Table of Contents
- Commentary §§54-59
§54. Inverted Word Order: Pronoun Subject and Verb Inversion
The Author gives examples of, but does not explain, the addition of a -t- in the case of third-person singular verbs. The rule is this:
If the very last letter in the third-person verb form is not a –t (or a –d), then you must insert a -t- in between the verb and the pronoun subject.
So, you don’t need to add anything in the following cases:
- Que dit-il?
- Finit-on bientôt?
- Georges se rend-il à la gendarmerie?
- Peut-être ces avocats se croient-ils sur le parquet.
- Où sont-elles allées?
- Quand étaient-elles revenues?
- Tout le monde voulait partir; aussi la séance prit-elle fin.
But you do need them for third-person singular -er verbs in the present tense and a few other cases (the extra –t-s have been made orange-y):
- Georges va–t-il au terrain de sport? (aller)
- A–t-elle des ennuis? (avoir)
- Estelle rentre–t-elle normalement avant minuit? (rentrer)
- Superman vainc–t-il tous ses ennemis? Bien sûr! (vaincre)
- Que créa–t-on? (créer, simple past)
- Jonathan verra–t-il jamais la lumière? (voir, future)
Note that one odd consequence of this practice is that even in inversion third-person singular and third-person plural forms of –er verbs sound exactly the same:
|Singular||Plural||Same Pronunciation for Both|
|Elle rentre.||Elles rentrent.||[ɛl ʁɑ̃tʁ]|
Horror of Hiatus, or the Relic of a Latin Ending
The insertion of the -t- can be sufficiently explained by the horror the modern French language holds for hiatus. On the other hand, Latin third-person singular verbs invariably ended in a -t. It could be the -t- used in inversion is a distant memory of the Latin personal ending -t, in a situation in which the final -t was likely to be especially clearly pronounced.
Latin intrat → French entre(t)
Latin parabolat → French parle(t)
Latin habet → French a(t)
Latin vadit → French va(t)
Adverbs Inducing Inversion
The normal place for an adverb modifying a verb is directly after the (personal) verb. A very few adverbs, when for emphasis or stylistic reasons they are put first in the clause, result in inversion of the subject pronoun and the verb.
The adverb peut-être can appear in three ways. The default is after the personal verb; the other two below are increasingly artful:
- Il viendra peut-être demain.
- Peut-être qu’il viendra demain.
- Peut-être viendra-t-il demain.
All of the above mean: “Perhaps he will come tomorrow.”
Note that the number 2 version (the one with que) makes particular sense, if you recall that peut-être means “can be, may be:: “It may be that he will come tomorrow.”
Very important!: The adverb aussi has a completely different meaning when it comes at the head of a clause from what it means when it comes after the verb.
See Aussi, the Many Meanings of, number 4.
Toujours (est-il…) …que…
The Author gives the example
Toujours est-il possible de trouver une solution.
which he translates as
“It is still possible to find a solution.”
It is true that toujours can mean “still” as well as “always.” It can have either meaning, regardless of its position.
Il est toujours là.
“He is still there.” OR “He is always there.”
But a more common construction with toujours est-il is Toujours est-il que, which means something like “It is nonetheless the case that” or “All the same,…”:
Toujours est-il que les Nord-Africains continuent d’émigrer en grand nombre.
= “All the same, the North-Africans continue to emigrate in great numbers.”
Quotations and “He said, She said” (Propositions incises)
As the Author says in §54C, in printed conversations in French you do not close and open quotation marks to indicate a change in the person speaking; rather, you use a long dash. Similarly, you do not close and open quotation marks for explanatory clauses of the sort “he said, she said” (these are called propositions incises in French); instead, you invert the subject and verb: “said he, said she, said George, said Martha.”
- «Je ne puis, fit Tristan en soupirant, retenir ma vie plus longtemps.»
(“I cannot,” Tristan said sighing, “hold on to my life any longer.”)
- «Que veut dire ce galimatias? a demandé Pierre.
—Il veut dire ce que vous voulez, a répondu Nicolette.»
(“What’s the meaning of this nonsense?” Pierre asked.
“It means whatever you like,” Nicolette answered.“)
- «Vous avez cinq ans! exclama-t-elle tendrement.»
(“You’re about as intelligent as an itty-bitty baby!” she exclaimed tenderly.)
§54C. Inversion after que
See the French Language File Que, etc., and Inversion. Arguably, this Language File should be taken in small bites; to begin with, perhaps read only Part I. Inversion after the Relative Pronoun Que. Nonetheless, I am of the opinion that the whole file will one day be of use to you.
§55. Causative Faire
The Author’s presentation leaves something to be desired.
See my own Language File Faire causatif.
§56. The Verb Mettre
See also, in the Language File “Irregular Verb Groupings,” the section on mettre, especially the note-box on “The Many Uses of Mise.”
§57. The Verb Savoir
Consult the following French Language File:
I should like to draw special attention to the differing translations of this verb depending on the past tense used.
Je savais + a Fact versus J’ai su + a Fact
- Je savais cela = “I knew that.” (ongoing mental state)
- J’ai su cela = “I learned that, I came to know that, I realized that.” (change from the state of ignorance to the state of knowing)
Je savais + an Infinitive versus J’ai su + an Infinitive
- Je savais le faire rire = “I was able to / I could / make him laugh” (as an ongoing ability).
- J’ai su le faire rire = “I managed to make him laugh” (on a particular occasion).
See also the Professor’s Rule for Translating Ne saurait at the very end of the Language File Forms and Uses of the Conditional.
§§58 and 59. The Verbs Voir and Pouvoir
Nothing to add for the moment.
1. The engineer / shows / is showing / the cyclotron to the physicists.1
2. He shows it to the physicists.2
3. He shows them the cyclotron.3
4. He shows it to them.4
5. The teacher will have the students read this book.
Par les versus Aux
In sentence 5, the Author uses par les instead of aux, to avoid the ambiguity of the formulation Le professeur fera lire le livre aux étudiants, which can mean two things:
- “The teacher will have the students read5 this book.”
- “The teacher will have this book read6 “to the students.”
However, the formulation with aux is a perfectly acceptable French way of expressing “The teacher will have the students read the book.”
On the use of par with the faire causatif, see “2. Ambiguities” in Part IIB of the French Language File “Faire causatif.”
Moreover, even par les élèves will be replaced by the pronoun form leur, just as aux élèves would be:
Le professeur leur fera lire ce livre. (The teacher will have them read this book.)
If you don’t believe me, just take a look at sentence 6.
6. The teacher will have them read this poem.
Poésie can be a count noun or a noun-count noun. As a count noun, it means “(a) poem.”
7. The (female grade-school) teacher had7 the students sing.
8. She had them sing songs.
9. The salesperson informed us about8 the price of the merchandise.
10. We make all the students study the natural sciences. (OR: All the students are made to study the natural sciences.)
11. The director / built a magnificent house / had a magnificent house built / in the suburbs.
The French, more precise than we English-speakers, will not say someone builds a house, if shurree does not get down there and work alongside the carpenters and bricklayers.
12. I had a carpenter repair this building.
On the use of par with the faire causatif, see “2. Ambiguities” in Part IIB of the French Language File “Faire causatif.”
13. You mustn’t make9 children work too much.
14. The goal is to have these farmers produce tobacco.
15. The teacher acquainted the ministers with the facts.
16. Beaumarchais took responsibility for getting munitions to America.10
17. Descartes caused algebra to take an enormous step forward by inventing the notation of powers by means of numerical exponents.11
Review, if you feel the need, the French Language File The Relative Adverb Dont.
18. The planet the satellite of which is the moon is called: The Earth.
19. Living beings are subject to variations, for which we have seen / the proof / the evidence.12
20. The trapezoid is a quadrilateral geometrical figure two of the sides of which are are unequal and parallel.
21. The principal gases of which the atmosphere is composed are oxygen and nitrogen.
22. The theory the structure of which we have examined13 scarcely appears solid.
23. It is on this principle that thermal analysis is based.
24. It is interesting to compare these results with those furnished by (the) classical methods.14
25. Literally: It was in the Middle Ages that the cathedrals of Paris, Rouen, and Chartres were built. Perhaps with this force: The cathedrals of P, R, and Ch were built in the Middle Ages, you ignoramus!
26. The magical impression produced by orchestral music is reinforced by the large size of the hall.
27. Perhaps (the) philosophers aspire to become lawmakers.
28. The manager is ill; hence, he is not coming to the office today.
29. Thus the machine is much more expensive than its predecessor was.
On the structure of the second clause in 29, check part VI.A of the Language File Que and Inversion.
30. “Perhaps / that / this / it / seems a little strange to you,” he said.
31. “There is something,” he said, “that worries me a little.”
32. There is the doctor that/whom we met at the hospital.
33. There is the doctor that the parents of the victim are looking for.
34. There is the doctor that/who is looking for the parents of the victim.
36. The machine invented by Pascal17 in the 17th century made arithmetical calculations easier.
38. One gives nothing so freely as one’s advice.
40. Most laws seem arbitrary: they depend on the special interests, passions, and opinions of those who invented them, and on the nature of the climate in which human beans have gathered together into society.
See the section on dépendre in the French Language File “Regular –(d)re Verbs.”
41. That would show us the physical laws that operated during this experiment.22
42. The / samples / specimens / will be withdrawn from the oven in an hour; they are then transferred to the other measuring devices.
Regarding mise en évidence in 43, translated as “demonstration,” see the note-box on “The Many Uses of Mise” in the section on mettre in the Language File “Irregular Verb Groupings.”
44. Let us suppose that there are two gases to which one must add a third.23
45. That constitutes a sort of motion picture24 that would show us the genealogy of each species.
46. One couldn’t possibly determine precisely the origin (provenance) of most animals.
47. After originating in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Stream crosses the North Atlantic.
48. One can see25 that the results obtained by the Yale researchers will allow us to modify our procedure.
The New World: Impressions of a Frenchman p103
I need hardly introduce Alexis de Tocqueville to an American audience. But are you aware that AdT had a co-worker with him during his stay in the United States, Gustave de Beaumont, that they co-authored a study Du système pénitentiaire aux Etats-Unis, and that GdB wrote a novel about slavery in the US as a pendant to AdT’s De la démocratie en Amérique?
 No people on the earth has made as rapid progress as the Americans in commerce and industry. Today they form the second seafaring nation in the world; and, although their factories must struggle against almost insurmountable natural obstacles, they are nonetheless constantly growing.  But what strikes me the most in the US is not the extraordinary size of a few industrial enterprises; it is the countless multitude of small enterprises.
 Il n’y a pas de peuple sur la terre… – Literally, “there is not a people on the earth.”
 …qui ait fait des progrès…; et, bien que leurs manufactures aient… – The Author is letting more examples of the subjunctive dribble through. They do not affect the translation. – Note that French often treats progrès as a countable noun, where English treats it as non-count. Literally, the word means “step(s) forward.”
 …elles ne laissent pas de prendre chaque jour de nouveaux développements. – Literally, “they do not fail to take on every day new developments.”
On the use of de for un (Il n’y a pas de peuple) and de for des (de nouveaux développements), review the Language File Reduction of the Partitive Article, particularly parts 1 and 2. See also sentence  below: Les Américains font d’immenses progrès…
 Almost all the farmers of the US have joined some commerce to their farming; most of them have made farming into a commerce.
 It is rare that an American farmer establishes himself for ever on the land (soil) he occupies. In the new provinces of the West especially, a field is cleared so it can be sold, not so it can be harvested26; 53 a farm is built in the expectation that, since the state of the country will change soon as a result of the increase in the number of inhabitants, it will be possible to obtain a good price for it.27
 Every year a swarm of Northerners descends towards the South and comes and establishes itself in the regions where cotton and sugarcane grow.  These men cultivate the land in order to get rich from it in just a few years, and they already foresee the time when they will be able to return to their country of origin to enjoy the comfort thus acquired.  Americans thus bring to farming the spirit of commerce, and their industrial enthusiasms can be seen there, (just) as (they can) elsewhere.
 vient s’établir… – Literally, “comes to establish itself.”
 …dans les contrées où croissent le coton et la canne à sucre. We have here a case of inversion of subject and verb, in a clause introduced by the relative adverb où. See Part IV of the Language File Que, etc., and Inversion.
 Ces hommes cultivent la terre dans le but de lui faire produire en peu d’années de quoi les enrichir. – The last part, more closely translated: “in order to make it produce (faire causatif!) in few years (something) with which to make them rich.”
 …ils entrevoient… – Entrevoir means “to see dimly, to see in spite of obstructions.”
 Americans make enormous progress in industry, because they are, all of them at the same time, busy with industry, and for this same reason they are subject to very unexpected and quite fearsome industrial crises.
 Since they are all involved in commerce, commerce with them is subject to such numerous and complicated influences that it is impossible to predict (foresee) the difficulties that may arise.  Since each of them is involved more or less with industry, at the least shock that business experiences there, all private fortunes stumble at the same time, and the State totters.
 I think that the recurrence of industrial crises is an illness endemic to the democratic nations of our day.  One can make it less dangerous, but not cure it, because it is not due to something incidental [à un accident], but to the very temperament of these peoples.
Surfaces of Plane Figures p104
As best I can recall, I have never assigned this reading.
 The height of a triangle represents the perpendicular line28 lowered from one of the summits onto the opposite side taken as base.  The foot of the height may fall inside or outside the triangle.  The surface area of a triangle is equal to the product of the base times half of the height.
 An isoceles triangle is (the) one that has two equal sides; an equilateral triangle has three equal sides; a scalene triangle is one with three unequal sides.  A right triangle is triangle that has a right angle (that is, an angle of 90 degrees.)
 The height of a parallelogram is the perpendicular line that measures the distance between the two parallel sides.  The area of any parallelogram is equal to the product of the base times the height.
 A trapezoid is a quadrilateral two of whose sides are unequal and parallel.  The two parallel sides form the bases; the distance between them is the height.  The area of a trapezoid / is obtained / can be obtained / by multiplying the sum of the bases by half of the height.  One can also express the preceding (cela) with the formula:
Area of the trapezoid = h/2 (b + b’)
 A regular polygon is one all the angles of which are equal to each other (“equal amongst them”).  Any regular polygon can be inscribed inside a circle. This circle may be considered (as) a regular polygon with an infinity of sides.
For the meaning of tout in Tout polygone régulier, see part I.A.2 of the Language File Tout sur tout.
 Now, a regular polygon has as its measure (?? = is measured by? can be measured by?) half the product of its perimeter times the radius of the inscribed circle29:
Area of the polygon = 1/2 anr
when30 a is the side, n the number of sides, and r the radius of the inscribed circle.
As I have already noted at least once elsewhere in these pages, Or (as in sentence ) is a weak adversative, used to introduce a new fact that may change the overall picture of things, but does not contradict anything already said. It can usually be translated as “Now,…” or “Well,…”
Move Your Feet, Lose Your Seat p106
 A traveller who had spent the entire day in the rain arrived one evening at an inn in a little town.  He was hoping to get dry while waiting for his dinner, but when he entered the dining room he saw seven other travelers there who had already taken up their places around the fireplace.
 Calling the innkeeper, he said to him: “Quickly, bring my horse a dozen oysters.”
“What, sir! Your horse?”
“Maybe it seems a little strange to you, but do what I tell you anyway.”
 The innkeeper went to the kitchen to get some oysters. After opening them, he went out to the stable, followed by all the travelers, who were very eager to see a horse eat oysters.
 …de voir manger des huîtres à un cheval. – With verbs of perception, French has the option of using the following construction: voir [subject of infinitive] infinitive [direct object of infinitive] (de voir un cheval manger des huîtres), but if, as here, the writer puts the subject of the infinitive to the right of the infinitive, and consequently right next to the direct object of the infinitive, shurree has no option but to put the subject into the indirect object case, as is done with the faire causatif.
de voir un cheval manger des huîtres
de voir manger des huîtres à un cheval
“to see a horse eat oysters”
 A few minutes later they all came back in.
 “Sir,” said the innkeeper, “your horse doesn’t want any oysters.”
 “No matter,” answered the traveler, “put them on the table. I will eat them myself.”
 During the others’ absence, he had taken a good seat near the fire.
- Literally, “The engineer causes the physicists to see the cyclotron.”
- Literally, “He causes the physicists to see it.”
- Literally, “He causes them to see the cyclotron.””
- That is, the infinitive, pronounced [rid].
- That is, the past participle, pronounced [rɛd].
- was having, used to have
- Literally, “caused us to know/learn.”
- Literally, “It is necessary not to make”
- Literally, “for causing munitions to arrive in America”
- Less clumsily, “by using numerical exponents to show powers”
- Literally, “of which we have seen the evidence”; or, “the evidence for which we have seen.” (Is the context an attack on or a defense of creation science? Hard to say.)
- Or, “whose structure we have examined”
- Literally, “with those that the classical methods furnish” (que fournissent les méthodes classiques).
- More literally: “The impressions that AdT (has) related.”
- The French word juste here means: “appropriate, fitting, corresponding to the thing.”
- More literally: “The machine that P (has) invented.”
- Better: “one must know them in detail”
- =”And so”
- juger de = “to judge about”
- Literally, “That would cause us to see…”
- Or, “to which a third must be added”
- No doubt time-lapse.
- Literally, “One sees”
- Literally, “to resell it, not to harvest it.”
- The pronominal adverb en here = “of it, from it.”
- La perpendiculaire stands for la ligne perpendiculare.
- Note that now it is the circle that is inscribed inside the polygon, not the polygon that is inscribed within the circle, as in .
- I think, in English, one might say “where” here.