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My understanding is that this is translated as "How is it that..." which is an extremely common phrasing in English, but typing this into google does not give any auto-suggest results, leading me to believe I may be wrong about this.

Is it common? If not, how else could I translate "How is it that...", e.g. "How is it that I arrived before you?"

D'où vient que je suis arrivé avant toi?

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  • Phrasing in your exemple is wrong. -S'arriver- means nothing in French, maybe you meant : D'où vient que je suis arrivé avant toi?
    – Carlos2W
    Dec 4, 2015 at 20:33
  • Just a mistake, I don't know why I added me. Dec 4, 2015 at 20:39

2 Answers 2

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The idiomatic phrasing is:

Comment se fait-il que … ?

For some reason the clause is usually in the subjunctive mood. In this case:

Comment se fait-il que je sois arrivé avant toi ?

It could however be in the indicative, I suppose, when the fact is more important than the reason.

Comment se fait-il que ces poules ont des dents ?

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  • Can you also say Comment est-ce qu'il se fait que..., or no? And is this to say the phrasing I asked about is invalid? Dec 4, 2015 at 20:41
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    It becomes a bit long with est-ce que… More informally, “Comment ça se fait que” or just “Pourquoi”. The phrasing you gave in the question sounds quite ok, although slightly tainted. I could well be a phrasing used in some regional dialects. Dec 4, 2015 at 20:48
  • @Aerovistae: Or it might be a foreign dialect? Maybe we both have How come in mind? Dec 4, 2015 at 20:59
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« D'où vient que » était courant autrefois, au moins en français écrit (donc cultivé), mais est désuet. On utilise plutôt « comment se fait-il que » ou tout simplement « pourquoi » lorsqu'il s'agit de poser une question, ou « d'où » ou « c'est pourquoi » au style indirect.

d' où vient que, comment se fait-il

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