The question is on the highlighted phrase in this excerpt from L'Étranger by Camus. In it, Raymond has caught up with a man who, earlier in the morning, had given him knife wounds on his mouth and arm.

Pendant tout ce temps, il n’y a plus eu que le soleil et ce silence, avec le petit bruit de la source et les trois notes. Puis Raymond a porté la main à sa poche revolver, mais l’autre n’a pas bougé et ils se regardaient toujours. J’ai remarqué que celui qui jouait de la flûte avait les doigts des pieds très écartés. Mais sans quitter des yeux son adversaire, Raymond m’a demandé : « Je le descends ? » J’ai pensé que si je disais non il s’exciterait tout seul et tirerait certainement. Je lui ai seulement dit : « Il ne t’a pas encore parlé. Ça ferait vilain de tirer comme ça. »

Which of the following reading is right? (Or if neither, please tell me how to read it correctly.)

Reading 1

  • des is a contraction of de les.

  • quitter des yeux forms a single verb phrase, somewhat on the model of English expressions like fleet of foot or hard of hearing.

  • son adversaire is a direct object (in the accusative so-to-speak).

Reading 2

  • des is an indefinite article.

  • des yeux is a direct object.

  • son adversaire is an indirect object or in the dative.

Because I never (in my limited experience) saw a French noun standing alone (without a preposition) serving as a dative, I am betting on 1.

If 1 is right, please give me some other verb phases that look like quitter des yeux.

  • Do not change the title of your question because you can use the expression quitter des yeux without sans. Here for example it is used as a title of a newspaper article.
    – user6768
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 12:36
  • So, in french you take somebody off your eyes, instead of taking your eyes off somebody. You learn something new everyday. Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 9:26

3 Answers 3


It is more like "Reading 1" and might be translated:

but without taking his eyes off his foe

Quitter des yeux is indeed a verbal phrase here, meaning "loosing eye contact", almost always used in negative sentences but sometimes not:

Je l'ai quitté des yeux deux secondes et il s'est échappé !

I stopped watching him for a couple of seconds and he escaped!

Here are other similar verbal phrases:

Je ne l'ai pas quitté d'une semelle pendant toute la journée. -> to constantly stay close to someone, to closely follow

Je l'ai perdu de vue depuis longtemps. -> to lose contact with someone

J'en ai gardé sous le pied. -> to keep a bit back

  • quitter ⇒ verbe
  • des ⇒ préposition
  • yeux ⇒ nom
  • des yeux ⇒ complément prépositionnel
  • son ⇒ adjectif possessif
  • adversaire ⇒ nom
  • son adversaire ⇒ complément d'objet direct.
  • Why the downvote? The OP did not ask the meaning of the phrase but whether or not it is grammatically correct. His first reading is correct, but I detailed it since he's curious about the grammatical side of the sentence, nothing else. My grammatical analysis is correct and precise
    – user6768
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 12:07
  • I don't see a reason for downvoting either. I have upvoted though I am selecting another answer for expressly affirming "reading 1" in the main body of the answer.
    – Catomic
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 12:43
  • @Catomic Yes, as I said through my comment: your reading 1 is correct, I just detailed further the grammar
    – user6768
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 12:49

Actually, you can't use it without "sans":

sans quitter des yeux

It's always used this way, in a negative.

ne pas quitter quelque chose, quelqu'un des yeux

Think of

can't take my eyes off you

It doesn't make any sense if you read it literally too!

  • Your answer is wrong because we use that expression without sans. See my comment below the OP's question.
    – user6768
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 12:37
  • Yes, as I already wrote in my answer, Quitter des yeux might be used in a positive sentence, i.e. without sans.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 13:05

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