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Most French sentences have the normal word order, subject, object, verb: Je te vois.

But sentences with a few verbs have an unusual word order. E.g. "Tu me manques," in which the "object" is first, and the "subject" is second, and in the dative case. (And the literal meaning of the sentence is "You are missing to me," as opposed to "I miss you.")

What is this kind of construction called in French? How would I find more examples of it?

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Did you learn French naming me a dative ? –  Evpok Sep 6 '11 at 13:44
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@Evpok sorry to break it to you, dude, but you so are a dative. –  Joubarc Sep 6 '11 at 13:56
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Er, I thought the normal word order of most French sentences was SVO : "je vois Pierre" !! –  Axioplase Sep 7 '11 at 1:57
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French language or not, I take issue with the oxymoronic idea of a "subject in the dative case". "Tu" is the subject in the above sentence. Your confusion might stem from a misguided attempt at equating "manquer" with "miss": they do not mean the same thing (although they result in similar meanings). –  Dave Sep 7 '11 at 3:20
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@JPP: I said « except purists and linguists ». –  Evpok Sep 8 '11 at 0:19

6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Usual French constructions are:

Je vois le chien. (Sujet : je, verbe : voir, COD : le chien)
Nous manquons de farine. (Sujet : nous, verbe : manquer, COI : de farine)

However, when a pronom is used as COD or COI, it is placed before the verb:

Je te vois. (Sujet : je, COD : toi, verbe : voir)
Tu me manque. (Sujet : tu, COI : à moi, verb : manquer)

What is misleading here is that one translation for “miss/manquer” goes as follows :

  • x(subj., person) miss y(obj., person/thing) → y(subj., person/thing) manque à x(obj., person)

Strangely, functions of subject and object for these verbs are swapped during this translation. Related translations involving manquer are more stardard:

  • x(subj.) lacks y(obj., thing) → x(subj.) manque de y(obj., thing)
  • x(subj.) miss y(obj., target/goal) → x(subj.) manque y(obj., target/goal)
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first

In the case of "Tu me manque", the first thing is to understand that "Manquer" ≠ "To miss"

general grammar

The word you are looking for is verbe pronominal (plural: verbes pronominaux).

Warning : The following text is pure formal grammar. Is it extremely boring

Some verbs are purely pronominal. Those are usually "Reflective verb" where the pronom and the subject are the same. The pronom do not have a gramatical fonction.

  • Je me souviens (I remember)
  • Je m'en vais (I am leaving)
  • Il se suicide (He is committing suicide)
  • Je m'arrange comme je peut (I am doing what I can)

All the transitive verbs can have a pronominal form. But some, such as "manquer (à quelqu'un) are **usually* used in this form.

Example:

  • Tu me manque (I miss you)

Mais

  • Tu manque à ta mere (Your mother miss you)

We never say "Tu manque à moi" but the second example shows that this verb is not always pronominal. It is only transitive.

In fact any (really any?) transitive verb can be a "verbes occasionnellement pronominal" where the normal use is the "usual" order but if you use a pronom you have to change the order

Example

  • Je regarde cette voiture -> je la regarde
  • Il regarde moi (incorect) -> Il me regarde

attention

"Manquer" is the worst possible word to explain this concept.

It can have the 3 forms.:

  • essentiellement pronominal : Tu m'a manqué = I missed you (because you've been away)
  • not pronominal: Tu a manqué la cible = You missed the target
  • occasionnellement pronominal : Tu l'a manqué = You missed it (The target)

The first example is a transitive indirect verb (Manquer à quelqu'un) and the second is a direct transitive verb.

They both can be translated as "to miss" but should be treated as different verbs. Just as "To give"≠ "To give up"

There is even a third meaning : "Manquer de" meaning "to lack"

Je manque d'argent = I lack the money

If you insist on using a pronominal form: "J'en manque"

unlimited source of pun

"Je t'ai manqué" = "I missed you". Both for a loved one or for a missed target

As the proposition (à) do not appear in pronominal form, it is impossible to tell if we use the transitive or intransitive meaning.

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Sorry to dig up old answers, but here is an English-speaking perspective which let me put "miss" vs. "manquer" at peace.

The key thing to realize is that when we wish to express something of the form "x experiences a sensation because of y" semantically, there is no universal answer to which of "x" and "y" should be the subject. Even within English, sometimes the experiencer is the subject and sometimes the causer is the subject; for example, "she amuses me" = "she causes a sensation of amusement in me" whereas "she misses me" = "I cause a sensation of missing in her."

So it's somewhat arbitrary which of experiencer/causer is the subject and object, and not unreasonable that two languages decide differently for the same sensation.

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The normal place of this kind of pronouns (me, te, le, la, lui, ...) is before the verb (excepted in positive imperative and infinitive form). That use doesn't have a name.

The verb « manquer » can be used in three main ways (there are others):

  • with a meaning of failing to reach, or even failing in some cases. It is used in a transitive way. « La flèche manque la cible. » « The arrow miss the target. » If la cible is to be replaced by a pronoun, it will be « La flèche la manque. »

  • with a meaning of lacking. It is used in an intransitive way with de. « Je manque d' eau. » « I haven't enough water. » If eau is to be replaced by a pronoun, it will be « J'en manque. »

  • with the meaning of having one's absence felt with regret by someone. It is used in an intransitive way with à. « Virginie manque à Paul. » « Paul miss Virginie. » If Paul is to be replaced by a pronoun, it will be « Virginie lui manque. » (Yes, Virginie is the subject here even if when formulated in English you make Paul the subject.)

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Note that "miss" as opposed to "hit" is translated as is: "I missed the target" -> "J'ai manqué mon objectif" –  Joubarc Sep 6 '11 at 13:42
    
Merci, j'ai ajouté un exemple. –  Un francophone Sep 6 '11 at 13:45

The issue is not with the subject : tu is the subject and in first position as usual.

The issue is with me, which is a complement. If your de-pronoun-ize me, you will have e.g. “Tu manques à Marie ”.

This is one of the few case in French where the order of words is not SVO but SOV : when the verb's complement is a pronoun, it is to be placed before the verb. I don't think there is a particular word for it.

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Je manque à tous mes devoirs; d'ailleurs, il paraît que dans mon bureau, on les entend pleurer mon absence. –  Joubarc Sep 6 '11 at 13:44
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@Joubarc I see what you did there –  Evpok Sep 6 '11 at 13:46
    
More like that, isn't it? –  JPP Sep 7 '11 at 23:09

Most sentences actually don't have the order you specify:

  • J'aime la galette.
  • Je chante la Traviata.
  • J'ai trouvé l'eau si claire que je m'y suis baigné.
  • C'est la nuit sur la banlieue.

About the verb manquer, it is simply used intransitively, while its closer English equivalent (miss and lack) are mostly transitive. So, « tu me manques » is equivalent to « tu manques à moi » (which we don't say): the subject is tu, and the indirect object is me/moi.

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OK, I meant the usual subject, verb, object, wecept when referring to personal pronouns, which would then be subject object verb. But manquer uses a "different" construction. –  Tom Au Sep 6 '11 at 13:40
    
Et main'nant je vais rester avec du Renaud dans la tête pour le reste de la journée. –  subtenante Sep 6 '11 at 13:53
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@subtenante … Willy ouvre enfin les yeux. Il s'était pieuté à l'aube, peut-être un peut fracass’ ♬ –  F'x Sep 6 '11 at 13:55
    
@subtenante same for me but with A la claire fontaine. I envy you. –  Romain VALERI May 12 at 9:55

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