• Seng Flo

10 French and English idioms with animals

Have you ever wondered how to say a particular idiom in French (or English for my fellow native French speakers!)? Idioms are great and I use them all the time. I think they’re often self explanatory (sometimes not!) and give a fun idea of how people ‘invented’ them at the time.

Here’s a list of some French idioms involving animals with their equivalent in English (and vice versa). I did a little research as I’m not familiar with all the English ones. Language is always full of surprises!

Any mistake, please do let me know!

🐻 French idiom ‘ne pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué’ (‘don’t sell the bear’s skin before killing it’) means you should not make plans that depend on something good happening before you know that it has actually happened.

In English, you would say ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ 🐣

🧨 French idiom ‘vendre la mèche’ can be literally translated by ‘to sell the wick/fuse’. It means to tell a secret unintentionally, oops!

The English idiom is ‘to let the cat our the bag’ which gives you a more visual scene! 🙀


🐦 French idiom ‘faire l’autruche’ can be literally translated by ‘to do the ostrich’. If someone ‘does the ostrich’, it means that he/she doesn't want to face reality, ignoring unpleasant difficulties.

In English, you would say ‘to bury one's head in the sand’, as an ostrich would do 🙈

🐃 In a china shop, you’re a bull in English and an elephant in French!

‘Like a bull in a china shop’ is the English idiom and ’être comme un éléphant dans un magasin de porcelaine’ is the French one 🐘

Both idioms are used to describe someone who has a clumsy behaviour, who is careless, particularly in a delicate situation.

This is one of my favourite!

🦗English idiom ’Knee-high to a grasshopper’ can be translated by ‘haut.e comme trois pommes’ in French, literally ‘as high as three apples’ meaning little, short, often used to describe a young child. 🍎🍏🍎

🐓🌀🐴 French idiom ‘sauter du coq à l’âne’ (to jump from the rooster to the donkey’) means jumping from a subject to another. It is used when someone changes subject abruptly, without transition or any obvious link and I’ve been told I do this a lot! So many thoughts, so little time…

Can you help me find an English idiom which means something similar?

🐦 A person who is very chatty, who can’t stop talking (a ‘chatterbox’) can be described by French idiom ‘bavard comme une pie’ (‘talkative as a magpie’). I found the English equivalent ‘talkative as a parrot’ which totally makes sense! 🦜

🐶🐱 Another French animal idiom ‘Les chiens ne font pas des chats’, literally ’Dogs don’t make cats’ means children usually resemble their parents. In English, you would say ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ 🍎🌳

🐔 More feathery friends…

French idiom ‘fier comme un coq’ 🐓 literally translates by ‘proud as a rooster’. It means being extremely proud and boasting with pride. It is not a compliment!

The rooster is one of a French symbol, although not official as such, it is used widely, particularly in sports.

🦚In English, I found ‘proud as peacock’ which pretty much sums it up. It used to describe a vain or self-centered person. Not a compliment either 😅


🙊🐟 French idiom ‘muet comme une carpe’ can be translated by ‘silent as a fish’ in English. It means being totally silent, like a fish, someone who doesn’t want to speak. In French you can also say ‘muet comme une tombe’ (= silent as a grave) but it was less

I love illustrating idioms and learn about languages. Please share other animal idioms / sayings you have in your language!

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