For members


21 essential French fruit and vegetable expressions

From falling in the apples to acting like a cucumber, the French language has a huge variety of phrases involving fruit and vegetables, here are some of our favourites.

France has a plethora of fun fruit and veg phrases that you should start using straight away.
France has a plethora of fun fruit and veg phrases that you should start using straight away. (Photo by JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN / AFP)

Avoir la pêche – (avwar la pesh)

This expression literally means: to have the peach. 

It is used to convey a sense that someone is full of energy and in a good mood. In English you might say ‘full of beans’ to give the same sense.

You can substitute la pêche with any of the following words to give the same meaning: la banane (the banana), la patate (the potato), la frite (the chip/french fry).

J’ai la pêche aujourd’hui – I am in a good mood today

T’as la banane ? – Are you happy? 

Nous avons la frite – We have a spring in our step 

Tomber dans les pommes – (tom-bay don lay pom)

This expression literally means: to fall in the apples. 

But in reality, it is used to talk about people fainting or losing consciousness. 

It was coined by the French writer, George Sand, in the 19th Century. 

Je suis tombé dans les pommes – I lost consciousness 

Ramener sa fraise – (Ram-uhn-ay sa frez)

This expression literally means: to bring back his/her strawberry. 

But it is often used to talk about someone who interrupts a conversation or gets involved in a group discussion that doesn’t concern them. 

It can also be used simply to talk about moving towards something or someone. 

Fraise can be used interchangeably with poire (pear), pomme (apple), citron (lemon). The possessive adjective (ma, ta, sa etc.) must agree with the person who is doing the action. 

Je sais que cela paraît étrange de ma part de ramener ma fraise – I know that it seems strange of me to chip in 

Il avait ramené sa fraise avec arrogance – He arrogantly interrupted 

Tu ramènes ta fraise ? – Are you coming? 

Avoir le melon – (av-war luh muhl-on)

This expression literally means: to have the melon. 

It is used to convey the sense that someone is big-headed and has an inflated sense of self-importance. 

You can exchange the verb avoir for prendre (to take) if you want to talk about someone who is becoming arrogant. 

J’ai le melon – I am arrogant/big headed

Après sa victoire, elle prends le melon – After her victory, she is becoming big headed 

Être bête comme chou – (Eht-tra bet com shoe

This expression literally means: to be stupid like a cabbage. 

However, this is not a phrase that you would use to talk about a person, but rather a task that is easy to complete or could be done by a child. 

Suivez la recette, c’est bête comme chou – Follow the recipe, it’s not rocket science 

Faire chou blanc – (Fair shoe blon

This expression literally means: to do/make white cabbage. 

It is used to talk about suffering a defeat or failing. Sometimes, chou and blanc are hyphenated like this: chou-blanc

Faire chou blanc is thought to come from bowling, where if you missed all the pins, you would have done a coup blanc – a white or blank hit. 

It is possible that the expression was formed as a combination of this, with the verb échouer (to fail). 

J’ai fait chou blanc – I failed

Se prendre le chou – (Suh pron-dra luh shoe)

This expression literally means: to take the cabbage. 

It conveys a sense of losing your cool or becoming annoyed and angry. It is similar to the French expression, se prendre la tête

Ce client va nous prendre le chou – This client will make us angry 

Tu me prends le chou – You are getting on my nerves 

Ménager la chèvre et le chou – (men-a-jer la chev ay luh shoe)

This expression literally means: to conserve the goat and the cabbage. 

But this 18th century phrase actually is used to talk about someone who tries to please two opposing parties at the same time while never revealing where their true position. 

The logic is that if you leave a goat and a cabbage together, the goat will eventually eat the cabbage. So the idea is that they should be stored separately. 

Nous avons un gouvernement qui pense qu’il peut ménager la chèvre et le chou – We have a government that thinks it can satisfy everyone

Couper la poire en deux – (Coop-ey la pwar on duh

This expression literally means: to cut the pear in two. 

Similarly to ménager la chèvre et le chou, this phrase evokes the action of making a compromise. 

Il s’est résigné, après de douloureux débats internes, à couper la poire en deux – He decided, after painful internal reflection, to make a compromise

Raconter des salades – (rack-on-tay day sal-ad

This expression literally means: To tell lettuces 

But its real meaning is to lie, or to tell tall tales. 

Pendant son entretien il racontait des salades – He lied during his interview

Il ne faut pas raconter des salades – You should not lie 

Les carottes sont cuites – (Lay carrot son queet

This expression literally means: the carrots are cooked. 

But it is used more commonly to talk about a situation in which all is lost or there is no hope of change – an English equivalent might be ‘your goose is cooked’.

Les carottes sont cuits can also be used to talk about someone who is dying, although it’s obviously pretty insensitive so we wouldn’t advise using it in front of their sick person’s relatives.

C’est trop tard, les carottes sont cuites – It’s too late, it is over 

C’est la fin des haricots – (Say la fan day harry-co

This expression literally means: it is the end of the beans. 

However, its truer meaning is similar to that of les carottes sont cuites – quite simply, it is over or finished. 

C’est la fin des haricots pour nous ! – It is the end for us

La flèche du temps va du big bang à la fin des haricots – The arrow of time goes from the big bang to the end of days 

Faire le poireau – (Faire luh pwar-oh

This expression literally means: to do/make the leek. 

It is used to talk about someone who stands still, waiting around. 

Je fais le poireau – I wait patiently 

Mettre du beurre dans les épinards – (Met-ruh do bur don lay eppin-are

This expression literally means: to put butter in the spinach. 

It conveys the sense of improving your standard of money by earning more money. Historically, having a bountiful supply butter was seen as a sign of wealth. 

Je voulais juste mettre du beurre dans les épinards – I just wanted to improve my standard of living 

Avoir un cœur d’artichaut (Av-vwar un ker darty-cho) 

This expression literally means: to have the heart of an artichoke. 

It is used to talk about someone who is fickle, who falls quickly and easily in love. 

You can use it with both avoir and être (to be), with the same meaning in both cases. 

Elle est un vrai cœur d’artichaut – She falls in love really easily 

J’ai un cœur d’artichaut – I fall in love easily

Compter pour des prunes – (com-tay pour day proon)

This expression literally means: to count for plums. 

It used to described the act of putting effort into a task for no reward. 

The phrase dates back to the 12th century at the time of the Crusades.

In 1148, the crusaders surrounded Damascus, “using the wood of the orchards of the town to strengthen their positions”, according to Hélène de Champchesnel in Faire la tournée des grands-ducs et 99 autres expressions héritées de l’Histoire de France.

But the inhabitants of Damascus moved the crusaders away, pushing them towards the orchards and beyond.

Forced to abandon the fight, the armies went back to “Jerusalem with for loot only a few baskets of plums. The failure of Damascus marked the end of the second Crusade”, according to de Champchesnel.

J’ai tout rangé dans l’appartement, et ça compte pour des prunes ! – I cleaned everything in the apartment, and it counts for nothing!

J’ai travaillé pendant deux heures sur cet article. J’espère que ça ne compte pas pour des prunes ! – I worked on this article for two hours. I hope it doesn’t count for nothing! 

Ne pas avoir un radis – (Nuh pah avwar un ra-dee

This expression literally means: to not have a radish. 

The phrase is used to talk about someone who does not have any money, in English we would say ‘doesn’t have a bean’.

En attendent ce virement, je n’ai pas un radis – While waiting for this transfer, I have no money

Il paraît qu’elles n’ont pas un radis – It seems that they are poor 

Prendre une prune (pron-druh oon proon)

This expression literally means: to take a plum. 

But commonly, this phrase is used to talk about receiving a fine or punishment after breaking the rules. 

Up until the late 1970s, the traffic wardens were referred to as aubergines, meaning that people who parked their car without a ticket could be handed a plum by an aubergine

Je me suis pris une prune à cause de cette aubergine – This traffic warden gave me a fine

S’occuper de ses oignons – (Sock-u-pay duh sez on-yons

This expression literally means: to take care of one’s onions. 

It is used to convey the sense that you want someone to mind their own business. 

An alternative, which despite being grammatically incorrect is still used in France, is ce n’est pas tes oignons (it is none of your business). 

Occupe-toi de tes oignons – Mind your own business. 

Banner ad

Un navet – (Uhn nav-ay)

This expression literally means: a turnip. 

It is used in France to describe a bad film, similar to a ‘turkey’ in English.

It was first used in this sense by the writer Emile Zola. 

J’ai regardé ce film car c’est avec Nicholas Cage, mais c’est quoi ce navet? – I watched this film because Nicholas Cage was in it, but what was this train wreck?! 

C’était un navet – It was a turkey 

Avoir l’air concombre – (av-war lair con-com-bruh

This expression literally means: to have the air of a cucumber. 

It does not mean ‘cool as a cucumber’ (to be chilled or relaxed) as many English-speakers might think. 

This phrase actually is used to describe someone who seems a little bit stupid. It is rude, but not considered a swear word. 

Il a l’air concombre – He seems a little bit stupid 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


‘Sac iconique’: France unveils French shopping terms to replace English versions

A commission that seeks to act as a guardian of the French language has published a string of recommendations for translations of shopping and style terms, to replace widely-used English ones.

'Sac iconique': France unveils French shopping terms to replace English versions

Perhaps inspired by this month’s Paris Fashion Week, the non-binding recommendations from the Commission for Enrichment of the French Language were published in Wednesday’s Official Journal.

Instead of an “it-bag” — defined as “a handbag in the latest fashion or that stands for a brand” — ministries and businesses are encouraged to write “sac iconique“.

An “it-boy” or “it-girl” can now safely be described as an “icone de la mode” and a “must-have” transforms into an “incontournable“, while “try before you buy” becomes “essayer-acheter”.

There are also more baffling business terms that may be unfamiliar to many native English speakers, like “digital native vertical brand” (“marque integree nee en ligne“).

Set up in 2015, the Commission for Enrichment of the French Language aims to “provide French vocabulary appropriate to the need for communication that is clear and accessible to the greatest number of people”, it said in the introduction to its 2021 annual report.

Led by a member of the Academie Francaise — founded in 1635 under King Louis XIII to guard “pure” French — the Commission says it “recalls to a broad audience the importance of having and using French vocabulary so as to keep our language functional”.

Given the dominance of English in global business and technology, its terms are the most frequently targeted for translation into the language of Moliere.

“These days there’s no invention, innovation or discovery that doesn’t have its corresponding term, increasingly often in English,” the Commission said in its report.

“The flow of new concepts that must be defined and named in French is therefore continuous.”

The report cited fields including hydrogen power, the Covid-19 pandemic and malicious digital activities as recent areas to which  its 20-odd expert groups have turned their attention.