French Proverbs 101- Everything you need to know

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Learning French proverbs as a part of mastering the language not only enhances one’s vocabulary but also offers exciting insights into the French culture as a whole, the values, traditions and contradictions in equal measure.

This post takes a dig at the basics of French proverbs with some of the commonly used examples and their English meanings which will help a newbie French learner gain pace in his/her learning. 

Read on!

What are French proverbs?

Like any other language on earth that has common sayings, French proverbs aren’t any different. 

As we all know, proverbs have been used for decades of human history as they directly shape and affect our views with necessary connotations. Also, they make our regular use of language insightful, funny, and add an edge to our conversations as and when needed.

For any learner of the French language, picking up on commonly used French sayings and phrases can boost their learning by leaps and bounds. Also, it will offer a raw taste of French culture that one must imbibe onto, while aspiring to speak like a native. 

Why Learn French Proverbs?

Before we move on to learning some French proverbs, it is necessary to understand how these proverbs can help shape our learning. So as to essay, learning French proverbs and using it in your daily coversat has far reaching benefits that include:

  • Easy understanding of regular, everyday French– The kind of regular French that is spoken across movies. Written across newspapers, and mentioned in podcasts and books.
  • Helping you to converse more fluently– If you are a starter in French, chances are you will lose the thread quickly when amongst native French speakers. However, learning French proverbs will give you an upperhand in the conversation and help you keep up with the discussions at the coffee table or over a couple of drinks at the local bar.
  • Makes you intelligent- As you get acquainted with French proverbs and when you use the right expression at the right time, it readily turns you into an intelligent individual. Well, that’s how your friends and family members would see. In other words, it will boost your public image among your fellow French workmates and friends alike.
  • Grabbing on to the perfect French mindset – Since the French proverbs have been repeated time and again over years, it does make way for a cultural perspective. Thus, when you are slipping in French proverbs between your conversations, it does make you one amongst the French community. However, make sure that you don’t overuse these expressions or otherwise it will mar the essence.

How Can Proverbs Help You Learn French?

The art of understanding French proverbs is in knowing the right situations when to use them. Also, the trick is to use them sparingly for its effect or else things can get pretty annoying at times. 

When you study and pick up on French proverbs, you should always try to familiarize yourself  with the situations where they are used. As you do this over repeated intervals. You will tend to understand how to use French proverbs within your conversations and will make you a wise and mature French speaker.

Here’s a look at some of the most well known french proverbs along with their meanings in English for easy understanding: 

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

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

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

In English, this famous French proverb translates “One should not trust appearances.”

This particular proverb is quite synonymous to other popular English sayings like ‘Looks can be deceiving’ or ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ and is commonly referred to in situations where individuals are advised no to go by the way a person looks alone but take time to understand what’s underneath. 

2. Aussitôt dit, aussitôt fait.

This is what one would say in English like ‘As soon as said, as soon as done.’ 

In French, such proverbs are commonly used when someone wants to assure that the task assigned will be immediately taken care of. So, whenever you are looking to assure someone of some task to be done by you and has an undertone of urgency, you might wanna use this proverb.

3. Bien mal acquis ne profite jamais. 

In English, it translates to,  ‘A badly acquired good never benefits’ and can be called quite similar to popular phrases like, ‘Crime doesn’t pay’ and ‘Ill-gotten goods seldom prosper’. 

In other words, it means there is nothing better than honesty and that dishonest or ill motives don’t end up well at the very end. Such proverbs are usually reserved for citations when someone is talking about any mischievous or dishonest ways to dupe or cheat anyone or achieve some selfish objective. Make sure you are in a friendly environment when planning to use this proverb in your conversation because at times it can be a bit alarming as you are actually warning someone of a not-so-favorable consequence of his/her act.

4. Mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup. 

This French proverb literally translates in English as  ‘Eat well, laugh often, love abundantly.’ and thus is quite analogous to English phrases like ‘Live life to the fullest’ and also correlates to famous Roman saying ‘carpe diem’ (Seize the day) which further means ‘Enjoy life while you can’. 

You should always resort to this very proverb when you want to make someone understand not to think too much of the future or of the unknown that we are not sure of. Instead, we should focus on what we have right now and make the most of the time in our hands. 

5. Qui vole un œuf, vole un bœuf.

When translated in English, it means, ‘Who steals an egg, steals an ox.’

This proverb is usually referred to make one understand that there is no such thing as a petty theft and that no matter how small a criminal appears to be he/she is capable of committing large crime as well. This kind of proverb isn’t used very much in day-to-day conversations unless you are talking to someone who is very aged or wise thereafter. 

6. Après la pluie, le beau temps. 

When translated in English, it literally means, ‘After the rain, good weather.’ What it means in essence is that although the current times are challenging enough, there is no doubt that better times are ahead. This is a common proverb that can be used to encourage someone who is upset or is seemingly having a rough patch over a certain period and has lost hope in general. 

7. Bien faire et laisser dire. 

This French proverb literally translates to ‘Do well and let (them) speak” in English language and it means one must do what one deems as right and shouldn’t pay any attention to what others say. This particular proverb bears direct relation to political contexts or can also be used in moral lessons and is perhaps a great way of telling someone to stay strong and hold on to one’s beef no matter what naysayers opine.  

8. La nuit porte conseil. 

When translated in English, this French proverb translates to, ‘The night brings advice.’ and is quite synonymous with another English saying, “‘Sleep on it’. Generally, this very proverb is considered to be a wise saying in French and often people are known to resort to this in difficult times. Thus, it means when one is up against a slew of challenges, it’s always a wise call to rest up and then decide on the course of things. If you know someone who is going through a tough time or under a lot of stress lately, this is one proverb that you can slip in between your messages or during one-on-one conversations. 

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

You must be acquainted with the popular English saying, “Strike the iron while it’s hot”. What it means in essence is that one should take utmost advantage of favorable situations in one’s life before the chance is gone forever. It’s quite a metaphor that draws direct comparison to a red hot metal being beaten to shape during its peak temperature by a blacksmith. Similarly, the right time or opportunity is the red hot iron  and how you act on it is the hammer you use to strike the iron. Again, like several other French proverbs discussed before, this proverb goes on an encouraging note to any individual who has been blessed with a great opportunity and is confused about what should be his/her decision.

Wrap Up 

So, you see, French proverbs are no less fun than their English counterparts. As a newbie learner, it should always be your goal to get yourself familiarized with these commonly used proverbs as fast as you can and can certainly take your learning experience to a whole new level. 

Happy learning!


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