3

The question is on these sentence.

From Perrault's Le Petit Poucet:

Il était une fois un bûcheron et une bûcheronne qui avaient sept enfants, tous garçons.

From Flaubert's L’Éducation sentimentale:

À part quelques bourgeois, aux Premières, c’étaient des ouvriers, des gens de boutique avec leurs femmes et leurs enfants.

Questions

  1. Does the Perrault sentence mean there were...?

  2. What is the subject of the Perrault sentence? Is it Il or un bûcheron et une bûcheronne? (I don't care if you want to throw in the qui clause as well.)

  3. In a sentence of the form il était + substantive, does the verb always agree in number with il and not with the substantive?

  4. Does the Flaubert clause mean there were...? In other words I am asking whether il était and c’étaient mean the same thing? Or maybe c’étaient means it was?

  5. What is the subject of the Flaubert sentence? Is it ce or des ouvriers, des gens? (Again, I don't care if de boutique etc. have to be included.)

  6. In a sentence of the form c'était + substantive, does the verb always agree in number with the substantive and not with ce?

  • 1
    "Il était une fois" is idiomatic (meaning "Once upon a time"). The use of "il" as an unpersonnal pronoun is much less common nowadays (except in idioms). – Random Jun 6 '16 at 16:21
7
  1. No, "il était une fois" means "once upon a time, there was". "Il" is an impersonal pronoun in this phrase, referring to nothing or nobody in particular, as in "il pleut". You may say "il était une fois un pauvre bûcheron" as a whole sentence.

  2. The grammatical subject is "il". The semantic or real subject is the bûcheron and bûcheronne.

  3. Yes, but it is not used with plural constructions. For example you cannot say "il était une fois des bûcherons". Your question is still valid when asking about a series of things and "il était une fois" does not change based on the number of things that follows.

  4. They don't mean the same thing. c'étaient is closer to it was or they were than to there were.

  5. Ce

  6. The verb agrees with ce but in this case the ce is plural as it refers to des ouvriers, des gens de boutique. This is a different ce — a pronoun — from the article ce which becomes ces in the plural form.

EDIT - TLFI says about #6:

Le gallicisme c'est reste au singulier

  • quand il est suivi d'une somme, d'un nombre d'heures, d'une quantité au plur. :

    • ... c'était vingt mille francs qu'elle voulait de ma part, comme des autres... (RESTIF DE LA BRETONNE, M. Nicolas, 1796, p. 99.)
    • JACQUES. Mais ce n'est pas vingt ans que tu sembles avoir, mon Jean, et l'on dirait que tu en as à peine douze. (CLAUDEL, La Nuit de Noël 1914, 1915, II, p. 568.)
    • quand il est suivi de plusieurs subst. au sing. ou dont le premier est au sing. : ... l'enthousiasme se rallie à l'harmonie universelle : c'est l'amour du beau, l'élévation de l'âme, la jouissance du dévouement, réunis dans un même sentiment qui a de la grandeur et du calme. (Mme DE STAËL, De l'Allemagne, t. 5, 1810, p. 187.)
  • Sauf dans le cas d'une énumération. "Quatre figures colossales de génies marquent les points cardinaux : ce sont : Sed, taureau à face humaine; Nergal, lion à face humaine; Oustour, l'homme; Nattig, à tête d'aigle." VALÉRY, Variété III, 1936, p. 124.

http://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/c%27

  • Thank you. Questions. (a) For 1, could you perhaps mean il était une fois means once upon a time THERE WAS? Otherwise, the first sentence is not a sentence. Or il était une fois un bûcheron pauvre would become once upon a time a poor woodcutter. The French speaking child would be left rather puzzled and think, "Well, what about him"? (b) For 3, can you or can you not say il était une fois deux bûcherons? – Catomic Jun 7 '16 at 3:04
  • (c) For 6, if I understand you literally, i.e. the idea ce refers to what follows être, we then get des ouvriers, des gens de boutique étaient des ouvriers, des gens de boutique--as if we suddenly got into a textbook for a course in logic. Could you perhaps mean that for ce we have to work out its implicit reference ourselves. For example: The passengers Frederick saw about him on board (=*ce*) were work people, shop people. – Catomic Jun 7 '16 at 3:08
  • (d) Also for 6, is there any independent means of determining whether ce was singular or plural, that is, other than by looking at what follows être? Suppose the answer to this no. That is, you ALWAYS have to look at the substantive after être and set the number of ce accordingly, and ONLY THEN say that être should agree with ce in that number. Wouldn't that be just a roundabout way of getting être to agree with the substantive? (Of course this "roundabout" way has the virtue of preserving the principle that subject and verb should agree.) – Catomic Jun 7 '16 at 3:12
  • (From the TLFI excerpt I understand that the operation is not simply that of looking at what follows être and its ostensible number but may be more complex. Still, the question is whether ce and être are ALWAYS looking to the following substantive for their number, though subject to complex exceptions. Thanks.) – Catomic Jun 7 '16 at 3:16
  • (a) yes, good point - corrected. – qoba Jun 7 '16 at 3:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.