May 8, 2024

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10 French Idioms with animals

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French idioms often incorporate animals, adding colorful imagery and cultural depth to the language. Here are 10 fascinating French idioms featuring animals, along with their meanings and usage.
French Idioms

In French, we have a significant amount of idioms with animals. The expressions I selected are expressions that we really use in daily life, so don’t hesitate to learn it and to use it as well!


Devenir chèvre” literally means “becoming a goat”. As goats are supposed to be impatient, you can actually use it when someone is driving you crazy and you are irritated. Ex. : Tu vas me rendre chèvre ! You are driving me crazy!

Un froid de canard

Un froid de canard” (“A duck’s cold”) means that it is “freezing cold”. It comes from the fact that when it is so cold, the lakes are frozen and the ducks have to fly to go on rivers, that are not frozen. Therefore the hunters can see them and shoot them more easily. Ex. : Il fait un froid de canard aujourd’hui ! It is freezing cold today!

Donner sa langue au chat

This expression word for word means “to give one’s tongue to the cat”, but really means to give up when it comes to guessing something. If we give our tongue to the cat, then we can’t talk anymore so we give up finding a solution to the problem. Ex. : Je donne ma langue au chat ! I give up!

Appeler un chat un chat

Appeler un chat un chat” (no, I did not make a mistake, I really wanted to write un chat twice 🙂 ) means “to call a cat a cat”. Employ it when you want to be truthful and direct. The English equivalent is “to call a spade a spade”. Ex. : Appelons un chat un chat, je ne l’aime pas ! Let’s call a spade a spade, I don’t like him!

S’ennuyer comme un rat mort

To be bored like a dead rat”, what a cute French expression with an adorable animal!!! I guess you can easily get the sense of it and picture it : You are so bored that you feel like a dead rat. Ex. : Hier je me suis ennuyée comme un rat mort ! Yesterday I was so bored!

Entre chien et loup

This is one of my favorite French idioms with animals! It is an old expression (XIIIth Century) that only few people use, but I use it so much that even my four-year-old son uses it! It designates the moment of the day (morning or evening) when it’s not really night and it’s not really day, when you can’t differentiate a dog from a wolf. Ex. : Je n’aime pas conduire lorsque c’est entre chien et loup ! I don’t like to drive when it’s dusk (or dawn)!

Un temps de chien

Un temps de chien” means a bad weather : “A dog’s weather”. We usually use it when it is raining a lot (cats and dogs 🙂 ). Formerly, people didn’t like dogs so only dogs could be outside when it was raining that much. Ex. : Quel temps de chien ! What a bad weather!

Être copains comme cochon

Être copains comme cochon” literally means “to be friends like pigs”, which means to be best friends. In fact, it comes fron an old idiom that has been warped. Ex. : Ces deux-là, ils sont copains comme cochon ! Those two are best buddies!

Avoir une mémoire d’éléphant/une mémoire de poisson rouge

Those expressions are antonyms : “Avoir une mémoire d’éléphant” (“to have an elephant’s memory”) means to have a good memory whereas “avoir une mémoire de poisson rouge” (“to have a goldfish’s memory”) means to have no recollections at all, to forget everything. Ex. : J’ai une mémoire d’éléphant mais mon mari a une mémoire de poisson rouge ! I have a very good memory but my husband doesn’t!

Poser un lapin

Poser un lapin” literally means “to place a rabbit”, and is used when someone didn’t come to a date, being stood up. It comes from an old expression, in which “un lapin” was when a man refused to pay for ladies’ favors.

Ex. : Hier soir, il m’a posé un lapin ! Yesterday evening, I have been stoop up! I hope you enjoyed this list and that you can now spice up your French thanks to those French idioms with animals! Comment this article if there is one expression with an animal you particularly enjoy (in this list or not!).