Idioms using 'Tout'

Posted by Josh on 22nd Mar 2023 in the blog in the category


‘Tout’ is one of the most common words in French, so unsurprisingly it also forms the basis of a number of French expressions. Some of these – such as 'tout de même' (all the same) – are simple or literal enough to understand without explanation. But there are many others that don’t make any sense at all at first sight.

These are what we call idioms – phrases that only make sense if you know what they mean. Like English, French is full of them, and a great deal of them use the word ‘tout’.

Getting your head around the ‘tout’ idioms will not only remove all confusion, but show you the versatility of this special word, impressing native speakers and opening up a number of new pathways for conversation and expression

Tout craché

This expression signifies a sense of certainty about something, as in the following examples.

Tom, c'est le portrait tout craché de son frère. | Tom, he is the spitting image of his brother.

C’est le même bâtiment tout craché. | That’s the same building for sure.

Tout d’un coup

You would use this expression to describe something happening very suddenly. Think of how 'coup' is used in other expressions, such as 'coup de foudre'.

Il a commencé à pleuvoir tout d’un coup. | It started to rain very suddenly.

À toute épreuve

This expression describes something that is very solid and unshakeable. Épreuve usually means a 'test', but in this idiom it means something that is 'tested', reliable and foolproof.

Tout chose

The closest approximation for this idiom in English is something like ‘to feel out of sorts’, or even ‘to feel a bit strange’. For instance, in the following expression:

Jacques ne veut pas aller à la fête car il se sent tout chose. | Jacques doesn't want to go to the party as he feels out of sorts.

Parler de tout et de rien

You can probably get the sense of this expression by translating it literally: ‘to talk of everything and nothing’. It’s a more expressive way of saying to chit-chat or make small-talk.

Tout de go

This idiom doesn't derive from the English word 'go', but rather the old expression 'Avaler tout de gob', meaning to swallow in one go. It can be translated as 'all of a sudden', with the suggestion of abruptness, or even bluntness. For instance in the following example:

Nous n’étions qu’à la moitié de notre repas quand, tout de go, le serveur nous a apporté l'addition.
| We were only halfway through our meal when, all of a sudden, the waiter brought us our bill.

Tenter le tout pour le tout

The meaning of this phrase is ‘to risk everything’, in other words to take a big gamble. Remember to conjugate ‘tenter’, as in the following example.

Ils ont tenté le tout pour le tout en acceptant son offre.
| They risked everything by accepting his offer.

Tout ce qui brille n'est pas or

English speakers should recognise this one: ‘all that shines is not gold’. In English we might say 'glitters' instead of 'shines' because the alliteration helps to emphasise the point, but the meaning is the same: just because something is attractive in appearance, it doesn’t mean it will be good in any other way.

De toute façon

You may be able to guess the meaning of this phrase, which literally means ‘of all ways’ or 'of every way'. In English we would typically say ‘anyway’ or 'in any case', as in the following example:

Nous viendrons avec vous, parce que de toute façon nous allons au parc nous aussi. | We'll come with you, because we're also going to the park anyway.

De toutes pièces

This expression is usually used in contexts where you're criticising someone or something, although if you wish to remove the negative connotations, you can simply say 'de zero'. It means ‘completely’ or ‘from scratch’, and you can use it in expressions like the following.

Pierre l’a inventé de toutes pièces. | Pierre completely made up the whole thing.

Être sur toutes les lèvres

‘To be on all the lips’ – can you guess what this expression means? You can use this saying to describe a thing or person which everyone is talking about.

La décision du président est sur toutes les lèvres. | Everyone is talking about the president's decision.

Toutes proportions gardées

You may already be familiar with the Latin equivalent of this expression, ‘mutatis mutandis’ – meaning 'all things taken into account', or 'everything considered in the correct proportion'. Now you know how to say it in French too.

Toutes proportions gardées, je préfère votre suggestion à la sienne | All things considered, I prefer your suggestion to his

Être tout feu tout flamme

If you’re 'tout feu tout flamme', or 'all fire all flame', it doesn't mean that you're literally being incinerated but rather that you're ‘burning with enthusiasm’, as we say in English. It's a neat way of conveying that you’re extremely excited and eager to do something.

Quand j'ai commencé ce projet, j'étais tout feu tout flamme.
| I was extremely enthusiastic when I started this project.

Discover more 'tout' expressions with Alexa in the following video.

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