3 Fun And Common French Idioms With Animals

cow sticking out its tongue

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French idioms are fun and so useful to express a whole concept in a short sentence - here are three common ones, using hens, a bear, and a Spanish cow!

Quand Les Poules Auront Des Dents

Literally, this means when hens have teeth. 

So it means that there is not a chance of this ever happening. The equivalent English idiom is “when pigs fly”. Pigs, hens… it’s all in the barnyard! 

Moi, sortir avec Paula ? Quand les poules auront des dents!!
Me, going out with Paula? When pigs fly!

Il Ne Faut Pas Vendre La Peau De L’Ours Avant de L’Avoir Tué

You shouldn’t sell the bear’s skin before you killed it (the bear).

Note the pronunciation of “un ours” - un noors. There is a strong liaison in N, and the final S of ours is pronounced.

This idiom is easy to understand in French - it means you should not count on the benefit of an action before you have done it.

The equivalent English idiom is “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched".

With both English and French idiom, it’s not uncommon to leave out part of the sentence: il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours (avant de l’avoir tué). Don’t count your chickens (before they hatch).

Comment ça? Tu vas acheter une voiture avec l’argent que tu vas gagner au loto ? Attends un peu, il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué !

Come again? You are going to buy a car with the money you’ll win at the lottery? Wait a second, don't count your chickens before they hatch!

Parler Français Comme Une Vache Espagnole

Literally, this means to speak French like a Spanish cow.

Well, a cow doesn’t speak French to start with, so imagine a Spanish one!

This means to speak French very poorly. 

The origins of these expressions are unclear, although it’s been in our language since 1640! Some say it comes from “un basque Espagnol” - referring to the Basque language. Another theory is just that in older French, both vache and espagnole where pejorative terms. So combine both, and it makes quite an insult. 

Nowadays, it’s not that bad, but don’t use it lightly still…

Ça fait 5 ans que Peter apprend le français, mais il parle comme une vache espagnole : son accent est si fort qu’on ne comprend pas un mot de ce qu’il dit.

Peter has been learning French for five years, but he speaks terrible French: his accent is so strong that you cannot understand a word he says.

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Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. "3 Fun And Common French Idioms With Animals." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/fun-common-french-idioms-with-animals-1368630. Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. (2020, August 26). 3 Fun And Common French Idioms With Animals. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/fun-common-french-idioms-with-animals-1368630 Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. "3 Fun And Common French Idioms With Animals." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/fun-common-french-idioms-with-animals-1368630 (accessed March 30, 2023).