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12 French phrases, quotes & proverbs

The Belle France team have chosen their favourites

A brief conversation at Belle France HQ earlier this week, sparked a discussion about French phrases. Whilst some of the phrases, quotes & proverbs below are not uniquely French, they are certainly among our favourites. Have we missed your favourite? Let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page.

Autres temps, autres mœurs

Autres temps, autres mœurs

Pronunciation: otʁə tɑ̃, otʁə mœʁ 
Literal translation: Other times, other customs
Origin: From Cicero's First Oration against Catiline 'O tempora o mores'


Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide

Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide

Pronunciation: ʃa eʃode kʁɛ̃ lo fʁwad
Literal translation: A scalded cat fears cold water
English equivalent: Once bitten, twice shy


On ne change pas une équipe qui gagne

On ne change pas une équipe qui gagne

Pronunciation: ɔ̃ nə ʃɑ̃ʒ pa yn ekip ki ɡaɲ
Literal translation: One does not change a winning team
English equivalent: If it ain't broke, don't fix it


L’habit ne fait pas le moine

L’habit ne fait pas le moine

Pronunciation: labi nə fɛ pa lə mwan
Literal translation: The vestment does not make the monk
English equivalent: Don’t judge a book by its cover


Il faut casser le noyau pour avoir l’amande

Il faut casser le noyau pour avoir l’amande

Pronunciation: il fo kase lə nwajo puʁ avwaʁ lamɑ̃d
Literal translation: You have to break the shell to have the almond
Origin: Attributed to Roman philosopher and playwright Plautus
English equivalent: No pain, no gain


Qui court deux lièvres à la fois, n’en prend aucun

Qui court deux lièvres à la fois, n’en prend aucun

Pronunciation:ki kuʁ dø ljɛvʁ a la fwa, nɑ̃ pʁɑ̃ okɛ̃
Literal translation: Who runs after two hares at the same time, catches none
Origin: Attributed to the Dutch theologian Erasmus
English equivalent: Too many irons in the fire or spreading yourself too thin?


Petit à petit, l'oiseau fait son nid

Pronunciation:pəti a pəti lwazo fɛ sɔ̃ ni
Literal translation: Little by little, the bird builds its nest
English equivalent: Step by step one goes far or every little helps


Chacun voit midi à sa porte

Chacun voit midi à sa porte

Pronunciation:ʃa.kœ̃ vwa mi.di a sa pɔʁt
Literal translation: Everyone sees noon at his doorstep
English equivalent: To each his own


Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir

Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir

Pronunciation:mjø vo pʁevəniʁ kə ɡeʁiʁ
Literal translation: It is better to prevent than to heal
English equivalent: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure


Qui n’avance pas, recule

Qui n’avance pas, recule

Pronunciation:ki navɑ̃s pa ʁəkyl
Literal translation: Who does not move forward, recedes
English equivalent: Expect poison from stagnant water


À vaincre sans péril, on triomphe sans gloire

À vaincre sans péril, on triomphe sans gloire

Pronunciation:a vɛ̃kʁə sɑ̃ peʁil, ɔ̃ tʁijɔ̃f sɑ̃ ɡlwaʁ
Literal translation: To win without risk is to triumph without glory
Origin: Attributed to the French tragedian Pierre Corneille from Le Cid
English equivalent: In a calm sea, every man is a pilot


Qui Vivra Verra

Qui Vivra Verra

Pronunciation:ki vivʁa veʁa
Literal translation: Who will live will see
Origin: From the Italian Chi vivrà, vedrà
English equivalent: Wait and see