In English there is a (not very nice) saying 'blood will tell'; that means something to the effect of

If your ancestors had bad qualities (e.g. Bad personality) then you will probably also inherit these qualities

Is there a French equivalent of this saying?

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    You just reminded me of a book I had that translated French idioms into English idioms (as if two cultures could share all their idioms). I stopped using it when I noticed that for one French idiom, it usually gave several English options that didn't much mean the same thing! One will only ever get approximations, not equivalents.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 13:42
  • It also means the opposite, in fact I had always considered it to mean the opposite, that good breeding will show. Oxford Dictionaries has the neutral 'family characteristics cannot be concealed.'
    – user207421
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 3:09

8 Answers 8


I would suggest:

Les chiens ne font pas des chats

Literally: dogs do not make (i.e. give birth to) cats.

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    L'expression "Les chiens ne font pas des chats" (dans cet ordre) est pas beaucoup plus courante ? Je crois que je l'ai jamais entendue dans ce sens là. Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 0:23
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    @Teleporting Goat I agree with you. I would like to insist on the fact that "les chiens ne font pas des chats" is used as well in a positive as in a negative way. Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 0:36
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    @TeleportingGoat C'est vrai, cet ordre est beaucoup plus courant. Réponse réordonnée. Merci !
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 7:08

Up here in Canada, a common saying is

"La pomme ne tombe jamais loin de l'arbre"

which would translate to

"The apple never falls far from the tree"

Something along the lines that childrens always look or act like their parents/ancestors.

It's closely related to the other answers (which appears in the "Synonymes" section here : https://fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/la_pomme_ne_tombe_jamais_loin_de_l%E2%80%99arbre)

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    It's also a common saying in France. Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 21:06
  • And in England! We probably stole it ;-) Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 20:34
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    @GilesThomas More than likely the other way around. Looks like the saying originates from Scandinavia (Danish: Æblet falder ikke langt fra træet → German Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm → English "The apple never falls far from the tree" → AmEnglish "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.")
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 8:35

A more common saying is

C'est de famille

Which means "it's from family (ground)"


We have the saying ""Bon sang ne saurait mentir", but it seems too laudative to relate to "blood will tell". There's also "les chiens ne font pas des chats", litteraly "dogs don't breed cats".


For yet another possibility to consider (one that, according to this Expressio.fr entry, "est presque toujours employée avec un sens négatif" [is almost always used negatively]), there's:

La caque sent toujours le hareng

(A herring barrel always smells of fish)

The cited entry describes this expression as meaning:

Lorsqu'on a de basses origines, on en conserve toujours la vulgarité, malgré une éventuelle réussite ...

and proposes two American translations:

"Class will tell" and
"You can take the [person] out of the trailer park, but you can't take the trailer park out of the [person]" ....

and two British ones (including the expression in question):

"Blood will tell" and
"What's bred in the bone comes out in the flesh"


I saw this translation on a website : 'bon sang ne peut mentir' literally means 'good blood can't lie'.

It's not really for daily use, but if you want to say that somebody is like one of his parents you can say 'être le portrait craché de...'

  • bon sang ne peut pas mentir, peut-être?
    – amonk
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 8:14
  • 1
    @agerom techniquement il faut utiliser la double négation "ne .. pas" mais l'utilisation de ne tout seul est quand même correcte Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 9:05

Another similar expression to the answer could be used : "Tel père, tel fils" or "Telle mère, telle fille" meaning that we often inherit traits from our parents. This can be in a good or a bad way.


Another proverb not mentioned yet :

  • Bon chien chasse de race.

Defined in the Trésor de la langue française as:

  • Les enfants héritent des qualités ou des défauts de leurs parents. Children get their parents' qualities, good or bad.

Literary quote to go with it:

  • Il finira mal, ce garçon-là. Il est bien vrai que bon chien chasse de race (Maupassant, Histoire vraie, 1882).

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