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I'm reading a novel, here's one paragraph

Enfin, elles atteignent le vieux Stamboul*. On dirait une autre ville, un autre pays. Après la bruyante frénésie de Galata, elles apprécient le calme des rues étroites, bordées de jolies maisons de bois aux volets clos et de hauts murs que dominent des cyprès.

* Stamboul: on appelait ainsi le vieux quartier d'Istamboul.

Here, “de hauts murs que dominent des cyprès”, does it mean

  1. "the high walls that dominates the cypress"; or
  2. "(the houses) that is dominated by high walls of cypress" ?

For the 1st choice, the problem is it's a bit funny saying walls dominate cypress.

For the 2nd choice, the problem is that between “de hauts murs” and “des cyprès” there is “que dominent”, it's also strange to me…

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

A subordinating conjunction que refers to something introduced previously, and its role is always (direct) object in the subordinate clause. (To make it the subject of the subordinate clause, qui would be used instead; and in the case of an indirect object, dont or à qui, au(x)quel(le)(s), etc. are the proper conjunctions.)

In your sentence, que refers to “les hauts murs”, and the intended meaning is “Des cyprès dominent les hauts murs”. It's a bit tricky, because inside a subordinate clause introduced by que, the subject is often found (not always) after the verb. Example:

Comment savoir ce que réserve l'avenir ?
Comment savoir ce que l'avenir réserve ? (also correct, same meaning)

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thanks, now i can understand it better... qui; que; dont, à qui, auquel... hmm, noted down :) –  athos May 4 '12 at 21:46
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It means that the cypres are towering above the walls.I would translate it as

[…] pretty shuttered wooden houses, and high walls dominated by cypres.

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