There are plenty of famous French quotes and proverbs that many people outside of France don't know about.

Keep in mind that a proverb is a piece of advice that is in general use and is commonly known. A proverb is a short phrase used commonly by people but popular and well known because it was said by someone important.

Learning each proverb, advice, or piece of wisdom every Fench philosopher in France offered could be challenging. However, you could pay attention to some of the most famous pieces of advice given by the world's greatest thinkers.

These sayings were important back in the day because they helped shape the way an entire country view the world. Today they are important because they help us understand the history and human behavior.

France was the home of some of the best philosophers in history and learning the meaning of their phrases and sayings about love, life, language, philosophy, and more, can help us understand and learn about their culture and the world around us.

To understand each quote better, you should pay attention to the French vocabulary and learn the literal meaning of some words. For example, a very popular word is etre, which means to be.

French institution building
The French language has a lot of three and four-letter words like pas, qui, les, tout, sans, bien, dans, pour, mieux, fait, faut, nous, vaut, mais, and more. Photo by Francais a Londres on Unsplash

Other words are qui, that means which, tout that means everything, une that means one, pour that means for, mais that means but, faut that means must, des that means of, vie that means life, est which means is, and so on.

Below you will find a list of 10 famous French quotes about life, love, and art.

Keep in mind that sometimes the meaning of things gets lost in translation and some famous French quotes don't translate literally to English or some were more adequate for the time when they were said. To understand better go check out our article on the differences between French and English.

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French quotes about life - la vie

French philosophers of the time were known for their capacity to think and reflect on life. Most of the philosophical work created in France has been translated to English because their meaning is so transcendent and important that it would be impossible for us not to have its translation to English.

1 - À vaillant coeur rien d’impossible - Jacques Cœur

This is one of the most popular sayings that talks about bravery. The literal translation is “For a valiant heart nothing is impossible.” This proverb is popular because it tells humans that the sky is the limit and we should work hard to accomplish the impossible.

This proverb was said by Jacques Cœur, a French government official and state-sponsored merchant whose personal fortune became legendary and led to his eventual disgrace.

2 - Je pense, donc je suis. - Rene Descartes

This saying is probably one of the most famous proverbs of all times and it refers to our existence as human beings. The literal translation is “I think, therefore, I am.” As far as phrases go, this has to be one of the most popular ones because it is known worldwide.

Rene Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist who made significant contributions to all of these three fields. His philosophy has Aristotelean descent and he is most commonly known for inventing analytic geometry.

Love to learn poster in school
If you want to understand these phrases better you can learn how to speak French with a French tutor from Superprof and have lessons on proverbs and other intricacies of the language. Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

3 - A vaincre sans peril, on triomphe sans gloire. - Pierre Corneille

The literal translation of this saying is “To win without risk is a triumph without glory” and it refers to the challenges and rewards we face as humans. He spoke about the true meaning of winning and how it is better to risk in life, or else there is no point in our actions.

Pierre Corneille was a tragedian, which means an actor or dramatist. He is generally considered one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists.

4 - Il vaut mieux faire que dire. - Alfred de Musset

The literal translation of this French proverb is  “Doing is better than saying.” It refers to a person's actions and how an action shows a person's character more than their words. Many people tend to apply this saying to their relationships, work-life, and more.

Alfred de Musset was another French dramatist, poet, and novelist. He is better known for writing the novel titled a Confession d'une enfant du siècle, The Confession of a Child of the Century.

French quotes about love - l'amour

The French are romantic and they are known around the world for being a romantic language and romantic culture. This is why most popular philosophers have at least one famous saying about love (amour) and romance.

5 - Aimer, ce n’est pas se regarder l’un l’autre, c’est regarder ensemble dans la même direction. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This phrase translated literally means “Love doesn’t mean gazing at each other but looking, together, in the same direction.” This expresses the common belief that being in love means wanting to look at each other all day but what Saint-Exupery expresses is that love is about planning a life with your partner and seeing a future with that person.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was a French writer, poet, aristocrat, journalist, and pioneering aviator.

6 - Il n’y a qu’un bonheur dans la vie, c’est d’aimer et d’être aimé. - George Sand

George Sand expressed this popular saying which means that “There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.” This refers to the human will and wishes to love and to give love and how this is our ultimate purpose in this world and how it is the one thing that can bring joy to our lives.

Remember, as we mentioned above, etre means to be, so this quote speaks about the reason for being of human beings.

Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, best known by her pen name George Sand, was a French novelist, memoirist, journalist, and a woman whose work stoop out in a time when women were not considered in any academic field.

Phrases about love
French lessons are about learning words like amour, tout, les, qui, pas, etre, and more. Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

7 - L’amour est comme le vent, nous ne savons pas d’où il vient. - Honoré de Balzac

This phrase translated literally means “Love is like the wind, we never know where it will come from.”

Honoré de Balzac was a French playwright and novelist. The novel sequence La Comédie Humaine presents a French life after Napoleon and it is known as his best work.

Learn also about the French pronunciation of famous global brands.

French quotes about the arts

8 - On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. - Antoine des Saint-Exupery

This popular French quote means "We see well only with the heart.” It refers to the feeling that a piece of art might generate in a person and how art is not about what we see but what we feel.

As we mentioned above, Antoine de Saint-Exupery was a French writer, poet, aristocrat, journalist, and pioneering aviator.

9 - Un peuple malheureux fait les grands artistes. - Alfred de Musset

Alfred de Musset, as we mentioned above, was a popular dramatist and spoke about how “An unhappy nation makes great artists.” This makes people reflect on how art is a form of expression and can be used as a political canvas.

It also talks about how art can be used as an outlet to express an artist's indignation and unhappiness with their government or history.

The museum of the Louvre
French lessons are about learning how to speak and learning about popular phrases, sayings, and proverbs, but it is not about knowing how to literally say everything. Photo by Gloria Villa on Unsplash

10 - Imaginer c’est choisir. - Jean Giono

The translation to English of this saying is “To imagine is to choose.” This author was reflecting on the imaginative process of artists and how imagination is a choice.

Jean Giono was a French author who wrote many different works of fiction.

Keep in mind that art is also about music and you can also learn about famous French musicians and singers.

French quotes are everywhere

Learning to say and understand French quotes is not only about understanding French, but it is about understanding the history of the country and about the philosophers that shaped the thinking of our world.

You can learn French vocabulary to have a general understanding of each of these phrases. Learning words like qui, tout, amour, pas, est, sans, pour, fait, jean, une, vaut, mais, mieux, and much more.

However, you don't have to fluently speak the language, all you have to do is take it one step at a time and learn French at your own pace. To learn more about the subject you can read our introduction to the French language and the arts or hire a private tutor right here on Superprof.

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