Cheeks feeling hot? Face all red? There’s a French expression for this: rouge comme une tomate. Find out what it means, how to use it, and learn about similar expressions! Here’s the comprehensive guide…


Red like a tomato.


English Meaning

Red from embarrassment, anger, confusion, or another strong emotion.
Red from a sunburn.


French Meaning

Rouge (en parlant du visage) à cause de la honte, la timidité, la colère, ou une autre émotion forte.
Rouge suite à un coup de soleil.


The Story Behind It


In English, we often liken a bright red face to beets (la betterave), a vividly coloured crop known for bleeding a deep, reddish-purple juice that always—ALWAYS—stains the hands. Now, I don’t know anyone whose face turns anything close to that frightening hue, but for what it’s worth, that’s the simile we anglophones chose. Francophones, en revanche, stuck with a more believable comparison: the tomatoEt de là est née l’expression rouge comme une tomate !


Let’s be honest, nothing is redder than a tomato at its ripest point. But a few things might come close: a shy friend’s face when their crush of ten years walks by, an angry parent’s visage when they fetch you from jail, or the aftermath of a day at the beach without sunblock.


Unsurprisingly, rouge comme une tomate often characterizes someone blushing from shame or embarrassment (la honte). In fact, this is the lone definition given by some dictionaries. However, you can also use it when someone’s face is red from anger (la colère) or another strong emotion that causes this physiological reaction. Finally, it can also describe someone with an angry sunburn (un vilain coup de soleil)—one so bad that their skin has turned tomato red.


Grammar and Usage


You’ll often encounter rouge comme une tomate on its own, or with the verb être (to be). However, we can also pair it with verbs like devenir (to become, to turn) or rester (to stay). We can be, turn, or stay red as a tomato. Furthermore, we can use it to describe someone in general, or to specify that their face (le visage), their nose (le nez), or their cheeks (les joues) are red.


With comparative idioms like these, there’s usually an agreement between the subject and adjective, in terms of gender and number. (See Muet comme une carpe and Trempé comme une soupe.) Here, gender won’t affect rouge. But when the subject is plural, it should become rougecomme des tomates. That said, not everyone applies this change fully, opting instead to use rouges comme une tomate as the plural form. This is either an error or a preference.




English Equivalents

  • All red.
  • Red as a beet(root).
  • Red as a lobster. * Specifically for a sunburn
  • Red with fury.


French Equivalents

  • Tout rouge.
  • Rouge comme une pivoine.
  • Rouge comme un homard / une écrevisse. * À cause d’un coup de soleil


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