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Trying to figure out if this is a fixed phrase, or a grammatical construction I'm just unfamiliar with. It's from a children's version of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. See the bolded portion:

Certains vieux pêcheurs disent l'avoir connue.

I understand this as Certain old fishermen say they knew her, but the grammar confuses me. I would have thought it would be this:

Certains vieux pêcheurs disent qu'ils l'ont connue.

Can I get an explanation of the grammar in the first sentence, and also some insight as to why my version is wrong or not well-phrased?

  • The same construciton appears again later in the paragraph, btw: Certains d'entre eux disent même l'avoir vu partir de Marseille vers Aix-en-Provence sur un cheval noir. – temporary_user_name Apr 25 '16 at 7:55
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Ils disent l'avoir connue.

and

Ils disent qu'ils l'ont connue.

mean exactly the same thing, but the first sentence is less frequent in spoken French. A similar construction (verbe + infinitif) can be found in:

Il prétend être notre ami. (Il prétend qu'il est notre ami)

J'aimerais avoir à nouveau vingt ans. (J'aimerais que j'aie à nouveau vingt ans)

In this last example the verbe + infinitif form is more used because the repetition of "je" makes the sentence clumsy.

  • You say the second one is more common, John says the second one is "rather cumbersome." Who do I believe?? – temporary_user_name Apr 25 '16 at 14:43
  • The second one is more common, among real people who are not French teachers and grammar specialists. I think both John and me are right here :) – Anne Aunyme Apr 25 '16 at 15:07
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Both forms are correct and equivalent.

A verb directly following another verb is generally (always?) at the infinitive (first case.)

The verb located in a proposition subordonnée is conjugated (second case.)

  • Yes, I know one verb following another is usually (always?) infinitive, but it's the implied that which throws me here, since out of habit I've learned to read the infinitive as an implied to. So I read this literally as "Certain old fishermen say to have known her," when it ought to be "Certain old fishermen say that they knew her." – temporary_user_name May 9 '16 at 16:10
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Les deux formes sont équivalentes. Il n'y en a pas une de vraiment plus utilisée que l'autre.

La forme avec la relative que ... est un peu plus lourde (mais plus facile à construire car générique), elle ne profite pas de la forme allégée avec l'infinitif:

Les verbes d'affirmation, de sensation peuvent en général utilise cette tournure avec un infinitif, qui évite de répéter le sujet quand il est le même que celui de la principale. Il est même déconseillé d'utiliser la tournure relative dans ces cas-là :

Je dis l'avoir connue = Je dis que je l'ai connue.

J'affirme ...

Je confirme ...

J'avoue ...

Je confesse ...

Je pense manger ...

J'imagine ...

Je crois détenir un secret.

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For me, those two versions are exactly the same, put apart the wording of the second one is rather cumbersome... So you can use :

  • dire + avoir/être + participe passé + complément (COD, CC de lieux, de temps,...)
  • dire + pronom + avoir/être + participe passé (if the complement has already be defined in the sentence)
  • dire + QUE + avoir/être CONJUGUÉS + participe passé
  • dire + QUE + pronom + avoir/être CONJUGUÉS + participe passé (if the complement has already be defined in the sentence).

I hope I have not forgotten any case !

  • You say the first one is more elegant, Anne says the first one is less frequently used. Who do I believe?? – temporary_user_name Apr 25 '16 at 14:44
  • In fact we mean the same thing : the first one is more formal, so less used ! – John Apr 26 '16 at 6:14
  • Les formes 2 et 3 (sans exemple fourni) sont normalement grammaticalement impossibles. -1 . Les formes 1 et 4 sont justement les 2 formes de la question (infinitif / relative) – guillaume girod-vitouchkina Apr 28 '16 at 9:36

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