French is such a romantic language, and we are always in a hurry to learn the best words to woo that special someone. Another way to impress a native French speaker is by using proverbs. Like English, French has sayings that communicate more than a surface meaning. It’s an excellent way to say much by saying little and thrilling whoever you speak to. Today we will learn some beautiful proverbs, what they mean and how to use them. Let’s go!
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10 French proverbs with English translation
1. Qui vivra verra
“Qui vivra verra,” is a famous French proverb that means, “He who lives shall see.” The adage is the French equivalent of the English saying, “the future will tell.” We use this proverb when the outcome of a situation is uncertain and unpredictable. Since the phrase is short, it is easier to remember and has a very elegant sounding.
2. L’habit ne fait pas le moine
The literal translation of the proverb is directed to monks. If we are translating word for word, the translation would be, “the vestment does not make the monk.” There are many similar proverbs and idioms in English. For example, “the clothes do not make the man,” “don’t judge a book by its cover.” The significance of this proverb is that things aren’t always as they appear; because a monk wears a robe doesn’t mean they are sincere in their service to God.
3. Chacun voit midi à sa porte
“chacun voit midi à sa porte” is an exciting proverb when conversing about reality and human existence. The phrase means, “everybody sees noon at their doorstep.” That means we are all preoccupied with ourselves first. Every human being is looking out for their best interests. You can also use this proverb at the beginning of a conversation to get people talking. It is an excellent way to impress native speakers.
4. Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir
“mieux vaut prévenir que guérir,” is a widely used and understood proverb. We would say, “Prevention is better than cure,” but the literal translation is, “it is better to prevent than to heal.” The French use this proverb quite often as it is the backbone of health practices in the country. The Chinese also believe that preventing a disease is better than curing it. Since the proverb is widely used, you can be assured that your audience will understand what you are communicating.
5. Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid
“Nid” is French for a nest, and “l’oiseau” stands for a bird. So the proverb can be translated to mean, “little by little, the bird has made its nest.” The moral of this proverb highlights patience and perseverance, taking things one day at a time till you arrive at your desired goal. There are many instances where this proverb can be used. It can express a sense of triumph when a job is done.
6. Qui court deux lièvres à la fois, n’en prend aucun
This proverb is particularly impressive, thanks to its vivid imagery. Whoever uses it is sure to make a remarkable impression. “Qui court deux lièvres à la fois, n’en prend aucun,” translates to, “who runs after two hares at the same time, catches none.” The morale is to give optimum attention to one task before turning to the next. Otherwise, you risk having two failed projects. You ought to provide undivided attention to a particular job to get the best. Consider using this proverb in a work seminar, amongst colleagues, or in any other situation where it is applicable.
7. Qui n’avance pas, recule
“Who does not move forward recedes.” That is the English translation of the above proverb. It is a universal truth and can be used anywhere. If you are not moving forward, then you are receding. There is no room for a standstill in life. If you are not evolving, then you are devolving. Human existence isn’t so accommodating to constants. There has to be a change, preferably a change for the better. Since this is universally true, you can use this proverb in any circumstance to speak of persistence and perseverance.
8. Quand on a pas ce que l’on aime, il faut aimer ce que l’on a
This proverb sounds so elegant. The way it rolls off the tongue is lovely, especially if you are trying to impress an individual or a group. Aside from the fact that it is sweet-sounding, it also has quite a powerful meaning. “Quand on a pas ce que l’on aime, il faut aimer ce que l’on a,” literally translates to “when one doesn’t have the things one loves, one must love what one has.” Embedded in this proverb is an important moral lesson. It reminds us to be content with what we have, however little it may be. By doing so, we stop ourselves from desiring things out of our reach. If you use this proverb intelligently, you will sound very knowledgeable and wise to a native French speaker.
9. Il n’y a pas plus sourd que celui qui ne veut pas entendre
This proverb is widely used, and you’ll learn why. “il n’y a pas plus sourd que celui qui ne veut pas entendre” translates to, “there’s no one as deaf as the one who doesn’t want to listen.” Parisians would commonly use this proverb after a heated debate or argument, with both sides refusing to yield to the ideals of the other. You can use it when speaking to an extremely stubborn person or so wrapped up in themselves that nothing else makes sense.
10. Qui vole un œuf, vole un bœuf
This proverb sounds like poetry! But the meaning is not as beautiful as the words. When translated literally, it means, “who steals an egg, steals an ox.” It is saying there is no petty thief. It is the right proverb to use when discussing crime-related issues that seem to linger along with the grey areas of the law. If you use this, you are saying that no matter how big or petty a crime might seem, there is a criminal mentality behind it.
Any of these sayings, when used correctly, are sure to impress even native speakers. Whether you speak about perseverance, persistence, or even crime, there seems to be a proverb for every situation. There are many more where those came from, with some sayings more challenging to understand than others. A French tutor would be able to assist in learning more expressions that will spice up your language when speaking with a native French speaker—book lessons with a dedicated teacher on italki today.