Idiomatic Expressions with Avoir

In Chapter 2, you learned about idiomatic expressions — expressions that have meaning only in a particular language. Some phrases using avoir have unique translations that don't quite parallel the English usage. Many of these phrases will seem foreign to you, as English uses the verb “to be” for most of them. Avoir means “to have” or “to hold,” so you may need to spend some time becoming familiar with these expressions.

It is relatively easy to remember these idiomatic expressions when translating from French to English, because they don't make a whole lot of sense if translated literally. When moving from English to French, however, extra caution is needed, as you can easily fall into a trap if you accidentally translate the English words literally to form a French sentence. This can seriously alter the meaning, so pay close attention.

Avoir can be used with different words to describe a variety of physical conditions. In some cases, English has its own verb that functions as the equivalent of the expression; in others, it uses an adjective.

Avoir Chaud

Literally, it looks like “to have hot,” which does not make sense in English, but the meaning is “to be hot” or “to feel hot.” Note that to say “It is hot (outside),” you need to use the verb faire: Il fait chaud.

Avoir Froid

This means “to feel (be) cold.” As seen above, to say “It is cold (outside),” you need to use the verb faire: Il fait froid.

Avoir Faim

Literally, this means “to have hunger,” which makes sense in English, but sounds absurd. Instead, in French, this expression means “to be hungry.”

Avoir Soif

This construction, which means “to be thirsty,” closely resembles “hunger,” so you should find it easy to remember the two of them.

Avoir L'Air

The literal translation of this expression (which means “to seem”) is “to have the air,” which is very close to “seem” in English.

Avoir Sommeil

You can use this phrase, which means “to be sleepy,” when you want to indicate that someone is tired or sleepy, including yourself.


You can use this phrase when you want to indicate that you are a particular age. Literally, it means “to have years,” as in J'ai trente ans, or in other words, “I am thirty years old.”

Avoir Mal

This expression is used to describe an ache or pain and is followed by the preposition à and a noun with a definite article to indicate the source of the pain. An example is Il a mal à la tête, which means “He has a headache.”

Avoir Tort

There is no separate verb for “wrong.” Instead, this idiomatic expression is used, and it means “to be wrong.”

Avoir Raison

This phrase is the opposite of avoir tort and means “to be right.”

Avoir Besoin de

Literally, this phrase would translate as “to have a need for.” When translating into English, a close approximation is “to need.” The phrase J'ai besoin de lait means “I need milk.”

Avoir Peur de

When translating this expression, which means “to be afraid,” you can also use the verb “to fear.”

Avoir Honte de

Honte means shame, so it literally means “to have shame about” something. A more common translation is “to be ashamed of something.”

Avoir Envie de

In the English equivalent of this expression that means “to feel like,” “feel like” is often followed by a word ending in “-ing,” like “reading.” After the French idiomatic expression, the infinitive of the verb is used: Je n'ai pas envie de manger means “I don't feel like eating.”

Avoir Lieu

You can use this phrase to describe the beginning of almost any event — it means “to take place.”

Avoir de la Chance

Chance means luck; you can wish someone “good luck” by saying Bonne chance! In order to say that someone is lucky, use this idiomatic expression: il a de la chance.

Avoir L'occasion de

In English, this phrase usually means “to have the opportunity.” It can also be translated as “to have the chance,” but be sure not to confuse it with avoir de la chance.

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