With any language, you’ll find that there’s a range of proverbs and sayings surrounding money, and French is no exception. So to help get you clued up, I’ve made a handy list of six of the most commonly used money-related proverbs in French.
For each of these sayings, I’ve given a literal translation, a brief explanation of its meaning, and an example of it being used in context.
C’est parti !
L’argent n’a pas d’odeur
Literal Translation: Money has no smell
L’argent n’a pas d’odeur is generally used when talking about unprincipled people who don’t care where their money comes from, just as long as they have it. This proverb refers to the fact that money has the same value no matter how it was earned, and therefore certain people are happy to gain it through dishonest or immoral means.
<< La ministre accepte des pots-de-vin depuis le début de sa carrière. >>
<< Bon, tu sais ce qu’on dit : l’argent n’a pas d’odeur. >>
“The minister has been accepting bribes since the start of her career.”
“Well, you know what they say: money has no smell.”
Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières
Literal Translation: Small streams make big rivers
This proverb is most often used when talking about saving money. Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières expresses the idea that lots of little things put together (like small amounts of money) can add up to make something big and impressive (like a large amount of money).
<< J’ai seulement vendu cinq t-shirts sur ma boutique en ligne. >>
<< Ne t’en fais pas. Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières. >>
“I’ve only sold five t-shirts from my online shop.”
“Don’t worry. Small streams make big rivers.”
Il n’y a pas de petites économies
Literal Translation: There are no small savings
Il n’y a pas de petites économies has a very similar message to the previous saying. Its meaning is that if you concentrate on saving little amounts of money, then eventually you’ll have saved up a reasonable sum.
Its best English equivalent is probably the British saying: “Look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves”.
<< Pour économiser, je vais au travail en vélo plutôt qu’en métro. Il n’y a pas de petites économies ! >>
“To save money, I travel to work by bike rather than by metro. Look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves!”
L’argent ne fait pas le bonheur
Literal Translation: Money doesn’t make happiness
This proverb is simply the French version of “Money can’t buy happiness”. Like this English equivalent, it means that being rich doesn’t necessarily make us happy.
<< Il est millionnaire et pourtant il souffre de dépression. Comme quoi l’argent ne fait pas le bonheur. >>
“He’s a millionaire and yet he suffers from depression. It just goes to show that money can’t buy happiness.”
Il ne faut pas mettre tous ses œufs dans le même panier
Il ne faut pas mettre tous ses œufs dans le même panier is how you’d say “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” in French. As with its English equivalent, the meaning of this proverb is that you shouldn’t just rely on one thing, because if this goes wrong, then you’ll have nothing else to fall back on.
You’re quite likely to see this proverb used when talking about money and investments, but it can come up in other situations as well.
<< Qu’est-ce que tu vas faire avec l’argent que tu as reçu en héritage de sa grand-tante ? >>
<< Je vais tout investir dans l’entreprise de mon meilleur-ami. >>
<< Je ne pense pas que ce soit une bonne idée. Il ne faut pas mettre tous ses œufs dans le même panier. >>
“What are you going to do with the inheritance money that you received from your great-aunt?”
“I’m going to invest all of it in my best friend’s business.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. You shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
Un sou est un sou
Literal Translation: A sou is a sou
A sou was a coin of little value that was used in France for centuries, but was removed from currency towards the end of the 18th century. Nevertheless, the word sou has stuck around in the French language, and is often used in expressions relating to money.
For example, if you didn’t have any money on you, then you might say Je n’ai pas de sous (“I don’t have any sous”). If you translate sou to “penny” or “cent”, then you’ll usually understand the meaning of the expression that it’s in.
The meaning of our final proverb then, Un sou est un sou, is that every little bit of money is important. We therefore shouldn’t waste even small amounts, and should always try to save little bits where we can. This saying could be translated into another British English proverb, “A penny saved is a penny earned”.
<< J’ai économisé 2,50 euros en utilisant les coupons-rabais. C’est une petite somme, mais un sou est un sou ! >>
“I saved 2.50 euros using discount coupons. It’s a small amount, but a penny saved is a penny earned!”
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