Table of Contents
§85. More About Reflexive Verbs
Or, as the Author might more properly have said: “More About Pronominal Verbs.” This group of verbs have four different categories of uses, of which “the reflexive” is only one; hence to call them “Reflexive Verbs” gives too narrow an idea of their possible functions. “Pronominal,” meanwhile, is justified (sort of…), since verbs being used in one of these four ways have to be accompanied by pronoun objects (which, admittedly, as it happens are exclusively reflexive pronouns, but, oh well…).
Review this Language File: Four Meanings of Pronominal Verbs.
What Kind of Object?
The reflexive pronouns are me te se nous vous se. As the Author says in §85B, when used as part of pronominal verbs these forms may be either direct or indirect objects. I believe, however, it is true to say that, in actual usage (and perhaps lexically as well), more often the pronoun will be a direct object. (The strange fourth category, the unexplainable radically idiomatic pronominal verbs, are all interpreted [however illogically] as taking a direct object.)
Why Then Are Pronominal Verbs Conjugated with Être?
Nevertheless, even though they are mostly transitive, pronominal verbs in compound tenses are conjugated with être, not with avoir. This choice of être is inconsistent, given that transitive verbs in French take avoir, not être.
See, on this matter, the Language File Compound Past. Part V. Section A.
However, it seems that in the hazy early days of the French collective linguistic unconscious, pronominal verbs used reflexively came to be associated with House-of-Being verbs, insofar as, in both, the action does not extend beyond the person who is the source of the action. House-of-Being verbs take être, and so…
An Insane Rule about Agreement
So, then, pronominal verbs are (mostly) transitive, but are conjugated with être. What next?
Well… Strictly speaking, as a person wanting to make sense of formal French but not to produce it, you do not need to know the following. On the other hand, what if you notice the peculiarity described here cropping up in what you read, and are infernally vexed by it?
When verbs that conjugate with avoir appear in a compound tense, the past participle does not change its form (masculine gender, singular number) to agree with the subject (whereas with a House-of-Being verbs the past participle does agree with the subject). But French has a strange rule, according to which:
The past participle in a compound-tense verb will agree with a direct object, when the direct object precedes the verb.
When does a direct object precede the verb? In three situations: as a pronoun object (me te le/la nous vous les), as the focus of a question (quel…), and as a relative pronoun (que).
J’ai vu les bonnes dames. (I saw the good ladies.)
⇒ Je les ai vues. (I saw them [scil., the good ladies].)
⇒ Quelles dames avez-vous vues? (What ladies did you see?)
⇒ Voici les dames que j’ai vues.1 (Here are the ladies that I saw.)
The same rule applies to pronominal verbs. The reflexive pronoun has to be present, and has to precede the verb (except in an affirmative command, which doesn’t concern us here). Furthermore, this reflexive pronoun will most often be direct object of the verb, so that the participle in a compound-tense verb will agree with it. It will look as though it is agreeing with the subject, after the fashion of a House-of-Being verb, but in fact it is doing so only indirectly, because the reflexive pronoun necessarily agrees with the subject.
J’ai observé les bonnes dames. (I observed the good ladies.)
⇒ Je les ai observées. (I observed them.)
⇒ Les bonnes dames se sont observées. (The good ladies observed / themselves / each other.)
For more on this bizarre grammatical rule, see the Language File Compound Past. Part VII. Just What Are You Agreeing With?
If by some extraordinary chance you have managed to get this far without having learned the interrogative words listed here, the time of trifling is over. Learn these words!
I feel moved to add something to what the Author says about the formation of questions.
A. Est-ce que and Yes/No Questions
Stick an est-ce que in front of a statement, and it becomes a yes/no question.
|Vous aimez les escargots.||“You like snails.”|
|Est-ce que vous aimez les escargots?||“Is it (the case) that you like snails?”
= “Do you like snails?”
(If you think this is a strange practice, it has nothing on the required presence of the auxiliary do in English questions.)
Of course, you can also invert:
|Aimez-vous les escargots?||“Do you like snails?”|
But a noun subject cannot go behind the verb in a yes/no question: you have to create an additional pronoun subject to go in that place:
|Georges viendra ce soir.
(Georges will come this evening.)
|Georges viendra-t-il ce soir?
(George, will he come this evening?
= Will George come this evening?)
B. Est-ce que and Information Questions
An information question begins with an interrogative expression (such as “Who,” “Why,” “When,” “What insane notion,” “With what kind of paint,” and the like). A further sign that the sentence is a question is, in French. either the insertion of an est-ce que after the interrogative expression:
|Vous avez mangé les anchois.||“You ate the anchovies.”|
|Pourquoi est-ce que vous avez mangé les anchois?||“Why is it (the case) that you ate the anchovies?”
= “Why did you eat the anchovies?”
…or inversion of subject and verb (which we do in English too, using the auxiliary “do”):
|Pourquoi avez-vous mangé les anchois?||“Why did you eat the anchovies?”|
So with a pronoun subject (vous). In some cases (basically when the clause is a very simple one) a noun subject can appear after the verb, but in others not, and an extra pronoun subject has to be created:
|Noun Inverts||Pronoun Inverts|
|Quand parlera le ministre?
(When will the minister speak?)
|Quand le ministre parlera-t-il aux grévistes?
(When will the minister speak to the strikers?)
C. Est-ce que, Est-ce qui, Qui, and Que
The variety of forms corresponding to the English interrogatives “Who?” and “What?” is at first bewildering:
“Who?” = Qui, Qui est-ce qui, Qui est-ce que
“What?” = Que, Qu’est-ce qui, Qu’est-ce que
…to which it may be added that a que will elide to qu’ in front of a vowel.
It may help to understand that qui does not always = qui, and that que does not always = que. The short forms, qui and que (or qu’), which are the same as the initial qui and qu’ of the long forms, are interrogative pronouns; the second qui and que/qu’ of the long forms are relative pronouns. (Consult, if you wish, the Language File Relative Pronouns.) The short, or initial, qu-word (qui or que) tells you if you are dealing with a person or a thing. The second qu-word (qui or que) tells you if you are dealing with the subject or direct object of the verb. With two variables (two qu-words) in two positions, the long forms are four in number:
|= Qui est-ce qui
(Who is it that…?)
|= Qui est-ce qu(e)
(Who is it that…?)
|= Qu’est-ce qui
(What is it that…?)
|= Qu’est-ce qu(e)
(What is it that…?)
How or when are the short forms (Qui and Qu[e]), the pure interrogatives, used?
Who? or What? as Direct Object
Qui + inversion = Qui est-ce qu(e).
(Whom see you?)
|Qui est-ce que vous voyez?
(Who is it that you see?)
|“Who(m) do you see?”|
Qu(e) + inversion = Qu’est-ce qu(e).
(What see you?)
|Qu’est-ce que vous voyez?
(What is it that you see?)
|“What do you see?”|
Who? or What? as Subject
Qui = Qui est-ce qui (the forms are interchangeable).
|Qui vient ce soir?
(Who is coming this evening?)
|Qui est-ce qui vient ce soir?
(Who is it that is coming this evening?)
|“Who is coming this evening?”|
The short form for What? cannot, in ordinary conversational French, be used as a subject.
(What is happening?)
|Qu’est-ce qui se passe?
(What is it that is happening?)
|“What is happening?”|
Elegant French does allow the simple Que to serve as subject, at the price of adding a redundant pronoun subject in inversion:
|Que se passe-t-il?
(What is happening?)
|Qu’est-ce qui se passe?
(What is it that is happening?)
|“What is happening?”|
A look at the Language File The Whats of French may be helpful. Or not.
§87. Use of Ne without Pas
I recommend your supplementing what the Author says with the following.
Consult the Language File Ne without Pas.
1. What we need to do now is translate these sentences into English.
Il s’agit de + infinitive
Il s’agit de should normally be translated, initially, as “It is a matter of”:
- Dans ce roman, il s’agit de l’amour de deux orphelins. (In this novel, it is a matter of the love of two orphans. = This novel is about the love of two orphans.)
However, when followed by an infinitive, it can mean “this is what we (or whoever is concerned) needs to do right away.”
- « Quelqu’un est en train d’enfoncer la porte! —Il s’agit d’appeler la police! » (“Someone is breaking down the door!” “We’ve gotta call the police pronto!”)
See the note to sentence  in chapter 16.
Variable Translation of en
Remember that en can mean “into” when used with the right kind of verb.
2. We suspect that this/it will be an interesting task. (se douter = “to suspect)
3. We have no doubts about the value and importance of computers. (douter = “to doubt”; douter de = “to doubt about”)
4. I don’t remember all the conjunctions in French.
5. Do you know what was happening in the street when the director returned?
6. It may be that there is (will be) a test next week.
7. When the students hear that, they will run away.
8. Technical books cannot be had in this bookstore. (are not sold)
9. Scientists can’t do without their computers.
10. The chief of state and the general often spoke with each other about the economy.
11. When will you do your French homework?
12. Why was the Eiffel Tower built?
13. What did Lawrence and Livingston build in 1932?
14. Who invented the first calculating machine?
15. When did Berzélius discover thorium?
16. What is the capital of France?
17. What novels have you read by Thomas Wolfe?
18. Do you prefer novels or plays?
19. What destroyed the city of Moscow in 1812?
20. How many soldiers did Rostopschine have to defend the city?
21. Obviously, computers are very complicated devices, aren’t they?
22. You know how to type, don’t you?
23. Whence cometh this machine? (Where does this machine come from?)
24. Where are we going to spend vacation this summer?
25. You will succeed, unless you make too many mistakes. (In other words, you will succeed, unless, of course, you don’t…)
26. They/We (One) found no-one in the city but some prisoners released by the Russian governer. (One found in the city only prisoners…)
27. The French soldiers fled (from) the Kremlin for fear lest the fire should soon reach it.
28. There is no photograph of this rocket in this encyclopedia. (No photograph…is found…)
29. Nothing is preventing (prevents) these gentlemen from completing the experiment.
30. One can solve these mathematical problems only by using a computer.
31. The little boys were tossing a foam-rubber ball to each other. (I.e., they were playing catch with it.)
32. The captain did not notice the cabinboy who was standing in front of the door.
33. Placing his beerglass on the table, he watched the bubbles of white foam burst and disappear slowly.
34. The blade of my knife is dull.
35. They used fire-extinguishers to put out the flames.
36. In order to get his bearings the soldier examined a tree; the moss on the tree trunk provided him with some information.
37. He began to wash: the water formed with the soap a lather that rose and swelled.
38. The professional training of engineers…
39. He opens the door with a picklock.
40. It’s a juggling trick.
41. (A most objectionable image, but what the expression means is:) I can’t waste any more of my valuable time on you/on this.
42. He has bats in the belfry.
 These few epistemological remarks are meant simply to recall the historical dialectic that seemed to us to emerge from our study of the events that occurred in western Arabia on the eve of Islam.  These events (literally: They) were accompanied by profound sociopolitical upheavals that in turn brought about an important change in ideology at each stage of the development, ending finally with the Koranic reform.  But this reform, due to the very fact that it was addressed to a vast ethnic grouping composed of societies (that had) developed in different ways, was often obliged (literally: led) either to compromise with, or to record an actual state of things, to adopt a modus vivendi.
 …se proposent de… – se proposer de = “to propose” (literally, “to propose to onself”). Cf. Dans cet article, je me propose de présenter…(In this article, I propose to present…)
See also  below: et c’est précisément le but que nous nous sommes proposé.
 …que nous avons cru discerner dans… – Literally, “(the historical dialectic) that / we believed to discern / we believed we discerned in…”
 …bouleversements…lesquels… – The relative pronoun lequel(le)(s), which is normally used as the object of a preposition (see Relative Pronouns. Part I. Section A. Heading 3), can also function as the subject of a verb. It is about as affected a usage as to say in English “the which” instead of “which” or “that.”
 …ont provoqué… – Cf. provoquer un accident = “to cause an accident.”
 évolution – French often uses évolution where English uses “development,” and evoluer where English uses “to develop.”
 pour aboutir – Note the use of pour here, something like “only to.” See the notebox at the end of Language File French Concessions. Part I. Concessive Pour.
 The religious infrastructure of Arabic society, the ideology of which, since (the introduction of) Islam, has seemed to be in equilibrium, is thus not as simple as one might believe.  It (=the infrastructure) can be understood, in the final analysis, only in the light of the historical processes that gave birth to it.  And this is precisely the task (goal) we have assigned ourselves in the present work in writing, as it were, an introduction to the history of the sacred amongst the Arabs. It is time now to take stock of what we have accomplished.
 Il est temps de faire le point sur notre acquis. – acquis is the past participle of acquérir = “to acquire,” here used as a noun (“acquisition”).
 In the sort of protodemocratic state represented by nomadic society, in which individual anarchy poses a continual danger to authority (power), sovereignty, in spite of its partial usurpation by the chief, still exists in a diffuse state.  It is in fact the possession of the entire group (Literally: It belongs, in fact, to the entire group), and the nomadic lord—who is not at all like a despot—is considered (to be) the guardian of customary law and the organ that insures its proper functioning.  His authority, frequently contested, is in proportion to the wisdom and circumspection he shows in the administration of the group’s interests.
Le Passe-muraille p173
The title of this short story by Marcel Aymé does not translate very well. Since it refers the central character, a human being, one could perhaps translate it as “The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls.” However, it is a type of noun compound that usually refers to an object that performs a certain action. It is made up of the third-person singular present form of a verb followed by a noun, the direct object of the verb. Examples:
- un abat-jour = “a lamp shade” (it beats down the light)
- un amuse-gueule = “an appetizer” (it amuses the gullet)
- un gratte-ciel = “a skyscraper”
- un ouvre-boîte = “a can-opener”
- un pince-nez = “a pince-nez” (it pinches the nose)
- un tire-bouchon = “a cork-screw” (it draws the cork)
- un tourne-disque = “a record-player” (it turns the disk)
- un tournevis = “a screwdriver”
Most important in the present case, since it is the model for the invented word un passe-muraille, is:
- un passe-partout = “a skeleton (master) key” (it allows you to pass everywhere)
 There lived, in the Montparnasse district, on the fourth floor of (the building at the address) 75bis, rue d’Orchampt, an excellent man named Dutilleul, who possessed the singular gift of (being able) to pass through walls without any difficulty. He wore a pince-nez, a little black goatee, and he was a third-class employee at the Ministry of Records. In the winter, he went to his office by bus, and when the weather was fine he made the journey on foot, beneath his bowler hat.
 75bis – In France the numbering of buildings does not begin with a new hundred at each new block (the concept of “block” being unknown there), but is continuous, as long as the street does not change its name. If, subsequently, it is discovered that a building has been missed (or if a new building is constructed between two previously existing ones), rather than renumber all the buildings after that point, the French add a bis (“a second time”) to a number and, if necessary, a ter (“a third time”).
 sans en être incommodé – Literally, “without being inconvenienced by it.”
 Dutilleul had just turned forty-three when he received the revelation of his power. One evening, a short blackout having taken him by surprise in the vestibule of his little bachelor’s apartment, he groped for a moment in the dark and, once the current was restored, found himself on the landing of the fourth floor.  Since his front door was locked on the inside, the incident gave him matter for thought and, in spite of the remonstrances of his reason, he made up his mind to go back inside as he had come out, by passing through the wall.  This strange ability, which seemed to correspond to none of his aspirations, was to be sure was somewhat unsettling,2 and the next day, which was Saturday, taking advantage of the two-day weekend, he went to see a doctor in the neighborhood to describe his case to him…
 The first burglary to which Dutilleul abandoned himself took place in a large credit establishment on the right bank. Having passed through a dozen or so outer and inner walls, he got into various strong-boxes, filled his pockets with bank-notes, and, before withdrawing, signed his name to his theft in red chalk using the pseudonym Garou-Garou,3 with a very nice paraph/flourish that was reproduced the next day in all the newspapers.  Within a week, the name Garou-Garou acquired an extraordinary celebrity. The sympathy of the public went without reserve to this amazing4 burglar who thumbed his nose so prettily at the police.  Each night he distinguished himself thanks to a new exploit done at the expense of either a bank, or a jewelry-store, or a rich person.5  In Paris as in the provinces, there wasn’t a woman the least bit dreamy who did not have the fervent desire to belong to the terrible Garou-Garou body and soul.  Nevertheless, Dutilleul, though he had become one of the richest men in Paris, was always/still punctual at his office.
Biological Oceanography p174
If you decide not to bother with this piece, you will have my blessing.
 Biological oceanography consists of the study of sea creatures, in their environment, notably their reproduction, development, growth, the conditions for their populating the sea and the sea floor, their geographical distribution, their movements,6 the development of groupings of marine animals.  But it is obvious that the life of organisms present in the sea depends on the amount of nourishing substances found there. In addition to nutrients7 and dissolved oxygen, organic compounds play an important rôle in this process,8 a rôle that can be appreciated by estimating the amount of organic material produced by vegetable plankton (phytoplankton) in the conditions in which it is found, from the point of view of the temperature, the light, and the turbulence of the environment.9  The evaluation of this productivity of the sea, now more precise,10 is one of the great achievements of modern biological oceanography.
 The study of anatomy, of the systematic ordering of the species gathered from the sea belongs to marine zoology and biology and not to biological oceanography. This last (=b.o.) is an ecological study and necessarily includes a simultaneous investigation of ((portant sur = “bearing on.”)) the essential physical characters of the environment.
 Each specialist of these disciplines sees the environment in a certain light, and the continuous effort to combine their various points of view11 is alone capable of resulting in the comprehension of the mechanism of marine phenomena, which comprehension is a precondition for the prediction of these phenomena in all regards and the ultimate stage of the knowledge of an environment.  Oceanography is par excellence a form of team work, both on the sea and in the laboratory. Situated at the crossroads of scientific disciplines, it draws its unity from the unity and continuity of the environment it studies, and also from the imperatives imposed by the observation and measurement of the sea itself.
- The participle vues agrees with the relative pronoun que, which agrees with its antecedent in person, number, and gender.
- Literally, “This strange ability…did not fail to upset him a bit.”
- Garou = “wolfman.”
- The first meaning of un prestige is “a(n astonishing) magic trick.”
- Particulier here means “a private person” (as opposed to an institution like a bank or a store). Cf. des cours particuliers = “private lessons,” une maison particulière = “a house” (as opposed to an appartment).
- Literally, “their migrations,” meaning “movements as a group.”
- Literally, “nutrient salts.”
- “In the process” is my interpretation of y, which I take to mean dans la vie des êtres marins.
- I wonder if you find the latter half of this sentence is unsatisfactory as I do.
- Literally “having become precise.”
- Literally, “the habitual confrontation of the point of view of these specialists.”