perfect advice for you or for anyone in your life.

Now let's go through this list of proverbs in French!

1. Un clou chasse l'autre.

What it literally means: One nail drives out another.
But its real meaning: Life goes on.

Oh, life. Some days just truly suck. Perhaps your dog died or you broke up with someone you thought is “the one”. Or maybe, you lost your job… or heck, your super embarrassing photo went viral on social media. *sobs*

Cry your heart out but remember, it’s not the end of the world. Un clou chasse l'autre. Life goes on.

2. En tout pays, il y a une lieue de mauvais chemin.

Literal meaning of this proverb: "In every country there is a league/area of bad road."
What it really means: There will be bumps in the smoothest roads.

Did your project at work (the one you spent long hours in the past weeks) caught a major hiccup? Did your travel plans go awry? Or maybe your marriage hit a snag?  Cheer up, bud. After you’re done pulling your hair out of sheer frustration, just remember: there will always be bumps even in the smoothest roads. En tout pays, il y a une lieue de mauvais chemin. It will get better.

3. Il faut casser le noyau pour avoir l'amande.

What it literally means: You need to break the shell to have the almond.
What it truly means: No pain no gain.

So… You’re starting out a new workout regimen to achieve the ideal body you’ve always dreamed of. Or perhaps you’re training to join your first-ever marathon. As you force yourself to endure every bit of aches and groans of your sore muscles, just think: Il faut casser le noyau pour avoir l'amande. No pain, no gain! Now go ahead and train some more.

4. “Il ne faut jamais dire « Fontaine, je ne boirai pas de ton eau !”

Literal meaning: "You should never say, 'Fountain, I will never drink your water!'”
What it means: Never say never.

Maybe you used to swear you will never ever be one of those yoga-crazy people. Now you are rocking some insane poses like you were born to do it. You can even do it with a bottle of wine! Amazing.

 (By the way---if you’re into yoga, you should check out this list of yoga-related French vocabulary)

So if someone emphatically tells you he or she will never do something EVER, keep that person in check by giving her a dose of this French saying. Wave your finger at her face and say, “honey, Il ne faut jamais dire « Fontaine, je ne boirai pas de ton eau !”

5. Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire.

The literal meaning of this proverb: "When the wine is drawn, one must drink it."
What it means: Once the first step is taken there's no going back.

You probably just bought a year-long gym membership. There’s no turning back now! You gotta get to it! (see #3 for more motivation).

But of course, this French proverb would also work just as well when taken literally. If you have already opened that bottle of wine, you might as well just go ahead and finish all of it. When someone asks why, just say, “Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire. That’s why.”

(Here’s a list of good French wines for less than 10 euros!

6. “Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid”

Its literal meaning: “Little by little, the bird makes its nest.”
What it means: Slow and steady wins the race.

So maybe you’re saving up for that much-awaited trip to France. Pinching a few dollars from your pay, skimming a few from your budget: just a few savings here and a little there. But it’s better than nothing, right? A little goes a long way. “Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.” Sooner or later, you’ll eventually go:

7. Bien faire et laisser dire.

Its literal meaning: Do well and let (them) speak.
What it really means: Do your work well and never mind the critics.

Let’s say you got the promotion and several people who are eyeing that same position are truly, absolutely pissed. No sense worrying about what they say. Just do your job well and let your work speak for itself. Just keep telling yourself, “Bien faire et laisser dire.” Or if you’re feeling sassy and fabulous, you can just dance to Taylor Swift’s hit song instead.

8. Quand on veut, on peut.

Its literal meaning: When one wants, one can.
What it means: Where there's a will, there's a way.

Scenario: You’re a practising vegan who will be moving to France soon. Can you make it in France---the land of foie gras, yummy cheeses, and savory meat stews---and remain a staunch advocate of veganism?

If you want it, you can do it! Quand on veut, on peut.

(Plus, vegans who visit France can also make use of these tips in this article.

9.Tout vient à point à qui sait attendre.

Its literal meaning: All comes on time to the one who knows how to wait.
What it truly means: All things come to those who wait.

A huge chunk of our lives is spent waiting. Waiting for that special someone to pop into your life, waiting for the long-overdue promotion, waiting for the next train, waiting for your order in the fancy restaurant, waiting for the next season of your favorite TV show, waiting for a text message reply from the person you’re crushing on, waiting for him to pop the question.

Waiting, waiting. Waiting.

But remember, all things come to those who wait. Tout vient à point à qui sait attendre. Be patient. It will come, you’ll see.

10. Après la pluie le beau temps.

Its literal meaning: After the rain, the nice weather.
What it means: There is sunshine after the storm.

Maybe you’ve had a string of bad relationships lately. Or worse, a string of bad marriages. Hey, these things happen. Après la pluie le beau temps. There is sunshine after the storm. Just keep looking at the brighter side and remain positive all throughout. Beautiful French proverb isn't it?


There you go 10 French proverbs you can add to your vocabulary!

Do you have favorite French proverbs that you would like to add here? And if you know any other proverbs in French also make sure to leave a comment! Share this on social media, too, and tag the people that needs cheering up!

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Here are some FAQs about French Proverbs

What is a proverb?

Proverbs are well-known sayings that are short in length, but pack a punch in meaning. They are often metaphors full of wisdom and life advice, though sometimes you have to do a little guesswork to understand the meaning behind the proverb. A popular English proverb is “Slow and steady wins the race,” and its French counterpart is “Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.” It literally translates to “little by little, the bird makes its nest” in English, but the insight is the same: every little effort counts.

What are popular French sayings?

We have listed some useful sayings in our article, but here are some popular French sayings we recognise in English!

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.)

Le temps, c’est de l’argent.” (Time is money.) Directly translates to: “Time, that’s money.”

Les murs ont des oreilles.” (The walls have ears.)

What are rude sayings in French?

Here are a few rude sayings you can use in French. Caution: it might be better to say nothing before you put your foot in your mouth!

Il n’y a pas plus sourd que celui qui ne veut pas entendre.” (No one is as deaf as the one who does not want to listen.) This is certainly a verbal slap in the face when in the middle of an argument.

Tel père, tel fils.” (Like father, like son.) This could be a compliment, or it could be a serious insult. It depends on the context, and what particular characteristic said person shares with their father.

À mauvais ouvrier point de bons outils.” (A bad workman blames his tools.) The literal translation means “to a bad worker no good tools,” and is a great insult to incompetent workers. Best to avoid this phrase at work, even if it’s true!

About the author 

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Instagram

  • Mai 23,2016

    Hi Frédéric,

    Je m’appelle Patricia. Je lis votre bulletin tous les dimanches. Il a beaucoup d’information. I have a question concerning liaisons. I am not always sure when to connect the consonant to the vowel. Do you always connect the consonant to the vowel when reading ? This is an example C’est une grande maison. I would connect (cest tune) grande maison. Is this always the correct way to read French. I am also having a problem understanding conversation in French. I bought several of your books and I am enjoying them a lot. I bought your beginner ‘s books to help me to understand the text when listening to the audio part of the story. It’s helping great deal ,but I am not able to understand yet.

    Sincerely,
    Patricia

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