Why is there a "pouvoir" and a "bien" in the sentence

Où mon chien a-t-il bien pu partir ?

(Where did my dog go?)

It literally translates to

Where could my dog go?

So I don't understand how that translates to

Where did my dog go?

  • A way that helps me (an anglophone) a little to understand the purpose of “pouvoir” in your sentence … one that doesn’t require going from an infinitive (partir) in French to a present perfect form (have gone) in English … is by interpreting “partir” to mean “be” (or to keep it closer to its true meaning, to mean “be off to”): … “Where could my dog [possibly] be?” … “Where could he [possibly] be off to?” (Also, the “[possibly]” might possibly correspond with the “bien”) +1
    – Papa Poule
    Jun 10, 2016 at 16:55
  • In that strange language, English: Where could my dog have gone?
    – Drew
    Jun 21, 2016 at 2:19

2 Answers 2


Literal translation of auxiliaries does not really make sense. "Pouvoir", here, have the meaning of "may" or "could" so it should be translated as:

Where could my dog have gone

With this sentence, you are not asking about where the dog actually went, but about where the dog could have possibly gone. "bien" is here to mark the rhetorical nature of the question. Usually you ask this question to yourself as it seems you looked for every place where the dog may have been. You don't expect anybody to suddenly show up with the answer, even if that would be great.

  • Ah merci beaucoup! La phrase est censé être "Where could my dog have gone" Jun 10, 2016 at 12:23
  • @MorganFR: "May" carries the ambiguity between the capacity and the hypothesis that "pouvoir" contains. I don't feel like "might" or "could" do that as well. Jun 10, 2016 at 12:32
  • I'm not sure, I'm no english scholar but I rarely hear "may" used in such a place. I'd much rather use "could" "Where could my dog have gone" rather than "Where may my dog have gone". I mostly here it only with the first person Jun 10, 2016 at 12:34
  • Like with the word shall, Jun 10, 2016 at 12:35
  • I don't care about making my answer idiomatic, this is about explaining how the French sentence works, not about finding the perfect translation in English. Jun 10, 2016 at 13:44

Où mon chien est-il parti ? : question simple - on se demande où le chien est parti.

Où mon chien a-t-il pu partir ? : interrogation plus forte: sous-entendu: on ne sait plus où il est, et on se demande où .

Où mon chien a-t-il bien pu partir ? : interrogation encore plus forte: sous-entendu: on ne sait pas du tout où il est parti, et on n'imagine pas d'endroit.

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