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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
In this particular construction, yes. A more usual construction, might be "Tu m'aimes," in which case it is accusative. –  Tom Au Sep 6 '11 at 13:53
@Evpok sorry to break it to you, dude, but you so are a dative. –  Joubarc Sep 6 '11 at 13:56
@Tom You are amazing me. Except purists and linguists, no francophone would name the pronouns' forms before their grammatical cases. Does your native language use grammatical cases ? –  Evpok Sep 6 '11 at 13:58
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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4 Answers

up vote 8 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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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
@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
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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
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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
@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
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