Idiomatic Expressions

An idiom is a particular word or expression whose meaning cannot be readily understood by either its grammar or the words used. Idiomatic expressions cannot be translated word for word without causing confusion. For example, when combined with an adverb that describes feeling or health, aller (to go) is used to describe a person's health: Je vais bien. (I feel fine. I'm fine.)

Although the verb “to be” is used in English to refer to certain physical conditions, in French you express the same thought by combining the verb avoir (to have) with a noun:

  • avoir … ans (to be … years old)

  • avoir l'air (to appear)

  • avoir besoin de (to need)

  • avoir chaud (to be hot)

  • avoir de la chance (to be lucky)

  • avoir froid (to be cold)

  • avoir envie de (to feel like, to want)

  • avoir faim (to be hungry)

  • avoir soif (to be thirsty)

  • avoir lieu (to take place)

  • avoir mal à (to have an ache)

  • avoir peur [de] (to be afraid of)

  • avoir raison (to be right)

  • avoir tort (to be wrong)

  • avoir somm

    eil
     (to be sleepy)

Three important idioms using être (to be) are as follows:

  • être à (to belong to)
  • être en train de (to be in the act [middle] of)
  • être sur le point de (to be on the verge of)

Some idioms with faire (to do or make) include the following:

  • faire attention (à) (to pay attention to)

  • faire la connaissance de (to meet or make the acquaintance of someone)

  • fair

    e un voyage
     (to take a trip).

Faire is also used idiomatically to describe the weather and sports, as follows:

  • Quel temps fait-il? (What's the weather?)

  • Il fait beau. (It's beautiful.)

  • Luc fait du

    ski
    . (Luke goes skiing.)

Combining venir de (to [have] just) with an infinitive shows that the subject has just done something: Je viens de manger. (I just ate.) Keep in mind that when two verbs are used in succession, the first verb is conjugated and the second verb remains in the infinitive: Je veux sortir. (I want to go out.)

Finally, use the present tense idiomatically as follows:

Use it instead of the future to ask for instructions or to discuss an action that will happen in the near future:

  • Je sors? (Shall I go out?)
  • Il part tout à l'heure. (He's leaving soon.)
To express an event that began in the past and is continuing in the present, use the following formula: present tense + depuis + expression of time
  • Je souffre depuis hier. (I've been suffering since yesterday.)
The construction il y a + expression of time + que + present tense also expresses an action begun in the past and continuing in the present:
  • Il y a six ans qu'elle danse. (She's been dancing for six years.)