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One expression that I consider a 'classic' in English is (another one here):

It's raining cats and dogs.

This phrase is used to convey heavy and intense rainfall. While there is no direct translation in French, I have come across two similar expressions:

  • The first one is 'Il pleut des cordes,' which conveys the sense of a significant downpour.
  • The second one is 'Il pleut comme une vache qui pisse.'

However, in my understanding, both of these expressions might fall short in capturing the vivid imagery of the English expression. Am I correct? Are there any other expressions closer to the English meaning?

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    could you clarify why you think those expressions "fall short in capturing the vivid imagery of the English expression" ? Jan 16 at 14:39
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    These sort of phrases never translate directly. Il pleut des cordes is the exact equivalent in terms of imagery and frequency and a great classic. You can see here // And other phrases here but not as frequent, on peut ajouter aussi il pleut à seaux mais encore moins employé.
    – None
    Jan 16 at 15:04
  • @None Merci, j'avais jamais allumé avant aujourd'hui que siaux c'était seaux ahaha ! Jan 16 at 22:38
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    @None Mais oui on l'a déjà entendu... dans ma question ;-) french.stackexchange.com/q/46977 Jan 17 at 12:43

4 Answers 4

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Il pleut des cordes is the exact equivalent to "it's raining cats and dogs" in terms of imagery and frequency and a great classic. These sort of phrases never have exact equivalents because they are rooted in the History and traditions of a country.

Il pleut des cordes is by far the most frequent colloquial expression to say the it's raining heavily. It conveys the optical illusion of the raindrops being all attached we seem to see one continuous flood coming down from the sky.

Il pleut comme vache qui pisse* is probably a more "vivid image" but not so frequent, and a different register, it's a lot more informal.

One vivid image is probably il pleut des hallebardes. It is older than il pleut des cordes and does not sound informal, but it is much less widely used. Victor Hugo used it in Les Misérables :

il lansquine, il pleut, vieille figure frappante, qui porte en quelque sorte sa date avec elle, qui assimile les longues lignes obliques de la pluie aux piques épaisses et penchées des lansquenets, et qui fait tenir dans un seul mot la métonymie populaire : il pleut des hallebardes.

Other images are il pleut des seaux (which I gather from Plus jamais quoi encore's answer seems to be more frequent in Quebec French), as is il pleut des clous.


* It's usually comme vache qui pisse, no indefinite article.

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  • Il drache (Belg.), il tombe des rabanelles (Lang.).
    – jlliagre
    Jan 20 at 2:10
  • il roille (Suisse) Jan 23 at 8:27
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No, I don't think the statement is correct. Often nothing seems as idiomatic as one's native or main language, although sometimes the opposite occurs and one is perceiving overly metaphorical imagery when the native speaker doesn't. In any case the expressions you suggested do convey the meaning in my opinion, as well as imagery, albeit a different one.

I'll add two other expressions/variations from Quebec:

Il pleut à siaux (an modified form for seaux; QC using that form/pronunciation).
Il pleut à boire debout. (QC)

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Maybe you would like to use "Il pleut à torrents" which technically means that it rains enough to create huge streams of rushing water.

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  • Il pleut à torrent doesn't convey any imagery as asked in the question. The word is used for any great amount of water (a flood of water).
    – None
    Jan 17 at 7:39
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Il pleut à verse serves for pouring heavily. Quite common phrasing for pouring rain, though idiomatically perhaps not as expressive in imagery. Il pleut à cordes fits the bill there as noted but à verse not to be omitted.

Il pleut à verse chez Collins.

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  • J'ai surtout entendu il pleut des cordes, mais on trouve bien quelques à cordes, peut être influencés par à verse ?
    – jlliagre
    Jan 20 at 2:58
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    On dirait aussi ça peut être influencé par le clavier T9, la suggestion ou la saisie de texte inattendue et son vérification de merde de l'orthographe @jlliagre moi aussi je préfère des cordes. Au moins c'est pas il pleut *averse.
    – livresque
    Jan 20 at 11:12
  • It's reigning cats and dogs
    – livresque
    Jan 20 at 11:22

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