Home French Language 9 distinctive, untranslatable French phrases

9 distinctive, untranslatable French phrases

9 distinctive, untranslatable French phrases


What are probably the most distinctive French phrases? French has many stunning, humorous, and in any other case memorable phrases, and a few of them haven’t any actual, single-word equal in different languages.

Let’s uncover 9 of those distinctive, untranslatable French phrases.

9 distinctive and untranslatable French phrases

View looking down a white marble spiral staircase with a black and wood colored bannister. The floor on which the photographer is standing is black and white checkered marble.

Listed below are 9 distinctive and untranslatable phrases that you just’ll typically come throughout in French.


Actually “de-countrying”, dépaysant is a single phrase you should use to explain a disorienting, or completely new expertise. It can be used to explain a sense about a spot, even when it’s in your personal nation.

Take into account that as a result of it’s an adjective, dépaysant has to agree in gender and quantity with the phrase(s) it’s modifying, so it could possibly be written dépaysant, dépaysante, dépaysants, or dépaysantes, relying.

Dépaysant is such a useful phrase that in French it has many derivatives, together with a verb kind (dépayser), a reflexive verb kind, (se dépayser), and a noun kind (dépaysement).

Instance: Le movie <<Le Voyage de Chihiro>> est féerique et totalement dépaysant. (The film “Spirited Away” is magical and completely transports you to a different place.)

un flâneur 

Un flâneur is somebody who strolls round a spot (particularly a metropolis), observing the sights and folks round them, with out some other seeming goal however to do that.

The idea of the flâneur (or, a minimum of, celebrating it) actually got here into vogue in 19th century France, with the likes of Charles Baudelaire being dubbed one. The phrase has been borrowed into a number of languages, together with English.

I extremely advocate Wikipedia’s eloquent entry when you’d wish to study extra about the fascinating historical past of flâneur as each a phrase and an idea.

Notice that in French, flâneur is generally used for males, and passante is usually used for ladies (though the context is totally different, merely that of a passerby). However a female kind, flâneuse, has existed for the reason that begin of the 21st century and is usually used. In English, nevertheless, flâneur can be used for ladies.

There’s additionally a verb kind, flâner, however this isn’t strictly related to the flâneur idea, and might simply imply “to walk.”

Instance: C’est un vrai flâneur, qui connaît l’âme de tous les quartiers de la ville. (He’s a real flâneur, who is aware of the soul of each neighborhood within the metropolis.)


Bouquiner may greatest be translated as “to learn in a comfy and/or time-consuming however nice method”.

Though you may even see the equal of bouquiner listed as “to learn” in English, it’s a lot greater than that. Its tough equal is absolutely one thing extra like “to be misplaced in a superb e-book” or “to curve up with a superb e-book”.

As a bookworm (or, in French, un rat de bibliothèque — sure, a library rat), bouquiner is my favourite phrase on our record. Not solely does it describe one in all my favourite issues to do – it does it in a comfy method, utilizing bouquin, an off-the-cuff phrase for “e-book” that additionally doesn’t actually have an English equal, as its root.

Instance: J’ai moveé tout le weekend à bouquiner. (I spent all weekend curled up with a superb e-book.)


Voilà means “Right here it’s, There it’s, Right here you go/There you go/It’s completed!”

Plenty of languages have some sort of equal of voilà, however I’m undecided that any have only one phrase that can be used for therefore many refined shades of the identical thought. That’s in all probability why voilà has been borrowed into so many different languages.

For those who’re intrigued by this versatile phrase, be happy to take a look at our article on the various meanings and makes use of of voilà.

Instance: Je cherchais mon chat et puis le voilà ! Il s’était caché dans notre sapin de Noël. (I used to be on the lookout for my cat after which – there he was! He’d hidden himself inside our Christmas tree.)


Bricolage is fixing issues up/doing DIY

Bricolage looks as if it could have a single phrase equal, however it doesn’t. The identical goes for its masculin and female noun types, bricoleur and bricoleuse (somebody who likes to tinker, work on dwelling enchancment, do DIY).

These phrases are extraordinarily frequent in French and are pretty casual. There’s even a house enchancment retailer chain delightfully known as Monsieur Bricolage.

However word that these phrases don’t essentially imply the particular person doing the work is nice at it! Un bricoleur de dimanche (Sunday Mr. Repair-It) means somebody who does small renovation or fix-it tasks on the weekends and doubtless isn’t an skilled.

Instance: Ce weekend on va faire du bricolage. (This weekend we’re going to do some dwelling enchancment tasks.)


Chez has many meanings, most notably “to/on the home of/with”.

Chez is a standard French preposition – and no surprise because it’s so versatile. Like voilà, it’s even been adopted into another languages.

Right here’s a single sentence that exhibits 3 ways chez can be utilized. Notice that that is only for demonstration functions; typically, the French keep away from repetition, in order that they’d attempt to rephrase this:

Elle habite chez sa mère et comme la colère est très courant chez sa mère, elle est à la recherche d’un chez elle. (She lives at her mom’s home and since anger is frequent part of her mom’s persona, she’s on the lookout for a house of her personal.)

You possibly can test WordReference to seek out much more methods chez is used.

Bon braveness 

Bon braveness means “Dangle in there.”

It’s just like the expression Bonne likelihood (Good luck), however it’s extra of a rally cry in arduous instances. The tough English equal, “Dangle in there”, is casual, however Bon braveness works in just about any state of affairs.

l’esprit de l’escalier 

Actually “wit of the staircase/staircase wit”, l’esprit de l’escalier is without doubt one of the most well-known untranslatable French phrases. In only a few phrases , it describes the second whenever you consider the right comment or rejoinder…lengthy after you must have stated it.

The phrase is wealthy in imagery: you’re on the staircase simply after you’ve left the room the place you must have made that incredible witticism and you may’t return and say it now!

Instance: <<The Comeback>>, un épisode de la série Seinfeld, tourne autour de l’esprit de l’escalier. (The Seinfeld episode “The Comeback” is about pondering of the right retort too late.)


Déjà-vu is the eerie sensation of feeling such as you’ve been someplace/seen one thing/carried out one thing earlier than even when there’s no proof that you just ever have.

This time period, which accurately means “already seen”, has been adopted into quite a lot of different languages.

Notice that in French, déjà-vu can be used to imply “one thing that’s already been seen earlier than (and is thus boring or unimpressive)”. This that means of déjà-vu is usually part of a standard phrase: C’est du déjà-vu. (This has already been seen/carried out earlier than.)

Instance: En entrant dans la maison, j’ai eu un fort sentiment de déjà-vu. (Once I entered the home, I had a robust feeling of déjà-vu.)

Are these French phrases actually untranslatable?

A row of books. We see the opposite side of their spines, so just their pages.

Contemplating that there are greater than 7000 languages spoken on the earth at present, and lots of others that had been spoken prior to now, perhaps there may be a precise equal for every phrase on our record someplace.

You may additionally argue that not one of the phrases on our record are an idea completely distinctive to the French language or tradition. We’ve all considered the right witty comment simply as we left the dialog the place we wanted it. Everyone knows that particular person (or perhaps you are  that particular person) who likes to tinker round and make things better. However the French language simply occurs to have a neat, quick, single phrase or expression for these ideas, quite than an extended rationalization.

So, whereas these ideas could also be common, there’s no single actual equal phrase for them in some other language (that we all know of). With this in thoughts, let’s say that the phrases on are record are, for all intents and functions, distinctive and untranslatable.

I hope you’ve loved this record of distinctive, untranslatable French phrases. Do you have got a favourite one? Be at liberty to share it within the feedback!