French uses several words to translate the notions of stone, rock: “une pierre”, “un rocher”, “la roche”, “un caillou” etc… They are not interchangeable.
1 – Une Pierre
“Une pierre” is the général term used to say ‘rock’ or ‘stone’. In doubt, use that one :-)
Note that “Pierre” is also a French first name: Peter.
If something is made of stone, you’d say “en pierre”. You could also say “de pierre” but it’s not as common.
Regarde la jolie maison en/de pierre. C’est la maison de Pierre je crois…
Look at the pretty stone house. It’s Peter’s house I think…
So how could you say if it’s “une maison de pierre or de Pierre ?”… as often, context would tell. But I have to admit this one is super confusing!
2 – Le Caillou
“Le caillou” means the small rock. Maybe a pebble…
Note that the plural is irregular: it takes a silent “x” instead of an “s”. “Un caillou, des cailloux”.
Now you know the meaning of your kid’s favorite French cartoon character: the sweet little boy “Caillou” – ‘Pebble’, named as such probably because he has no hair.
3 – Le Gravier
“Le gravier” is gravel. It is mostly used as an ensemble, as a surface.
J’ai un caillou dans ma chaussure ; ça doit être une petite pierre qui est entrée quand je marchais sur le gravier dans la cour.
I have a pebble in my shoe: it must be a small stone which got in when I was walking on the gravel in the courtyard.
4 – Le Rocher
“Un rocher” is a boulder. Une très grosse pierre…
So what’s the difference between “une pierre” et “un rocher” ? I’m not exactly sure. I always say that I can carry a stone but not a boulder…
So now, let’s look at all this vocabulary in picture in a short video I shot during my family vacation in Ardèche, France. A good French listening practice! Turn the CC on for French and English subtitles.
5 – La Roche
“La roche” is the geological term for stone, as you’d find it when you on a dig. We really don’t use it much in French except in this geological register.
Unfortunately, since it sounds like ‘rock’, students tend to use it a lot: people will probably figure out what you mean, but chances are that you should have used “une pierre” instead.
6 – Le Roc, La Roque
Hum… This words are found a lot in proper names in France, as featured in the video below. It usually refers to a sharp stone peak of some sort.
Again, I’d say don’t use it unless you are referring to a proper name.
Here is another Spoken French practice video I made during my vacation… this time in Provence (you get to visit France with me :-)
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7 – Le Galet
This is a particular sort of stone: one you find by the beach or sometimes creeks and river beds : a river pebble. We have many of these where I live, in Brittany !
8 – La Pierre Précieuse
That’s a gem, a precious stone. My favorite kind of stone!