There are days when you just need a bit of motivation. Whether you are working on the project of a lifetime, or the dog just ate your homework, it never hurts to have a little pick me up. With France boasting many great novelists and philosophers like Victor Hugo, Molière, and George Sand, there are a lot of fabulous French inspirational quotes that have been written and parsed over the centuries.
I’ve lived in France for more than 10 years and I have to note that some of these sayings and proverbs are so famous, it is difficult to identify who said them first. (Everybody likes to claim credit, you know!) So instead of concentrating attribution, I’ve tried to go deeper into the meaning.
Because sometimes you just need a little something to pep up and change your outlook. So allons-y!
Power Quotes for the Soul
1. Le bonheur n’est pas quelque chose de prêt à l’emploi. Il vient de vos propres actions.
Translation: Happiness is not something that comes out of a box (ready to use). It comes from your own actions.
Ahh, if only happiness came in a box with instructions! But until some ingenious entrepreneur comes up with that, it is time to come up with our own solutions.
2. On ne change pas une équipe qui gagne.
Translation: You don’t change a team that is winning.
If your team is winning, do you change strategies? The general consensus would be no, unless there is quite a good reason, of course.
☞ READ MORE: 21 French Quotes about Life (and what comes after)
3. Vouloir, c’est pouvoir.
Translation: To want is to be able.
This quote actually is much more inspiring in French, because “pouvoir” means “to be able”, but it also means “having power”.
Yes, you can do anything you put your mind to. Where there is a will, there is a way. The expression comes from a book by author Monique Sélim called Pouvoirs et marché au Vietnam: Les morts et l’État, about the war in Vietnam.
4. Je pense, donc je suis.
Translation: I think therefore I am.
Cogito, ergo sum was what French philosopher Rene Descartes originally declared in Latin in the 17th century. Bringing together philosophy, rationalism, and thought, the phrase has been translated into many languages and lives on to this day.
5. Fais toujours de ton mieux même si personne ne regarde.
Translation: Always do your best, even if no one is watching.
In other words, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it still make a sound?” Ultimately, you are doing things for yourself, so keep at it.
6. Il n’y a pas de raccourci pour aller là où ça vaut la peine d’aller.
Translation: There is no shortcut going anywhere that is worth going.
In other words, you’re not going to find an easy way to do something that is worth doing. Life has no shortcuts.
Unless you are in Ikea, in which case a few shortcuts will definitely get you to the checkout a lot faster.
7. Cent percent (100%) des choses qu’on ne tente pas échouent.
Translation: You will fail at 100% of the things you don’t try.
Basically, you are never going to win the lottery, if you don’t play. Words to live by.
8. À vaillant coeur rien d’impossible.
Translation: For a brave heart, nothing is impossible.
I suppose the English equivalent is “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, although I think it sounds a bit more noble in French.
And no, this French inspirational quote has nothing to do with Mel Gibson.
9. À vaincre sans peril, on triomphe sans gloire.
Translation: To conquer without peril, is to win without glory.
If it is too easy, we would not savor the victory. In other words, to win big, a little blood must be shed.
10. Il vaut mieux prévenir que guérir.
Translation: It is better to prevent than to try to cure.
Originally written in medieval latin, this expression has entered into the general lexicon in many countries. The English version would be “prevention is better than a cure.”
11. En face de la mort, on comprend mieux la vie.
Translation: In the face of death, we understand life better.
The declarations made on the deathbed, where it all becomes too clear. This French quote asks to look for clarity and the true essence of self beforehand.
12. La vie est un beau rêve, mais ne vous réveillez pas.
Translation: Life is a beautiful dream, but don’t wake up.
The beauty of life is celebrated in this French quote, with all the awe and wonder of every day lived well.
13. L’eau fait pleurer, le vin fait chanter.
Translation: Water makes one cry, wine makes one sing.
Why drink water when wine is available? An ode to wine. This quote harkens back to the the Middle Ages, when it was safer to drink wine and mead, rather than unpure water. You can read more French wine quotes here.
14. Mieux vaut être seul que mal accompagné.
Translation: Better alone than in a bad company.
A French saying that always holds true. Avoid those people in your life who bring you down.
Quotes about Life & Struggles
1. Après la pluie, le beau temps.
Translation: After the rain, comes the sunshine.
In the words of Little Orphan Annie: “The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar”. You need a bit of rain to make a rainbow.
The quote is based on the title of a book (link in French) written by the Countess of Ségur in 1871. It isn’t the happiest of tales, hence the title.
2. Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.
Translation: Little by little, the bird makes his nest.
With plenty of perseverance, the little bird is working hard to build his nest. All you need is a bit of patience, and you too will make it.
Another French expression with the same sentiment is: “On ne fait pas d’omelette sans casser d’œufs.” meaning, we don’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”
The equivalent English version would be: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
3. Qui craint de souffrir, il souffre déjà de ce qu’il craint.
Translation: He who fears suffering, suffers already of what he fears.
Writer Michel de Montaigne was known as one of the most significant philosophers of the French Renaissance. If you are afraid to achieve something, you are already suffering from that which you do not have.
4. Qui court 2 lièvres à la fois, n’en prend aucun.
Translation: The one who chases 2 hares at the same time, will catch neither.
Like the little kid chasing every rabbit he sees, you know he isn’t going to catch either. Concentrate on one goal at a time, and you may have better success.
5. Qui n’avance pas, recule.
Translation: He who doesn’t advance, goes in reverse.
You may think you are standing still, but effectively the world is still going round and you are losing ground. Rather similar to keeping money in a mattress, during a period of inflation.
6. Il n’y a pas de verités moyennes.
Translation: There are no half-truths.
For the politicians and would-be politicians out there that would like to wiggle out of giving the best answer.
7. Quand on a pas ce que l’on aime, il faut aimer ce que l’on a.
Translation: When one doesn’t have the one you love, you have to love what you have.
A lovely proverb to motivate you to love and value yourself, rather than putting yourself down. This quote says as much about the one you love, as it does about yourself.
8. Nous sommes nos choix.
Translation: We are our choices.
Taking ownership of our own actions, that’s what it is all about. Every decision, big or small, we are the ones that decide our fate.
9. Ècrire, c’est une façon de parler sans être interrompu.
Translation: To write, it is a way to speak without being interrupted – Jules Renard.
Sometimes you just need to put your thoughts on paper, to be able to say what you intend. To reflect, ponder, and put into words your deepest feelings and desires.
10. Le bonheur est parfois caché dans l’inconnu.
Translation: Happiness is sometimes hidden in the unknown.
You too can find your happiness, but it may depend on looking where you least expect it.
This French proverb combines well with Albert Einstein’s quote which is a bit more blunt: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Sometimes you just have to look/try somewhere else.
☞ READ MORE: 49 Famous Quotes about Paris
11. Chacun voit midi à sa porte.
Translation: Everyone sees noon at his door – Jacques d’Arribehaude
The English equivalent would be “a broken clock is still right twice a day.”
12. La famille, c’est l’amour. C’est tout ce qui compte.
Translation: Family, this is love. It’s all that matters.
By French philosopher Lyne Ménard, this quote says it all. If your family is filled with love, what else do you need?
13. La famille avant tout.
Translation: Family before everything.
I’m not sure I want a tattoo in French, but if I did, this one is perfect. Family first.
14. Fromage, poire et vin, repas de vilain.
Translation: Cheese, pear and wine, a meal for the poor.
Wine and cheese may not sound like a poor man’s meal, but in France where both are plentiful, it is a meal in itself.
☞ READ MORE: Funny and Interesting Quotes about France
15. D’autres choses peuvent nous changer, mais nous commencer et finir comme une famille.
Translation: Other things can change us, but we start and end like family.
Attributed to Anthony Brandt who originally said it in English, this French quote speaks to the circle of life. Family and those we hold dear, is who we spend the start of our days on this earth and the end (if we are lucky enough.)
16. C’est cela l’amour, tout donner, tout sacrifier sans espoir de retour.
Translation: This is love, giving it one’s all, sacrificing everything without hope of it being returned.
Philosopher Albert Camus dives into the darker side of love with this French saying. He was married a couple of times, had many affairs, and won the Nobel prize for literature, so obviously knew what he was talking about.
(Note: If you are traveling through Provence, stop by the Château de Lourmarin to see where he wrote many of his most famous musings.)
17. Le vin est un lubrifiant social.
Translation: Wine is a social lubricant.
If you ever feel like a wallflower at a party, a sip of wine can always be counted on to reduce those nerves. As I said above, everything in moderation. (And that includes French wine sayings!)
You can read more French quotes about friendship here.
18. L’amour est exclusif, on ne peut aimer en plusieurs endroits à la fois.
Translation: Love is exclusive, you cannot make love in several places at the same time.
This proverb de Jules Labbé is a play on words for all those cheaters out there. You can read more about the French view of love-making here.
19. On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur.
Translation: “We see well only with the heart.”
Can you see beyond what is visible? This beautiful quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery captures the sentiment of looking with one’s heart.
Quotes for Success
1. C’est toujours le bon moment.
Translation: It is always a good time.
If you are wondering if now is a good time or not, rest assured it is.
As the English version goes: “Never put off for tomorrow, what you can do today”.
The author of this quote is unknown, but it is inspired by Martin Luther King’s “The time is always right to do what is right” (“C’est toujours le bon moment de faire ce qui est juste.”)
2. Les chefs-d’oeuvre ne sont jamais que des tentatives heureuses.
Translation: The masterpieces are nothing but happy tentatives.
Written by the famous writer Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, better known as George Sand, she points out that you never know when you will end up with a masterpiece. A work of art is achieved by trying.
3. Soyez le changement que vous voulez voir dans ce monde.
Translation: Be the change you want to see in the world.
This famous quote was originally said by Gandhi, before being translated into French. The famous line of President John F. Kennedy also comes to mind: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
4. Vous n’êtes pas encore arrivés mais vous êtes plus proche qu’hier.
Translation: You haven’t arrived yet, but you are closer than yesterday – Anonymous.
I suppose the English version of this quote would be “Keep going, you can do it”! Not quite as poetic though.
5. Peu importe la lenteur à laquelle vous allez tant que vous n’arrêtez pas.
Translation: It doesn’t matter how slowly you are going, as long as you don’t stop – Anonymous.
The classic Aesop’s tale of the Tortoise and the Hare comes to mind with this motivational quote.
6. Le meilleur moment pour planter un arbre était il y a 20 ans, le deuxième meilleur moment c’est maintenant.
Translation: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the 2nd best time is right now.
Yes a grown tree in that spot would have been nice. But planting that baby tree now is better than nothing! We all grow older and wiser, if we are lucky enough. The quote is based on a similar Chinese proverb that has been translated into French.
7. Il vaut mieux faire que dire.
Translation: It is better to do, than to talk – Alfred de Musset.
In English, the equivalent saying would be: “You gotta walk the walk, rather than talk the talk.” Enough said.
8. La parfaite valeur est de faire sans témoin ce qu’on serait capable de faire devant tout le monde.
Translation: The perfect merit is to do without witness, that which you can do before all the world – François de La Rochefoucauld.
If no one can see your accomplishment, would you still do it? Would the victory still be as sweet. Questions to ask oneself, when debating pursuing a particular goal.
9. Il ne faut pas attendre d’être parfait pour commencer quelque chose de bien.
Translation: You don’t have to wait for it to be perfect before starting something good – Abbé Pierre.
As the saying goes, “better is the enemy of good”. You don’t need to be perfect in order to do something well. Sometimes, it pays to just have something that will be “good enough”.
Catholic priest and French resistance fighter Abbé Pierre said this famous saying, so you know he knew what he was talking about. After the war he started an international solidarity movement Emmaus, that still is active today.
10. Les portes de l’avenir sont ouvertes à ceux qui savent les pousser.
Translation: The door to the future is open to those who know how to push through them.
This quote is rather similar to a memorable phrase by Julie Andrews (Maria) in the movie Sound of Music: “where the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.”
Push through those doors, look for that open window, and take every opportunity that presents itself.
11. Imaginer, c’est choisir.
Translation: To imagine, it is to choose.
Choose to dream, choose to wish, and choose to make what is in your imagination real.
12. L’esprit s’enrichit de ce qu’il reçoit, le cœur de ce qu’il donne.
Translation: The spirit enriches with what it receives, the heart with what it gives.
13. Pour exécuter de grandes choses, il faut vivre comme si on ne devait jamais mourir.
Translation: In order to achieve great things, we must live as though we were never going to die.
This French quote insists that we not be afraid to make a move. That that big leap and risk it all to win big.
14. Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait.
Translation: If youth only knew, if age only could.
As the saying goes in English, youth is wasted on the young! Here is to looking for that eternal fountain of youth to power through.
15. On n’apprend pas à nager à un canard.
Translation: You can’t teach a duck to swim.
A proverb by Arnauld Oihenart, a politician from the Basque region, who isn’t sure you can teach a duck to swim like a fish. The English version would be “teach an old dog new tricks.”
16. Petit rusé, petit malin.
Translation: Quite cunning, quite clever.
An old French proverb, pointing out that to be a little cunning, you first have to be a bit clever.
17. En été comme en hiver, qui quitte sa place la perd.
Translation: In summer as in winter, whoever leaves his place loses it.
If you step out of the queue, you will lose your spot. A proverb by Marc-Antoine Désaugiers in his book Le dîner de Madelon (1813).
18. Une petite cause peut avoir de grands effets.
Translation: A small cause can have a big effect.
A lovely French quote about how little things can lead to something big. From Le recueil d’apophtegmes et axiomes (1855). The English version would be a “if a butterfly flaps its wings at just the right time in just the right place, it can cause a hurricane thousands of miles away.”
19. Les gens qui ne font rien manquent de temps pour tout.
Translation: People who do nothing, run out of time for everything.
From Le recueil d’apophtegmes et axiomes (1855), this proverb correctly assesses those do-nothings who then complain they have run out of time.
20. Les confidences ne sont pas toujours des vérités.
Translation: Confidences are not always truths.
This French proverb probably applies to a few politicians out there. Don’t always believe everything you hear.
21. En dépit du médecin, nous vivrons tous jusqu’à la mort.
Translation: With the lack of a doctor, we will all live to death.
For a bit of sarcasm, from the Petite encyclopédie des proverbes (1852), we have the undeniable truth, of living until death.
So have you found your inspiration in the quotes above? Comment below and let me know. You can find more interesting French quotes about food, wine, and love here. Because what is more inspiring than that!? A bientôt!