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French expression of the day: Il pleut des cordes

Why 'ropes' are essential to rainy days in France.

French expression of the day: Il pleut des cordes
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know il pleut des cordes?

If you live in France, chances are you will need this from time to time.

What does it mean?

Il pleut des cordes translates to 'it rains some ropes', which means it is raining heavily – 'it's pouring'.

While it may sound a bit odd to compare rain to ropes, the idea is that the rain drops are so thick and heavy that it looks like ropes are coming down from the sky. A rather old-fashioned English equivalent would be its raining 'stair-rods'.

The more usual English equivalent is 'it's raining cats and dogs' – which you could argue is an even weirder way of picturing rain.


So if you're in an area hit by thunderstorms and heavy rain, this is one for you.


If you are caught by a rafale de pluie (heavy gusts of wind and rain), you could exclaim Il pleut des cordes ! – It's raining cats and dogs!


Use it like this

On attend un peu avant de faire les courses ? Il pleut des cordes en ce moment. – Let's wait a little before getting groceries? It's raining cats and dogs at the moment.

Je suis désolée, je mouille tout, il pleuvait des cordes quand je suis partie. – I'm sorry, I'm dripping everywhere, it was pouring when I left.

C'était bien le festival ? Non, il pleuvait des cordes, c'était l'enfer. – Was the festival good? – No, it was pouring, it was hell.


Il tombe des cordes – Ropes are falling down

Il pleut très fort – It's raining heavily

Il pleut à flots – It's pouring

Il pleut comme vache qui pisse – It's raining like a pissing cow (very colloquial)


Member comments

  1. Reminds me of the Lancashire expression: “It’s coming down in stair rods”. I believe the Italians say something similar.

  2. Back in my Kentish schooldays of the early 1950s, I was taught to say: Il pleut des hallebardes. I don’t suppose that, even then, anyone English or French knew what a halberd was any more.

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French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

This expression is more than just your last order at the boulangerie.

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

Why do I need to know tarte à la crème ?

Because if someone uses this phrase to describe you, you should probably be a bit offended.

What does it mean?

Tarte à la crème – pronounced tart ah lah krem – literally refers to a cream filled tart, or a custard tart, in English. However, this expression has more to do than just baking. It is another way of describing something that is boring, predictable or commonplace.

This expression comes straight from Moliere himself. In the 17th century, there was a popular rhyming game called “Corbillon.” The phrase “Je vous passe mon corbillon” (I pass you by corbillon) is said, and then it is followed by “Qu’y met-on?” (What does one put on it?) To keep the rhyme up, people must respond with something ending in an -ON sound.

In the play, “L’Ecole des Femmes” (The School of Wives), one character says the ideal woman would respond to the question with “tarte à la crème” which is obviously the wrong answer. The right answer would be tarte à la citron (lemon tart). Molière did this on purpose to poke fun at the fact that disgruntled fans would send poor actors cream tarts to express their frustration.

It was a way of ridiculing his critics and showing he was unimpressed by their method of showing discontentment at his plays. Over time, the phrase went on to describe things that are commonplace or boring. It is often used to describe entertainment related topics, such as books, movies, or plays.

A synonym for this phrase in French might be banal and in English you might say something is ‘vanilla’ to describe something that is fairly unexciting.

Use it like this

Le film était vraiment tarte à la crème. Je ne recommande pas d’aller le voir au cinéma, vous pouvez attendre de le voir une fois qu’il sera gratuit en ligne. – The movie was really boring. I don’t recommend going to see it at the movies, you can simply wait to see it once it is free online.

Je pense que l’album est tarte à la crème. Elle a pris tellement d’idées d’autres artistes que ce n’est vraiment pas original du tout. – I think the album is predictable. She really took plenty of ideas from other artists and it was not original at all.