For centuries, French writers have searched for the meaning of life, in good times and in bad. Seeking happiness, solitude, or solace, there are many beautiful French phrases about life and proverbs about living to the max. And the flip side of it, of course, death.
Whether you are a student of the French language, a philosopher or someone seeking a bit of comfort, I hope there is something here for everyone. So without further ado, here are the best French quotes about life and death. Allons-y!
1. Chaque jour de ta vie est un feuillet de ton histoire que tu écris.
Translation: Every day of your life is a sheet of your story that you write.
If you think of life as a diary, this lovely French quote encourages you to take that blank sheet of paper and fill it with joy.
You write your own story, n’est-ce pas?
2. Une vie trop tranquille est une mer morte.
Translation: A life too quiet is a dead sea.
This French proverb refers to the Dead Sea in the Middle East, which has too much salt to support life.
We need entertainment, love, action, and so much more to make things interesting, and life worth living. In other words, don’t be boring dahhling!
3. Bon feu, bonne mine, c’est la moitié de la vie.
Translation: A nice fire, good looks (complexion), that’s half the life.
Bonne mine is a bit difficult to translate because it doesn’t literally mean someone is beautiful/handsome, but rather that they look lively and cheerful.
Sometimes the ability to move forward is half the battle. Put on a smile and light a fire inside you, and look rested and happy. Make the best of a bad hand at the game of life.
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4. Une vie honorable est une vie éternelle.
Translation: An honorable life is an eternal life.
In other words, live a life that is filled with good deeds and your name will live forever.
5. La vie est une ivresse continuelle : le plaisir passe, le mal de tête reste.
Translation: Life is a continual intoxication: the pleasure passes, the headache remains.
The French quote asks, who needs alcohol when life can bring so much pleasure. Until the next morning of course. (FYI, in French a hangover is called une gueule de bois.)
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6. Un brin de folie égaye la vie.
Translation: A touch of madness brightens up life.
At times a bit of crazy can make life really worth living. We don’t have to be practical all the time, do we?
7. La vie est un voyage au milieu de la nuit.
Translation: Life is a journey in the middle of the night.
Navigating in the dark, without a flashlight, life never comes with a map and directions, does it? This French proverb knows that life is not always easy.
8. La vie est un grand drame, il faut le bien jouer. Mais ce qu’il faut surtout, c’est le bien dénouer.
Translation: Life is a great drama, you have to play it well; but what is necessary above all is to untie it well.
You can tie yourself in knots and have plenty of action in your life, but at a certain point, it is important to be true to yourself and remain grounded.
9. La vie est triste quand on est seul, elle est bien plus agréable quand on est deux.
Translation: Life is sad when you are alone, it is much more pleasant when there are two.
10. La vie est un arbre dont le fruit est souvent amer.
Translation: Life is a tree whose fruit is often bitter.
Life doesn’t always serve up roses, and we do sometimes have to get through the bad stuff to get to the other side.
11. Rien n’abrège tant la vie que les pas perdus, les paroles oiseuses et les pensées inutiles.
Translation: Nothing shortens life so much as lost steps, idle words and useless thoughts.
In other words, this French proverb about life encourages us to put aside the negative thoughts, the unfulfilled promises and the time-wasting strategies. It is time to move onwards and upwards.
12. 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.
13. Il faut vivre comme on pense, sans quoi l’on finira par penser comme on a vécu.
Translation: You have to live the way you think, otherwise you’ll end up thinking the way you lived.
Live life to the max, without holding back. Otherwise, one day you just might regret it.
14. 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 inspiring French quote insists that we not be afraid to make a move. That that big leap and risk it all to win big.
15. J’accepte la grande aventure d’être moi.
Translation: I accept the great adventure of being me.
One of the most well-known French female writers and feminists, Simone du Beauvoir wrote this quote about knowing your self-worth.
16. L’important, ce n’est pas le lieu où on se trouve, c’est l’état d’esprit dans lequel on est.
Translation: The important thing is not where you are, it’s the state of mind in which you are.
French teacher and award-winning novelist Anna Gavalda write this important quote about mental well-being.
17. Dans la vie, rien n’est à craindre, tout est à comprendre.
Translation: In life, nothing is to be feared, everything is to be understood.
French inventor and scientist Marie Curie wrote this quote about exploring the world around.
18. N’oublie pas de vivre.
Translation: Don’t forget to live.
When you are too busy to remember the important stuff, stop and take a breath to really live life.
19. Créer, c’est vivre deux fois.
Translation: To create is to live twice.
French writer Albert Camus spoke about the importance about creating a legacy that will live long after you pass on.
20. Pour ce qui est de l’avenir, il ne s’agit pas de le prévoir, mais de le rendre possible.
Translation: As for the future, it is not a question of foreseeing it, but of making it possible.
The author of the Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, wrote this lovely French quote about looking towards the future and choosing our own destiny.
21. Dans une grande âme tout est grand.
Translation: In a large soul everything is great.
22. Être adulte, c’est être seul.
Translation: To be an adult is to be alone.
Adulthood can be lonely, as French biologist Jean Rostand attests to.
23. L’avenir est entre les mains de ceux qui explorent.
Translation: The future is in the hands of those who explore.
French explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau lived by his words, exploring the deep blue seas all over the world.
24. La vie: bien agiter avant de s’en servir!
Translation: Life: shake well before using!
With a play on words on that old ketchup bottle, this quote about life recommends shaking.
25. Chaque vie qui vaut la peine d’être vécue est une lutte constante.
Translation: Every life worth living is a constant struggle.
For that person who is feeling down, just know that you are important.
26. Qui craint de souffrir, il souffre déjà de ce qu’il craint.
Translation: Whoever fears to suffer, he already suffers from what he fears.
French fables author Jean La Fontaine writes about confronting one’s fears.
27. Une vie, c’est fait avec l’avenir, comme les corps sont faits avec le vide.
Translation: A life is made with the future, as bodies are made with emptiness.
French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre speaks about the importance of having hope in life.
28. L’élégance est quand l’intérieur est aussi beau que l’extérieur.
Translation: Elegance is when the inside is as beautiful as the outside.
French fashion designer Coco Chanel looks past the surface to see what is inside.
29. Il vaut mieux rêver sa vie que la vivre, encore que la vivre, ce soit encore la rêver.
Translation: It is better to dream your life than to live it, although to live it is still to dream it.
French novelist Marcel Proust wrote this French quote about the importance of day-dreaming, but also working towards making those dreams come true.
30. J’ai appris qu’une vie ne vaut rien, mais rien ne vaut la vie.
Translation: I learned that a life is worth nothing, but nothing is worth a life.
French politician André Malraux philosophises on the value of life.
31. Une vie est un oiseau aux filets du chasseur.
Translation: Life is a bird to a hunter’s nets.
With visions of chasing butterflies in an open field, this French quote will remind us all of springtime in one’s life.
32. La vie n’est pas le travail: travailler sans cesse rend fou.
Translation: Life is not about work: working constantly makes you crazy.
General Charles de Gaulle, former President of France said this French quote acknowledging his voters fears and needs.
33. La première moitié de notre vie est gâchée par nos parents et la seconde par nos enfants.
Translation: The first half of our life is wasted by our parents and the second by our children.
A mildly sarcastic quote about the one’s family and those we love, who drive us batty at times.
34. Il n’y a pas de raccourci pour aller là où ça vaut la peine d’aller.
Translation: There’s no shortcut to anywhere worth going.
This quote emphasizes the importance in life of perseverance and not losing hope.
35. Les défaites de la vie conduisent aux plus grandes victoires.
Translation: Life’s defeats lead to the greatest victories.
Don’t let the obstacles hold you back as you move on to things onward and upward.
36. Qui n’avance pas, recule.
Translation: Who does not advance, retreats.
This French quote advises to always keep moving forward, because life only moves in one direction.
37. La vie c’est comme un long tunnel, on y rentre, sans savoir ce qu’il y a au bout.
Translation: Life is like a long tunnel, we enter it, without knowing what is at the end.
The light at the end of a tunnel may be daylight, or an oncoming train. One never knows until it gets there.
38. La vie est comme un livre rempli de majuscule et de minuscule, de point et de virgule.
Translation: Life is like a book full of uppercase and lowercase letters, periods and commas.
With many chapters, starts and finishes, life is a book of which we are the authors. (To note however, there are some differences between French and English writing styles that you can read more about here.)
39. Courir derrière la vie, augmente l’envie.
Translation: Running after life increases envy.
Jealousy never makes anyone happy. The grass is not always greener on the other side, it just sometimes seems that way.
40. La vie nous donne les amis et les ennemis qu’on mérite.
Translation: Life gives us the friends and enemies we deserve.
The friends we keep inevitably influence our happiness. And those that bother us, will continue to seep dissent.
41. La vie, on y entre comme on en sort, les mains vides.
Translation: Life, we enter it as we leave it, empty-handed.
We come into the world alone, which is also the way we must leave.
42. Faites de votre vie un beau poème!
Translation: Make your life a beautiful poem!
Poetry is considered one of the most beautiful art forms there is. You can read some of the most famous French poems here.
43. La vie est un combat, alors bats toi!
Translation: Life is a fight, so fight!
Those who have the heart and stomach to fight, will inevitably win in the battle of life.
44. Laissez entrer dans votre vie ce qui doit faire partie de votre vie.
Translation: Let into your life what should be part of your life.
The quote continues: “Et laissez partir vos peurs, vos doutes, tout ce qui doit partir pour toujours.” It translates to “And let go of your fears, your doubts, everything that must go forever.”
1. 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.
2. La vie est un torrent courant vers un abîme.
Translation: Life is a torrent flowing towards an abyss.
Like a raft on the Grand Rapids, headed towards a destination that you cannot turn around from.
3. La vie est un flambeau toujours prêt à s’éteindre.
Translation: Life is a torch always ready to be extinguished.
The fragility of life must never be underestimated. It can be snuffed out in an instant, so guard it preciously.
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4. La vie est un combat perdu d’avance.
Translation: Life is a battle, lost in advance.
This French proverb realizes where we are all headed, all of us equal. After all, everyone puts on their pants one leg at a time.
5. En face de la mort, on comprend mieux la vie.
Translation: In the face of death, we understand life better.
The deathbed declarations where it all becomes too clear. This French quote asks to look for clarity and the true essence of self before it gets to that point.
6. La mort ne surprend point le sage: Il est toujours prêt à partir.
Translation: Death never takes the wise man by surprise, he is always ready to go.
When you know it is your time, you know it is your time. (At least for the lucky ones.)
7. Le monde est un spectacle, la vie un passage; tu es venu, tu as vu, puis tu t’es en allé.
Translation: The world is a spectacle, life a passage; you came, you saw, then you went away.
This French quote about death references a longer passage by that great English playright, William Shakespeare in his play “As you like it” (extract below).
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school….
And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow…
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
So which is your favorite French proverb? If you enjoyed this article, you may like to read more famous French inspirational quotes, as well as quotes about food, wine, and love. Because what could be more French than that!? A bientôt!