It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring: how to talk about rain in English and French

How to talk about rain in English and French.

It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring,

He went to bed and he bumped his head and he didn’t get up ’til the morning.

–Children’s song

Adam Gopnik once described Paris as “a scowling gray universe, relieved by pastry.”  The “gray” part comes from the observation that it’s very often cloudy here.  Actually, one of the things that I love about Paris is that it rains here.  In the US, I live in a very sunny, dry part of the country–300 days of sunshine a year.  However, I grew up in a very, very wet part of the country, and I miss that.  So, coming to Paris in March and seeing flowers bursting from wet earth on my walk to work through the forest is a real treat.

Being from a very wet place, I have a large vocabulary for talking about rain in English.  Here are some examples of relevant verbs.  These are all impersonal verbs, using what linguists call a pleonastic pronoun, i.e. it’s:

  • to rain: the default verb.
  • to pour: to rain hard–see the children’s song above.
  • to rain cats and dogs: to rain hard.
  • to rain/pour buckets: to rain hard.
  • to mist: to rain very lightly.
  • to drizzle: to rain, especially if it’s cold.  (I’ve seen a couple definitions of this as “to rain lightly.”)
  • to sprinkle: to rain, especially for a short period of time.
  • to storm: to rain very hard, often with thunder and lightning.

Usage examples:

  • pleuvoir: to rain.  Il pleut: it’s raining.  (I always seem to confuse this with il pleure, “he’s crying.”
  • Il pleut à verse: it’s pouring.  (Native speakers: can we do the liaison here?, i.e. il pleu tà verse?)
  • Il pleut des cordes: it’s raining cats and dogs, it’s pouring rain.
  • Il tombe des cordes: same thing.
  • Il bruine: it’s misting.
  • Il crachine: it’s sprinkling.
  • y avoir de l’orage: to storm.
  • faire de l’orage: to storm.

I’ve focussed entirely on verbs here.  For lots of nouns and adjectives related to rain in English, see this great post from the web site.



4 thoughts on “It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring: how to talk about rain in English and French”

  1. Hi . Little things to fix . First, cachiner only exists in some dialect from Picardy so I guess you meant “crachiner”, though as a verb it’s barely heard .
    To drizzle, a very light rain, is “bruiner” . La bruine is a bit different from the crachin in the sense that un crachin is more unpleasant and is persistent .
    You forgot “une averse”, a shower .
    There’s no liaison after “pleut”, unlike after “peut” .
    Raining cats and dogs can be “pleuvoir à verse” or “des cordes”, but also “pleuvoir à seaux” (buckets) and more funnily “pleuvoir des hallebardes” ( hallberds, no idea where this one comes from) and “pleuvoir comme vache qui pisse”( you can translate this one) .
    There also are a mountain of slang words to say “it rains” : il flotte, il vase, il lansquine ( “true” slang from the real Paris time), il drache ( Northern France), il chourre (Basque country) … There are lots more but it’s fine …

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sorry, I wrote a mistake about the liaison . The last survivors of real France, when French people read literature, do the liaison : il pleut-t-à verse, il pleut-t-à seaux . But you seldom hear it nowadays . The only permanent liaison is when people ask the question in the elegant way, with the inversion : “Pleut-il ?” In this case you always hear the liaison, but these inversions for asking questions are barely used today .

    Liked by 1 person

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