10 useful French expressions and their meanings

Updated: March 20, 2021 by Mylene in French Expressions  ▪  

10 popular French expression

Idioms are essential for understanding and for speaking a language like a native. There are hundreds of useful expressions in French that you need to know in order to better understand native speakers. Let’s start with the following 10 French expressions for everyday life.

  1. être au courant
  2. chercher midi à quatorze heures
  3. ça fait un bail
  4. avoir un coup de barre
  5. donner un coup de main
  6. gagner sa vie
  7. chapeau!
  8. être en train de
  9. ça marche
  10. jeter un coup d’oeil

Those are commonly used French expressions. They have a figurative, not a literal, meaning. Sometimes, they articulate a notion that suggests the opposite of the primary portion of the sentence, such as with à moins que that introduces a hypothetical fact. And many have cultural meaning behind them.

From a cultural perspective, you can grow your vocabulary and learn French words used in English while discovering the best quotes by Victor Hugo.

1. Être au courant


Être au courant is a French expression that means to be in the know / to be aware of something.


Tu es toujours le permier au courant. You’re always the first one to know.

Je ne suis pas au courant de votre accord. I don’t know about your agreement.

Note the other expression

The expression “tenir quelqu’un au courant” means to keep someone informed.

Merci par avance de me tenir au courant. Thank you in advance for letting me know.

man listening information bird

2. Chercher midi à quatorze heures


“Chercher midi à quatorze heures” is another useful French expression. It means to make things over-complicated or to look for problems when they are none. It’s not about telling time in French.


C’est simple pourtant, ne va pas chercher midi à quatorze heures! : it’s easy, don’t complicate things!

hour clock silhouette

3. Ça fait un bail


Ça fait un bail is used by French speakers to say it’s been ages.


Ça fait un bail que je n’ai pas eu de tes nouvelles! I haven’t heard from you in ages!

sand clock calendar

4. Avoir un coup de barre


The meaning of “avoir un coup de barre” is to feel tired all of sudden.


You can use this expression after a great meal or if you worked a lot and you’re tired.

J’ai un coup de barre! I just got real tired!

person hit stick

5. Donner un coup de main


“Donner un coup de main” is a popular French expression that means to help somebody out.


Ma fille a du mal avec l’exercice de maths, je lui donne un coup de main. My daughter has a hard time with this maths exercise, I help her by working with her.

kids boy and girl hand in hand

6. Gagner sa vie


“Gagner sa vie” is a French expression that means to earn a good living.


Mon mari est médecin, il gagne bien sa vie. My husband is a doctor, he earns a good living.

money coins bright gold

7. Chapeau!


The expression “chapeau” means well done.

Chapeau is for very informal achievements, like cooking a very nice dinner or decorating a house tastefully.

In this case, chapeau doesn’t refer to the hat.


Je vous tire mon chapeau! I have to say congratulations!

personnes avec chapeaux

8. Être en train de


The expression “être en train de” means to be in the action of.

Not that the French word “train” also refers to “a train” in English, but it also means “action” in old French.

You need to add the infinitive of the verb after “en train de”.


  • Je suis en train de parler: I am speaking.
  • Qu’est-ce que vous êtes en train de faire? What are you doing?
train on a fork

9. Ça marche


The expression “ça marche” means alright, ok in French.


  • On se voit la semaine prochaine? We see each other next week?
  • Ça marche! Alright!
thumb up okay

10. Jeter un coup d’oeil


The French expression “jeter un coup d’oeil” means to glance at something.


  • A Noël, j’aime jeter un coup d’oeil dans les vitrines: At Christmas, I love glancing at the shops’ windows.
  • Je vais jeter un coup d’oeil pour voir d’où vient le problème: I’m going to take a look to check where the problem could be.
man looking binoculars

Now that you better understand the meaning of 10 common French expressions, it’s time to explore the many benefits that Master Your French has to offer. So join me in the online French courses!

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