TOEFL IBT – Idioms

Vocabulary is promordial in order to improve your TOEFL score. Remember, Preparation is the key to succeed !

These idioms are useful to know for sounding like a native English speaker, for enhancing your comprehension of English, or especially for any number of English language exams you may take. Here we will look at the most commonly used idioms in English, along with their approximate French translations.

actions speak louder than words

people’s intentions can be judged better by what they do than by what they say

While meetings can help clear the air, actions speak louder than words.

les actes sont plus éloquents que les paroles

add insult to injury

to further a loss with sarcasm or indignity; to worsen an unfavorable situation

To add insult to injury, the user is still allowed to edit.

pour couronner le tout

an arm and a leg

to cost a large amount of money

This would not necessarily cost an arm and a leg, either.

un bras

back to the drawing board

when an attempt fails, and it’s time to start planning all over again

If that fails we may be back to the drawing board.

recommencer à zéro

bite the bullet

to endure a painful or unpleasant situation that is unavoidable

We have decided to bite the bullet and get it over with.

serrer les dents

Break a leg!

a saying from the theater that means “good luck”

Actors say “break a leg” to wish fellow professionals luck before a performance.

Merde !

break the ice

to do something in order to reduce shyness

I tell them about the dogs to kind of break the ice.

briser la glace


a paradox in which the attempt to escape makes escape impossible

This account is in rather a Catch-22 situation.

c’est le serpent qui se mord la queue

curiosity killed the cat

inquisitiveness can lead one into dangerous situations

A less frequently-seen rejoinder to “curiosity killed the cat” is “but satisfaction brought it back.”

la curiosité est un vilain défaut

don’t count your chickens before they hatch

don’t make plans for something that may not happen

She already bought two concert tickets in hope that she’ll find someone to go with, but I told her not to count her chickens before they hatch.

il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué

every cloud has a silver lining

be optimistic; every bad situation has some good aspect to it

Every cloud has a silver lining – the fact that we have been leading the championship for so long has given us plenty of opportunity to practice this season.

d’un malheur peut naître un bonheur

fall head over heels

to fall quickly and extremely in love with someone

That is the student who fell head over heels for Yamada.

tomber raide dingue amoureux de qqn

give the benefit of the doubt

to look at someone as innocent until proven otherwise

Show restraint and give the president the benefit of the doubt.

accorder à qqn le bénéfice du doute

heard it through the grapevine

you learned something through means of a rumor

We heard through the grapevine that he might get some offers.

je l’ai appris par le telephone arabe

it’s not rocket science

it isn’t difficult to understand

This is not rocket science if you know what to look for.

c’est pourtant pas sorcier

it’s raining cats and dogs

it’s raining really strong or hard

It was raining cats and dogs and everything was mud and slime.

il pleut des cordes

kill two birds with one stone

to accomplish two different tasks at the same time and/or with a single action

If you enjoy work, you kill two birds with one stone.

faire d’une pierre deux coups

no pain, no gain

you need to suffer a little in order to succeed

This is basically the “no pain, no gain” advice, although I think “pain” is a bit strong.

il faut casser le noyaux pour avoir l’amande

piece of cake

a job, task, or other activity that is easy or simple

I guess the Olympics will be a piece of cake after this.

c’est du gâteau

play devil’s advocate

to argue against a position held by the majority of a group

I usually like to play devil’s advocate in a discussion in order to ignite a debate.

se faire l’avocat du diable

speak of the devil

when someone appears unexpectedly after just being talked about

Well speak of the devil, here she is now!

quand on parle du loup

spill the beans

reveal someone’s secret

And they certainly won’t spill the beans to a reporter.

se mettre à table

steal someone’s thunder

to take credit for something someone else did

He stole my thunder by telling the teacher he was the one who put the project together.

voler la vedette à qqn

take with a grain of salt

to not take what someone says too seriously; to treat someone’s words with a degree of skepticism

Anything you see us doing out there, you’ve got to take with a grain of salt.

prendre avec des pincettes

the best of both worlds

a situation in which someone has the privilege of enjoying two different opportunities

So it was like having the best of both worlds coming together.

le beurre et l’argent du beurre

the early bird gets the worm

success comes to those who prepare well and put in effort

Sometimes the early bird gets the worm, but sometimes the early bird gets frozen to death.

l’avenir appartient à ceux qui se lèvent tôt

the grass is always greener on the other side

a person is never satisfied with their current situation; they think others have it better

I remember like it was yesterday, thinking the grass is always greener on the other side.

l’herbe est toujours plus verte ailleurs

the whole nine yards

everything; all of it

I have had hate mail and death threats, the whole nine yards.

ne pas y aller de main morte

under the weather

feel sick

Carry tissues with you everywhere, especially if you’re under the weather.

pas dans son assiette

you can’t judge a book by its cover

don’t judge the value of something based on its appearance

He looks like a grumpy old man, but you can’t judge a book by its cover.

l’habit de fait pas le moine

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