How do you say "I'm flaring my nostrils." in French?

Collins Dictionary and Word Reference say to flare is se dilater.

Therefore, is it « Je me dilate les narines. » ou « Je dilate mes narines. » or can you say both?

Oxford Dictionary enter image description here

Cambridge Dictionary

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Context 1: When I flare my nostrils, I can smell better.

Context 2:

Mom: Why are you wasting your Saturday?

Child: I'm not.

Mom: You're not doing anything right now. Literally.

Child: I am. I am literally flaring my nostrils.

Mom: Get up! 😡

Context 3: A son drove his father's car without permission.

Son: Was dad angry when he found out?

Daughter: He was flaring his nostrils which is what he does when he's really angry. So yes.

  • In what context would you do it?
    – jlliagre
    Nov 25, 2022 at 12:38
  • @jlliagre Pour moi l'expression suggère une vive émotion, soit la colère ou l'excitation, soit l'appétit stimulé par un arôme délicieux, et les yeux grands ouverts aussi...
    – Luke Sawczak
    Nov 25, 2022 at 15:00
  • Scenario no. 2 is akin to a child saying, "I'm wiggling my ears." Not an example as clearly related to the emotional element typically associated with the movement, which in anger goes with heart rate and breathing.
    – livresque
    Nov 25, 2022 at 18:10
  • @LukeSawczak Do you mean that this collocation (flare with nostrils) is significant beyond the sum of its part, or almost an idiomatic expression? Do eyes flare when people look at sweets or such similar contexts? Nov 25, 2022 at 20:12
  • @viande-à-chien idiomatic and only used of nostrils (in this sense), unlike dilater, which is where I think confusion could enter into the translation.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Nov 25, 2022 at 21:22

1 Answer 1


There is no such idiom I'm aware of but you might say :

J'ouvre mes narines: (context 1)

Et il ouvrait les narines pour aspirer les bonnes odeurs de la campagne, qui ne venaient pas jusqu'à lui. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary.

Je fronce les narines: (same as the above, but the smell is unpleasant)

Je devine le travail à travers ma lecture, comme je devine le sang rouge du lapin. Soudain, je fronce les narines, je lève la tête, je regarde sévèrement la cuisinière en disant :
— Il est faisandé, votre lapin !
— Pourquoi serait-il faisandé ?
— Parce qu’il pue, parbleu !
Georges Simenon, A la rencontre des autres

Othewise, but softer than what I understand from the English idiom in context 3:

Je fronce les sourcils (I frown)

If you want to show that the father is upset, you will probably not refer to his nostrils but perhaps to the way he breathes: sa respiration s'accélère or il se met à respirer bruyamment.

Finally, both Je me dilate les narines and Je dilate mes narines would raise eyebrows.

  • So j'ai froncé les sourcils translates to English as I knitted my brow (literally j'ai tricoté le front)? I never realized before just how strange this English idiom is. Nov 27, 2022 at 13:00

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