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I was reading this forum post about the difference between il existe and il y a, but I came across a sentence I really couldn't wrap my head around:

Je m'explique un peu plus : certainement nous arrive-t-il à tous de dire il existe, il n'existe pas sans intention particulière, et dans ce cas la nuance avec il y a, il n'y a pas disparaît. Mais à mon sens, il ne s'agit plus là de la question précise qui nous est posée.

I don't understand why there's a nous and then suddenly an inversion of il arrive. Could someone break down this sentence and help me understand it? Thanks !

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Arriver can mean to happen. With that meaning, it's a member of a class of verb that always a take a dummy subject pronoun and have their "real" logical subject expressed as a dative indirect object. See also falloir (il nous faut nous dépécher = we must hurry), aller in the sense of suit (ça me va totalement = suits me fine) or the archaic verb chaloir (peu m'en chaut = I care little about this).

You could translate "il nous arrive à tous de dire" as "it happens to us all to say" or more idiomatically "we all sometimes say". The inversion of il is purely stylistic, and triggered by the adverb certainement.

  • Why is the "à" and "de" necessary? – Oboark Jul 14 '16 at 4:22
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    For the same reasons that is necessary in english : "nous arrive-t-il à tous de dire" / "It happens to us all to say" – Koblenz Jul 14 '16 at 12:26

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