French for Professionals: 7 French Idioms to Wow Your Colleagues
Do you ever come across French expressions that you can’t understand despite knowing the meaning of every individual word?
An expression whose meaning is as elusive as the meaning of Chinese tattoos made from Google Translate?
Then you just discovered the fascinating world of French idioms.
These are phrases such as “a piece of cake”, “bite the bullet” or “break a leg”. And just like these English examples, they’re everywhere, which means that if you want to sound like a Parisian you will need to know their meaning and be able to use them appropriately.
Now, if you’re travelling to France for work, there is a special kind of French expression that you’ll need to master – business French idioms.
Below, you’ll find a short list of phrases that you need to know before you get on the plane.
Also, if you really want to learn French idioms fast, make sure you check our list of most commonly-used jargon French words and how to use them at work.
Literal meaning: to throw the money through the windows
Actual meaning: This is one of the French idioms that originated in Medieval times when people used to give money to beggars by throwing it through the window. Although French people don’t do this anymore, the expression has been kept in the language and it now means that something is a waste of money.
Example: Je ne pense pas que ce soit le bon moment pour lancer ce produit. C’est comme jeter notre argent par la fenêtre. (I don’t think this is the right time to launch this product. I’m sure it will be a waste of money.)
Literal meaning: for a mouthful of bread.
Actual meaning: French bread is surely delicious, but it’s also quite cheap. Comparing something to a piece of bread means that it didn’t cost a lot of money.
Example: Je pense que nous devrions acheter ce nouveau logiciel. Regarde, nous pourrions l´avoir pour une bouchée de pain. (I think we should buy this new software. Look, it’s cheap as chips.)
Literal meaning: to cost the eyes of one’s head, to cost an arm.
Actual meaning: No matter what language we speak, our eyes and arms are very dear to us. Saying that something costs your eyes or arms means that it costs a fortune.
Example: Nous n’avons pas assez d’argent pour une campagne marketing en ce moment. Cela nous coûterait les yeux de la tête. (We don’t have enough money for a marketing campaign right now. That would cost us an arm and a leg.)
Literal meaning: to put a lot in your pockets
Actual meaning: When you learn French (and French idioms!) you also get to learn about French culture. In France, having a lot of money is seen rather negatively because many people think that in order to get rich you need to exploit others. This idiom is used to criticise someone who makes more money than they need.
Example: Les patrons se mettent plein dans leurs poches grâce à notre travail acharné alors que nous pouvons à peine joindre les deux bouts. Qu’allons-nous faire à ce sujet? (The big suits are lining their pockets thanks to our hard work while we can barely make ends meet. What are we gonna do about it?)
Literal meaning: to fall into the sign.
Actual meaning: Like most French idioms, this one also has an interesting origin. In the 15th century, the word panneau referred to the net hunters used to catch wild animals. In modern French, un panneau means “a sign”, but this expression means that you fell into a trap and that you only realised when it was too late.
Example: Allons-nous vraiment accepter la proposition du concurrent? On a l’impression de tomber dans le panneau ici! (Are we really going to accept the competitor’s proposal? It feels like we’re falling into a trap here!)
Literal meaning: to make the bridge.
Actual meaning: If you don’t have to work next Friday, you might as well not work on Saturday either and enjoy a 3-day weekend, right? That’s what faire le pont means: to have a long weekend all to yourself (although, on second thoughts, you might want to use some of it to learn French!)
Example: Ce jeudi est férié, Je vais prendre un jour de congé et je fais le pont. (This Thursday is a holiday, I am going to take one day off and make the bridge.)
Literal meaning: to take the seed from it.
Actual meaning: Seeds are what allow flowers to bloom, so if you take the seed from a person, it means that you steal their secret for success and follow their steps. (French idioms are rather poetic, aren’t they?)
Example: L’équipe de Sabine a obtenu d’excellents résultats, j’espère que vous prendrez la graine d’elle. (Sabine’s team has got great results, I hope you will follow her example.)
Did you find these French idioms useful? We hope you have!
If you want to learn Business French in greater depth, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’ll pair you up with a fully qualified French teacher with experience in the business world who will tell you everything you need to know about business French idioms and how to use them in context.