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I came across the following sentence in Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone):

Les élèves de Smelting avaient également une canne dont ils se servaient pour se taper dessus quand les professeurs ne les voyaient pas.

My attempted translation of this is:

The pupils of Smeltings also had a stick which they used to hit themselves when the teachers couldn't see them.

The original sentence in J.K. Rowling's version is:

They also carried knobbly sticks, used for hitting each other while the teachers weren't looking.

How does the French translation above make clear that the pupils were hitting each other, rather than each pupil hitting himself?

  • You may consider looking for "transitive verbs" (e.g. "habiller and s'habiller) – Koresh Feb 4 '15 at 10:41
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In that sentence it isn't very clear indeed. Only context could give you that information.

Himself/herself or themselves is translated by 'se' in french. There is no distinction

You could emphasize the fact that they are hitting each other by saying:

... pour taper sur les autres (to hit the others)

But in that case it is not necessary as one could easily understand that one pupil isn't gonna hit himself voluntarily

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    I'd rather say "se taper les uns sur les autres", as "taper sur les autres" might imply there's a second group of students, since the subject is ils. Anyway, se taper dessus is the fluidest, most idiomatic translation. It just makes total sense and no ambiguity in the context. – guillaume31 Feb 5 '15 at 16:14
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As mentionned in some answers above, you need a context to know exactly what this means. As I recall many scenes from the movie it seems to me that the right meaning is: “The pupils of Smeltings also had sticks which they used to hit each others when the teachers couldn't see them”.

I can imagine this easily, as the teachers are distracted by something else or are out for a moment the class would become messy as they begin to hit each others. These students from Boudlar are two shabby to hit themselves (so it seems to me, and that's why the full context is required to translate this correctly).

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It is only because pupils is plural that you understand:

Ils se tapent les uns sur les autres dessus.

Plural form for hitting themselves :

Chacun se tapent sur soi, ou, ils se tapent sur eux-mêmes.

You have to specify the target of stick hit if it is not used in its usual manner.

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    Tout ça n'est vraiment pas du français idiomatique. – Stéphane Gimenez Feb 4 '15 at 8:56
  • No, it's really because "taper" is used in its "transitive" form (verbe transitif) (with "se") Example : Habiller vs. s'habiller (to dress (something) vs. to dress itself) – Koresh Feb 4 '15 at 10:37
  • +1 for providing "eux-mêmes" in "ils se tapent [sur?] eux-mêmes." Without "eux-mêmes", the "se" could only be interpreted, as you point out, "in its usual manner" to mean "each other." I agree that for the "se" to mean "themselves" in this case, "eux-mêmes" would have to be explicitly specified. – Papa Poule Feb 4 '15 at 15:41

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