Handy French Phrases

Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”Rita Mae Brown

As with English, the French language is permeated with expressions and idioms which can make understanding and partaking in everyday conversation tricky. In order to help you boost your communications skills, I will update this page fairly regularly with handy French phrases, expressions and idioms. Please feel free to check back from time to time 🙂

C’est ça
This phrase is used to confirm what someone has said to you.
– Tu arriveras mercredi par le train? – So you’re arriving on Wednesday by train?
– C’est ça. À dix-sept heures. – That’s right. 
At five pm.

Faire la bise
Faire la bise
literally translates to “make the kiss”, but is used to describe the French cultural habit of two or more kisses on the cheek when greeting friends or relatives.
– Je ne te fais pas la bise, parce que je suis enrhumé. – I’m not kissing you, because I have a cold.

Ce n’est pas ma tasse de thé
We all know that the British love their tea and the idiom, “it’s not my cup of tea”, is just one of the many tea-related phrases in use in the UK. Even though the French are not known for drinking tea, they use the very same expression to indicate something they don’t like or aren’t interested in.
– On va jouer au foot dimanche? – Are we going to play football on Sunday?
– Tu sais bien que le foot, ce n’est pas ma tasse de thé. – You know that football isn’t my cup of tea.

Quoi de neuf?
This informal expression can be used to start a conversation with friends or family. Instead of asking “how are you?” use the more familiar “what’s new?”.
Salut Laurie! Quoi de neuf? – Hi Laurie! What’s new?

Ҫa marche!
This expression means “ok, that works!” and is used to show that you agree with what has been said.
Elle va nous rejoindre à midi. – She is going to join us at midday.
Ҫa marche! – Ok, that works!

Il n’y a pas de quoi / Pas de quoi
Pas de quoi
is the abbreviated form of il n’y a pas de quoi. Either of these phrases can be used as a response to “thank you.” There are many ways to say “you’re welcome” in French. These two phrases are informal, meaning something similar to “don’t mention it”, and are therefore more likely to be used among friends and family.
– Merci pour ce cadeau. – Thanks for this gift.
– Il n’y a pas de quoi. / Pas de quoi. – Don’t mention it.

Appeler un chat un chat
I love this idiom! It literally translates to “call a cat a cat”, but is the French equivalent of the English idiom “call a spade a spade”, which refers to telling it like it is. When you call a spade a spade, you are speaking frankly about something even if it is unpleasant or rude.
Il n’a pas peur d’appeler un chat un chat. – He is not afraid to call a spade a spade.

N’est-ce pas?
This expression can be tacked onto the end of a sentence in order to confirm that you are right about an assumption you made. The English question tags “right?” or “isn’t that so?” are similar in usage.
– Ton copain s’appelle David, n’est-ce pas? – Your boyfriend’s name is David, isn’t it?

Ah bon?
This very common French expression means something similar to “really?” or “is that so?”. It can be used to express surprise, or to request an explanation for something someone said.
– Ma cousine a un nouveau copain. – My cousin has a new boyfriend.
– Ah bon? Je le connais? – Really? Do I know him?