Animal proverbs 

Here are the most common French proverbs involving animals (Some idiomatic expressions may have also found their way to this page).


Proverbe / Proverb Literal translation Idiomatic translation / English equivalent Meaning
A bon chat, bon rat. A good cat deserves a good rat. To meet one’s match. / Tit for tat An attacker and an attackee who both grow stronger from finding new ways to outwit each other.
Appeler un chat un chat. To call a cat, a cat. To call a spade, a spade. To speak plainly and honestly (even if it may hurt one’s interlocutor sensitivity).
Avoir un chat dans la gorge. To have a cat in the throat. To have a frog in your throat. To have a tight feeling in your throat and being unable to speak clearly.
Avoir une faim de loup. Hungry as a wolf. - To be really hungry.
La bave du crapaud n'atteint pas la blanche colombe. The spit of the toad doesn't reach the white dove. - I (i.e “la blanche colombe”) do not care about your (or someone else i.e “le crapaud”) criticism, comment or insult (i.e “la bave).
Les chiens ne font pas des chats. Dogs don't make cats. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Offspring grow up to be like their parents.
On n’attrape pas les mouches avec du vinaigre. You don't catch flies with vinegar. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. In order to obtain what you want from people, you have to use appropriate means.
C'est la montagne qui accouche d'une souris. The mountain gave birth to a mouse. - Expression used to describe a much anticipated event/project which end-up with no significant results.
Chat échaudé craint l'eau froide. A scalded cat fears cold water. Once bitten, twice shy. Someone who had a bad experience will be more (too?) careful the next time in a similar situation.
Chien qui aboie ne mord pas. barking dogs seldom bite. his bark is bigger than his bite. Those who make loud threats seldom carry them out.
La nuit, tous les chats sont gris. In the heart of the night (in the dark), all cats are grey. - The night (darkness) erase differences between people (due to social status, etc.) or things.
Les chiens aboient, la caravane passe. The dogs bark, the caravan passes by. - Let them say what they want, I know what I am doing.
Mettre la charrue avant les bœufs . To put the cart before the ox. To put the cart before the horse. 1.You should do things in the righ order.

2.You should not anticipate too much.
On ne fait pas boire un âne qui n'a pas soif. One does not make a donkey drink if it isn't thirsty. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. You can force someone stubborn (or stupid) to do what he/she does not want to do (even if its for her/his own good)
Petit poisson deviendra grand. The little fish will grow. 1. Boys will be men one day.

2. A little can go a long way.
1. Boys will be men one day.

2. A little can go a long way.
Petit à petit l'oiseau fait son nid. Little by little the bird builds its nest. Little strokes fell great oaks . With patience and perseverance you’ll reach your goal.
Prendre le taureau par les cornes. Take the bull by the horns. Take the bull by the horns. You need to take decisive action in order to solve a (big) problem.
Revenons à nos moutons. Let us get back to our sheep. - Let's get back to what we were saying/doing.
Ce n'est pas aux vieux singes qu'on apprend à faire des grimaces. You can't teach old monkeys how to make faces. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. Don’t teach an expert.
Ce n'est pas la vache qui crie le plus fort qui donne le plus de lait. It is not the cow who shouts the loudest who gives the most milk. Great talkers are little doers. Those people who talk a lot and are always teaching others usually do not do much work.
Quand le chat n'est pas là, les souris dansent. When the cat's away the mice will dance. When the cat's away the mice will play. In the absence of their controller, subordinates will take advantage of circumstances to do as they please.
Quand on parle du loup (on en voit la queue). Speak of the wolf and you’ll see his tail. Speak of the devil (and he will arrive). Expression used when you are talking about a person who suddenly pop up.
Qui vole un œuf, vole un bœuf . He that will steal an egg will steal an ox. He that will steal a pin will steal a pound . 1. No matter how little the amount, a theft is never justifiable.

2. Small misdeed will lead to bigger misdeed.
Un cochon n'y retrouverait pas ses petits. a pig couldn't find it's piglets here. - This expression is generally used to describe a very messy place (room, house, etc.).
Une hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps. One swallow does not make a spring. One swallow does not make a summer. Do not draw a conclusion too hastily.
Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l'ours (avant de l'avoir tué). Do not sell the bear skin, before you’ve killed the bear. Don't count your chickens before they are hatched. This proverb warns one’s not to make (or act upon) an assumption which could turn out to be wrong.