Pierre qui roule n’amasse pas mousse.

Pierre qui roule n’amasse pas mousse.

PeeYAIR kee rool nah-mahss PAH moose. Click below to hear this pronounced!  

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

This proverb is a common saying among French-speakers, just as its English counterpart is among English-speakers. We can tell that it’s a proverb because it delivers a compact little didactic message (proverbs usually do try to teach us how to behave!).

But we can also tell that it’s probably a fairly old saying, not of recent vintage. How, you may wonder?

Glad you asked! Notice that there are two nouns in the sentence, neither of which is preceded by an article. (You remember articles? That’s a, an, and the in English.)

The normal grammar, in modern French, for this sentence would be Une pierre qui roule n’amasse pas de mousse: A stone that rolls does not gather any moss.

Under most circumstances, French nouns need an article even if the English noun wouldn’t need it. For example: Coffee is good, Le café est bon. I love tea, J’adore le thé.

It gets more complicated than that, but for now, the thing to notice is the absence of those articles. That’s what tells us that this expression probably arose at a time when French had fewer rules and a looser structure.

By the way: mousse means both foam and moss. There is a certain physical resemblance, after all! And where do you suppose our English word moss came from in the first place?

And this expression also works as a tonguetwister! Just have a go at pronouncing this a few times in a row. You’ll see!

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