The question is on roulaient des larmes found in this sentence from Flaubert's L’Éducation sentimentale.

L’enfant, dont les yeux roulaient des larmes, venait de s’éveiller.


Which of the following is right? If none of them, please let me know what's going on.

(a) rouler is a transitive verb, des is an article, and larmes (or des larmes) is a direct object.

(b) rouler is an intransitive verb, des is made of de and les, and des larmes is a complement modifying the verb.

(c) des is made of de and les, rouler de is a transitive verb, and larmes (or les larmes) is a direct object.


In this and this dictionary entries I found many other expressions similar to the one above.

In some of them rouler is clearly taking a direct object. For example:

rouler une cigarette
rouler les épaules
rouler les hanches
rouler les mécaniques

In another, rouler is clearly not taking a direct object.

rouler du cul

Here I expect: This expression can receive parsing per (b) or (c) but not (a), which is to say that du cannot be a partitive article because cul is the sort of thing you can count. rouler du cul involves exactly one cul. If Tom roule du cul, only his own cul can be involved. But if Tom roule le cul it could be his own or someone else's.

But the following expressions, having des in them, give me the same sort of trouble as does des larmes

rouler des cigarettes
rouler des fesses
rouler des hanches
rouler des mécaniques

Of these, rouler des cigarettes is probably the same thing as rouler une cigarette except in the number of cigarettes being rolled. But des hanches probably means of the hips. Assuming that each person has two hanches interpreting des as some would seem to me very odd. I'd want to ask, 'What do you mean you shook some hips, have you got more than two, were you shaking other people's too?' I think I should want to say either that I shook the hips or shook of the hips, not some indefinite number of hips. des mécaniques seems most like des larmes in that you have any number of mécaniques and I cannot try to rule out any of (a) through (c) based on semantics.

2 Answers 2


It's a direct object. Tear are rolling, and not rolled, even in French.

For your other problem expressions:

rouler des cigarettes

Here you are right, it means "to roll several cigarettes"

rouler des fesses rouler des hanches

Both these means you have a specific way of moving that makes your butt do a rolling movement. Here it is equivalent to "de les".

rouler des mécaniques

Here "mécaniques" is a slang for "muscles", so it means "to flex". It is the same construction as "rouler des hanches".

  • "de les", the edit should makes it clear. Jun 24, 2016 at 9:12

The sense seems to be:

Les yeux de l'enfant roulent des larmes.

So it's a direct object, like 'rouler une cigarette'.

For 'rouler du cul' (same for 'des hanches'), the meaning is 'from the ass', not 'some ass'. Like 'puer du cul', 'grossir du cul', 'saigner du cul'. I think, that's how I've always understood it. Now that I'm trying to explain it, I'm doubting...

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